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Eric Ebron is putting up Hall of Fame numbers—kind of

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Eric Ebron’s career is off to a better start than you probably think.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

One of the most divisive characters in Detroit Lions history is tight end Eric Ebron. Having been drafted 10th overall, Ebron’s career has been a constant uphill climb against expectations. As mistakes piled up in Ebron’s rookie year, and players selected below him like Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. thrived, fans began to turn against Ebron, who always worked with a confident smile.

In the three years since, Ebron’s play has been inconsistent, at best. Though he’s seen his stats steadily improve year-by-year, his 2017 season is a perfect encapsulation of his career in Detroit. At the beginning of the year, he was a huge disappointment, hauling in just 13 catches for 102 yards in the first six games of the season. However, the Lions then got a flash of the undeniable talent they had been promised when Ebron was first drafted. In the final 10 games of the season, Ebron caught 40 passes for 472 yards—ranking him among the top six tight ends after Week 7.

But one set of stats suggest our expectations for Ebron may have been a little too high. For a 24 year old, Ebron has actually accomplished a lot as a tight end, more than many have ever dreamed to accomplish. And as pointed out by Pro Football Focus’ Pat Thorman, that puts him in some pretty elite company:

Now before we get into this, let’s get one thing straight: Eric Ebron is not a Hall of Famer right now, and his level of his play, even at this stage in his career, is not even close to Hall of Fame worthy.

In fact, there are a few caveats to make here about Thorman’s misleading stats. First, Thorman sets some parameters here that specifically exclude some other tight ends from this list. Eric Ebron’s stats are actually remarkably similar to a player who will never be considered for Canton, and he, too, was a considered a bit of a disappointment for his draft stock (picked 14th overall). That tight end? Jeremy Shockey:

Eric Ebron through age-24 season: 186 catches, 2070 yards, 11 TDs
Jeremy Shockey through age-24 season: 183 catches, 2095 yards, 10 TDs

Ebron barely makes Thorman’s arbitrary benchmark, while Shockey falls just two catches short. And when compared to the four other tight ends on the list, Ebron’s stats fall well short:

Rob Gronkowski: 226 catches, 3255 yards, 42 TDs
Tony Gonzalez: 261 catches, 3041 yards, 24 TDs
Jason Witten: 252 catches, 2838 yards, 14 TDs
Kellen Winslow: 202 catches, 2620 yards, 21 TDs
Eric Ebron: 186 catches, 2070 yards, 10 TDs

Additionally, there’s the issue of catch percentage. Pro-Football-Reference keeps track of that statistic dating back to the modern era of football. Ebron’s catch percentage is below that of the most other future Hall of Famers he’s listed, aside from one:

Jason Witten: 71.0% catch rate
Rob Gronkowski: 68.9% catch rate
Eric Ebron: 64.6% catch rate
Tony Gonzalez: 63.7% catch rate

So the biggest knock on Ebron, his drops, holds up to some scrutiny when compared to some of the best at his position.

But overall, it’s important to sit back and realize just how early it is in Ebron’s career and just how much he has already accomplished. He may have not looked great doing it—and he may not have comparable stats to the Hall of Famers above—but Ebron has the 11th-most receiving yards and fifth-most receptions in NFL history for tight ends before their 25th birthday. That’s nowhere near the “bust” category that so many are eager to place him in.

And while no one is expecting Ebron to immediately become one of the best tight ends in NFL history, if his career ends up closer to Jeremy Shockey, it’s not exactly a loss. After turning 25, Shockey’s career continued to be stable and productive. He went on to produce 400+ yards seasons for seven more consecutive years, score 27 more touchdowns, and he currently sits 17th all-time in receiving yards for tight ends.

The Giants chose to move on from Shockey after six seasons, and the Lions may choose to do the same after utilizing Ebron’s fifth-year option for 2018, but the young tight end has little to be ashamed of thus far in his career. And he knows there is still plenty of work for him to do: