Eric Ebron is a polarizing guy amongst Detroit Lions fans. He was the moment the Lions cashed in pick No. 10 in the 2014 NFL draft to bring him to Detroit.
Some fans were excited to get another gifted playmaker on offense, others questioned the selection of a tight end at that point in the draft.
The critics weren’t silenced in year one either. As a matter of fact, the opposite happened. The criticism grew in volume as Ebron navigated through a 25-catch rookie campaign while players selected immediately after him – such as Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. – were instant successes.
“It’s just the cycle of life,” said wide receiver Golden Tate. “I went through it. I’m sure Calvin (Johnson) and Matt (Stafford) went through it. All eyes are on him last year, this year all eyes are on him again but he’s prepared.”
Tate is referring to Ebron adjusting from college ball – where he was able to dominate at will – to the professional game. Although the always-confident Ebron hasn’t spoken to reporters much, the narrative of the collegiate superstar stumble is a familiar one. It’s not uncommon for rookies to struggle, especially a position like tight end.
“I think sometimes, as a young fellow, you come in thinking because you dominate in college you just have it in this league, especially when you’re drafted so high,” said Tate. “I’m not saying that’s what he went through but this year you notice that he’s hanging around Calvin more often, (Brandon) Pettigrew more often.
He’s asking more questions. When he does mess up – which is rarely – he’s coming back to the sideline, ‘yeah, I should have did this’. He knows what he’s doing wrong and he fixes it. One thing I noticed is he’s not a repeat offender, he’s not making the same mistake over and over.”
Learning from a mistake is something that applies both on and off the field. By all accounts, Ebron seems much more prepared this season after seeming underprepared a year ago. His increased pace on the field suggests that he put in the offseason work necessary to step forward this year.
That’s important, because the Lions need Ebron.
“I think that when you look at us overall, most teams when they scout us are going to look at Golden and obviously Calvin, and they have different ways of trying to take those two guys away from you,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “So your passing game ends up being more one on one. So I think you see some of that out there even during camp. Ebron is getting a little better, and we’re still working with him and seeing if he can gain that consistency that we need. But he’s certainly making progress, and I think Matthew feels that comfort level with him.”
That certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday afternoon, as the team put the pads on for a final practice prior to a day off. Stafford connected with Ebron several times, including a strike in the end zone. There were drives where the second-year tight end looked to be the quarterback’s go-to target.
“You guys are seeing the same thing that I’ve been seeing,” said Tate. “You see that he’s producing for us. He’s been in the right place at the right time, he’s a big target, he’s fast, He’s a mistmatch on a lot of guys. You put a linebacker it’s a mismatch, you put a nickel guy on him, it’s a mismatch. We expect him to come up big for us this year and we have no doubt he’s going to be ready and firing all cylinders.”
At this point in the season, optimism is just that. However, it’s encouraging to hear Ebron’s teammates to recognize his progress and his potential. If he can be the difference maker the Lions envisioned when they drafted him, this team could have one of the league’s most potent offenses.
As Tate put it, there is a “night and day” difference from last year. Only time will tell if that will tell if that will carry over to his in-game performance but it is an encouraging sign.