If you go by recent history, logic says that the New York Giants won’t draft tight end Eric Ebron with the 12th pick in May’s draft.
The last time a tight end was snatched up in the first 15 picks of the draft was 2006, when the San Francisco 49ers took a chance on a guy by the name of Vernon Davis with the sixth selection. Eight seasons, 5,801 receiving yards and 60 receiving touchdowns later, playoffs included, it looks like that pick has paid off for San Francisco.
Like the 49ers, Big Blue should go the road less traveled on May 8 and take Ebron—simply because he is a potential game-changing player at a need position.
While the addition of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo seems to increase the chances that last year’s starting tight end, Brandon Myers, will be retained, there is too much evidence suggesting that New York will exercise the option to void his contract. Myers' finesse, less-physical style of play is a better fit in a West Coast offense, which McAdoo will likely run in some form next season.
However, even with the favorable system change for Myers, he still doesn’t win enough on third down (only 28 first downs last season) or in the red zone (just two touchdowns inside the 20-yard line in 2013).
If Myers is allowed to walk, there isn’t a starting-caliber tight end on the roster to replace him. Bear Pascoe is an unrestricted free agent, but he tops out as a quality backup even if he is retained. Neither Larry Donnell nor Adrien Robinson has done anything in their first two NFL seasons to suggest that they can step into a starting role next season.
If the Giants have plans to address a potential tight end vacancy in free agency, they’ll be disappointed by the choices.
At first glance, the prospect of Jimmy Graham, arguably the best tight end in the NFL, being available as an unrestricted free agent is enticing. However, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis made it clear at a Senior Bowl practice on Jan. 21, via Evan Bleier of UPI.com, that they’ll franchise Graham, if need be, to retain him.
That leaves Jermichael Finley as the only other unrestricted free agent who would be a clear upgrade over Myers.
Finley, though, brings as much baggage to the table as talent.
He is coming off a 2013 season that was cut short by a neck injury, which was initially believed to be career-threatening. Finley does plan to return, but it is hard to ink a player to a free-agent deal who is coming off such a serious injury.
Also, for all his ability, Finley is an overrated player.
He only has 20 touchdowns in 70 career regular-season games. In addition, his hands are shaky, as he had nine drops in 2012 and a league-leading 12 in 2011.
If the Giants want to find a long-term impact player at tight end, they’ll have to do it in the draft. And while it is rare to address this position in the top half of the first round, Ebron is a special talent who is worth this unorthodox move.
For a glimpse of the dimension Ebron would bring to the Giants' offense, check out the take on his pass-catching ability by NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks:
Based on the buzz circulating in NFL circles, the next great tight end could be North Carolina's Eric Ebron. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior is a long, rangy basketball-like athlete with size, speed and agility to overwhelm defenders on the second level. He is simply too fast and explosive for most linebackers to shadow down the seam, but is too big and physical for safeties and nickel corners to hold up in coverage. With such a decided advantage against defenders, Ebron offers offensive coordinators an intriguing option to use to create mismatches in space.
Brooks' analysis is dead-on—Ebron will simply be a matchup nightmare in the NFL. Along with his athleticism, he has good hands and is already a strong route-runner, a rare trait for a player with Ebron’s ability.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning should find him to be a big, reliable target on third down and in the red zone, two areas where Big Blue struggled mightily in 2013. According to TeamRankings.com, New York was a dreadful 30th in both red-zone touchdown scoring percentage and third-down conversion percentage last season.
Ebron is still a work in progress as a run-blocker. He tends to lose leverage and get overpowered by physical defensive linemen. However, in the film I studied, he certainly holds his own in most situations, even though he is not built like the prototypical blocking tight end.
Also, Ebron’s ability as a receiver could end up making strong run-blocking from him a luxury. Elite receiving tight ends like Graham, Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas and Tony Gonzalez all had run-blocking PFF ratings below minus-seven in 2013, yet I doubt their respective teams are complaining.
Ebron will likely have some struggles in his first year like any other rookie. He is a plug-in starter, though, and someone who will help the Giants once again become a top-10 offensive attack.
Best of all, he’ll stop the merry-go-round that the tight end position has become for New York since Kevin Boss left via free agency after the 2010 season.
A Week 1 starter at a need position that won’t need to be replaced for at least a half-decade is all you can ask for from a mid-first-round pick. Ebron will provide all that, as well as plenty of highlight-reel plays to keep Giants fans oohing and ahhing.