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Football Outsiders: Eric Ebron is an underutilized red zone threat

Can Eric Ebron take over slot receiver duties this year? We asked Football Outsiders.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The rise of Kenny Golladay during training camp has drowned out the hype around fourth-year tight end Eric Ebron. Prior to the arrival of the Kenny Golladay Hype Train, Ebron was expected to take yet another leap in production. With Anquan Boldin shuffling off to Buffalo, Ebron was expected to take over the slot role and transform into receiving tight end we all hoped he would develop into.

But those plans hit a snag very early in training camp. In the very first practice at camp, Ebron tweaked his hamstring. Considering Ebron’s injury history, many already started writing off his 2017 season after the minor injury.

However, Ebron returned to practice in a very limited fashion towards the end of last week and Jim Caldwell hinted that he could be back in full very soon. “Yeah, he’ll probably be back next week for us, rolling along,” Caldwell said last Friday.

To help set expectations for Ebron, we asked our friends at Football Outsiders to give us their perspective on the young tight end. Will he ever break out? Is he destined to drop passes and disappoint in the NFL?

Scott Kacsmar was nice enough to answer our question, in the first portion of our five-part Q&A series with Football Outsiders. Here are Scott’s thoughts on Ebron.

Jeremy: It looks like the Detroit Lions will be going into 2017 without Anquan Boldin. Do you think Eric Ebron has the skill set to take over his role in the slot?

Scott: Yes, I think Ebron gets a lot of criticism for “not being Odell Beckham,” but it’s not like he asked Detroit to draft him two spots ahead of Beckham in 2014. He’s improved his receiving production each year and has actually had the team’s highest DVOA in the red zone since 2015, but Matthew Stafford rarely looks his way there. Those touchdowns to Boldin will have to be replaced somewhere this year, and I think Ebron is a good candidate for them. We’re also optimistic about rookie Kenny Golladay being productive this season.

It’s interesting to hear about Ebron’s red zone potential, because he only has seven career receiving touchdowns in three seasons. He’s not really thought of as a red zone threat, while his fellow tight end—rookie Michael Roberts—has received all of that hype.

But Roberts has been able to practice and play for the Detroit Lions, while Ebron has continued to sit out. It looks like that may finally change this week, but until it does, Ebron remains more hype than fact.

The Football Outsiders 2017 Football Almanac is on sale right now. I can say with no dishonesty that it is my favorite NFL preview to read every year, and this season is no exception. Get your copy right here.

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