The Detroit Lions invested heavily in Eric Ebron when the team selected him No. 10 overall in May's draft. General manager Martin Mayhew pulled the trigger in order to give the Detroit offense an immediate boost with the athletically gifted receiver, who can line up at tight end, in the slot or split wide.
Early returns from Ebron's tenure are generally favorable but littered with one predominant issue: his hands.
Ebron struggled in early OTAs with dropping some easy throws. Those problems reared their ugly head once again in the first two days of training camp this week. It's enough of an issue that the beat writers at MLive, Kyle Meinke and Justin Rogers, shot a video about it.
So, is it time to panic that Ebron might not be able to make the sort of instant splash that many, notably the Lions themselves, anticipated with his lofty draft status and incredible potential?
The team had to know this was a potential pitfall. After all, Ebron's drop issues date back to his college days at North Carolina, as noted by Rotoworld's Josh Norris:
Its obviously early, but per @NU_Gap Eric Ebron had a drop rate of 11.43% last year. Didn't chart, but seemed like an improvement from 2012.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) July 30, 2014
That rather inglorious figure did not dissuade the team from choosing Ebron to join the den. Remember, the Lions have an acute sensitivity to dropped passes developed in the old-fashioned way that E.F. Hutton made money. They've earned it:
.@Lions rookies, led by TE Eric Ebron, report to camp today. Lions TE had 13 more drops (55) than the next closest team from 2009-13— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 22, 2014
It's an issue that extends beyond the tight ends, where another first-round pick in Brandon Pettigrew is largely responsible for the maddening lack of reliable hands.
|Detroit Lions Dropped Pass Rates|
|Number of Drops||Drop Rate||NFL Average||Ranking|
With Ebron's issues, the Lions aren't likely to halt the negative trend outlined thanks to Sporting Charts. Maybe it just isn't an organizational emphasis.
Or perhaps Detroit will take the drops as the downside of the incredible upshot, the proverbial cost of doing business. Ebron offers such big-play potential and the ability to dictate matchups that it trumps the unreliable hands.
Those big plays will keep Ebron firmly in the lineup even with the drops. The Lions need someone other than Calvin Johnson to score the long touchdown or make the impressive third-down conversion. Even with the iffy hands, Ebron offers that ability in ways that not a lot of other players can.
For their part, the Lions and coach Jim Caldwell don't seem too concerned. Yet they certainly aren't helping their young dynamo, either.
From Tim Twentyman's linked piece above, there is a telling section that should give Lions fans some concern:
One thing I don’t think people quite understand about playing a tight end position, you can probably notice that he lines up in a number of different places. He lines up in a true tight end position, so he’s got to know all the blocking schemes and routes from there.
He lines up at an auxiliary, what we call an ‘F’, so he’s got to know all of the protections from that particular location, as well as the routes. We also put him in the backfield, so this guy literally has to know the slot receiver, the regular tight end and also the position in the backfield as if he’s a fullback. So, it’s not easy for him, he’s got to learn and adjust.
Detroit is not sparing anything in Ebron's training. It's the football equivalent of pouring a six-pack of swill into a beer bong and expecting him to swallow it all with no problem or negative aftermath.
Instead of overwhelming him with all sorts of diverse schematics and responsibilities, it might serve the Lions better to let him ingest the new offense by the can instead of shotgunning it all down his throat at the same time.
While it might limit what Ebron can do in the offense early in his career, the rookie could likely perform those more limited duties at a higher, more reliable level. The added stress here can only exacerbate the drop issue instead of helping water it down to a more tolerable level.
Drops are always going to be part of the equation with Eric Ebron. But that doesn't make him unusual among big, talented receivers.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) tracks receiver drops religiously, and some of the names that appear with the most drops are some of the best receivers in the game:
All of those top-shelf talents finished in the top 10 in total drops in 2013. Calvin Johnson, Marshall and Bryant finished in the top 10 in 2012 as well.
Those players make enough positive plays to more than compensate for the ones that inexplicably slip through their hands. That is what the Lions are hoping for with Ebron.
Detroit fans, not to mention Ebron's fantasy football owners, are simply going to have to clench their teeth and grimace with the drops. Hopefully he can be like Bryant or Marshall or teammate Johnson and erase those stains with enough shining moments. Ebron certainly has that potential.