The Detroit Lions drafted TE Eric Ebron out of the University of North Carolina with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and are hoping that their first-round pick will immediately pay dividends this season. However, many in the fantasy football community seem to have overly optimistic views on Ebron for this year. Here are my more realistic expectations as to Ebron’s production in 2014.
Ebron posted an impressive stat line his last year at North Carolina, and there’s no questioning his athleticism or receiving abilities. There have been criticisms that he has much room to improve on his blocking skills, but to be fair, the Lions didn’t draft Ebron to be a blocker.
Detroit hired former New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi as their new offensive coordinator in January. While in New Orleans, Lombardi was also an offensive assistant under head coach Sean Payton. It’s widely believed that Lombardi plans to utilize an offensive scheme similar to that of the Saints in Detroit, and other than Drew Brees, there is no piece of that offense more pivotal than Jimmy Graham.
I’ve heard many comparisons made between Ebron and Graham, and many have suggested that Ebron will basically play the Graham role in the new offense. However, while he is talented, those Ebron proponents are overlooking two big differences.
First, Graham is 6-foot-7 and 265-pounds while Ebron is only 6-foot-4 and 245-pounds. Graham is such a threat to move the chains and difficult to defend in the red zone because his monstrous height and weight allows him to edge out defenders. While talented and athletic, Ebron’s smaller frame won’t allow him to dominate defenders as completely as Graham does.
Second, Graham is the clear starter and every-down TE for the Saints. He played on 67 percent of offensive snaps last year as opposed to backup TE Josh Hill’s 15.6 percent. Who’s Josh Hill? Exactly. Ebron, while talented, will share the field with both Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria.
Pettigrew is an excellent blocking TE, and the Lions gave him a four-year, $16 million contract this offseason. He will cut into Ebron’s snaps as a blocking TE unless Ebron improves on his blocking skills in camp. Fauria excelled as a red-zone threat last season and caught seven TDs despite seeing only 30 targets. He should still be utilized plenty. At 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, Fauria is actually three inches taller than Ebron and built more like Graham than Ebron is.
Ebron may eventually see more snaps, particularly when the Lions need a receiving TE in on a play. However, there is no guarantee that he will play a significant number of snaps in 2014. As of right now, I would project Ebron to end the season with about 40 receptions for 500 yards and five TDs. Ebron is worth a flier late in the draft and could pay off big, but he shouldn’t be drafted as a starting TE in fantasy just yet.