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Fantasy Football 2014: Don’t Overrate Eric Ebron

Eric Ebron

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

 

Being a pass-catcher in Detroit is like being in a grocery store.

There are a lot of options to choose from, some better than others, while some are stale and useless. That’s right, folks. Brandon Pettigrew, you are the Smucker’s Uncrustables of football. I mean, seriously. Just make a regular peanut butter and jelly sandwich, people.

Meanwhile, rookie tight end Eric Ebron has a lot of company in these aisles.

When the Detroit Lions selected Ebron with the 10th overall pick in the draft, many fantasy players became giddy. Ebron was the top-rated tight end in this year’s draft class, possessing tremendous athleticism, good hands and insane route-running ability. And we all know that Detroit loves to throw the football, ranking inside the top-six in pass attempts per game in every season since back in 2008. That’s always intriguing for fantasy purposes, but after re-signing Pettigrew for whatever reason, the Lions now have three tight ends to use– Ebron, Pettigrew and your favorite dancer, Joseph Fauria.

The Fit With Detroit

The Lions recently stated that they want to use Ebron similar to how the Saints use Jimmy Graham– an athletic weapon that operates out of the slot. And it makes sense, too. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent a few seasons with the Saints, and is quite familiar with Graham. You want more reasoning as to why it makes sense? Okay. During his final year at UNC last year, Ebron lined up in the slot 71.74 percent of the time, and because he is a very inconsistent blocker, it’s logical to utilize the athletic, strong route-runner out of the slot. I also think he will be used in a similar way that Norv Turner used tight end Jordan Cameron last year with the Browns. The only tight end to line up out of the slot than Cameron last year (60.3) was the great Tony Gonzalez. And according to Pro Football Focus, quarterback Matthew Stafford targets the tight end about 25 percent of the time in his career, above the league average of 20 percent.

So what’s not to like?

Rookie Tight Ends in Fantasy

Besides the fact that the Lions have a ton of weapons to choose from, resulting in inconsistent targets for Ebron, rookie tight ends just historically do not post strong fantasy numbers. In fact, over the last 11 seasons, only three tight ends finishes as top-12 fantasy options in their rookie year– Rob GronkowskiAaron Hernandez and John Carlson. And according to Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports, over the past five seasons, only Gronk and Hernandez have eclipsed 75 fantasy points in their rookie campaigns. The position just isn’t utilized a whole lot in year number one. I mean, during Gronkowski’s successful rookie year, he really just benefited from being a touchdown monster. He was only targeted 59 times that year, a rather unappealing number. If he didn’t find the end zone 10 times, he would have been useless. Ebron, meanwhile, will have to compete for targets with the likes of Calvin Johnson, who is averaging 148 per season, as well as newly acquired Golden Tate. And while he’s an incredibly exciting talent, Ebron does have some flaws, including his 11.43 percent drop rate, which was easily the highest among the top tight ends in this year’s draft class.

I think Ebron has the ability and opportunity to finish as a top-12 tight end, sure. But history suggests otherwise, and if you pay up for him because he is in Detroit, you may end up disappointed. Besides, after the first three or four elite tight ends, the rest are practically the same anyway, so why not go with a guy like Kyle Rudolph, who will be used in the same role with less competition for targets?

Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.