Lions, Ebron expect better production in future

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When the Lions drafted Eric Ebron last May, they expected the 10th overall pick to make an immediate impact.

During the course of this season, Ebron established himself as the team's top tight end, but the production didn't measure up to the draft slot — 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown.

Despite the lackluster performance, Ebron remains confident he can make more of an impact in the future, and general manager Martin Mayhew said he expects more, too.

"I would expect better production next year," Mayhew said Thursday. "He certainly is capable; he certainly has the ability."

Ebron's ability isn't the concern. His production is. And that will be compared to the players drafted immediately after him.

■Taylor Lewan, the 11th pick, started six games at left tackle for the Titans.

■Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the 12th pick, had a solid season, finishing with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games.

■Aaron Donald, the 13th pick, established himself as one of the top defensive tackles with nine sacks.

Yet, even as these and other rookies were shining, Ebron said he didn't feel any pressure.

"We have tons of playmakers on this team, and I just came to be an asset to help make plays," he said. "The more and more we keep building confidence, the more and more it'll come through."

Ebron started to show progress in Weeks 4-6, with seven catches for 65 yards and a touchdown after having three catches for 38 yards the first three games. But before Week 7, he suffered a hamstring injury in practice that held him out the next three games.

"I think he dealt with some typical rookie issues learning the offense," Mayhew said. "I think he got a lot better as the season went on, even after the hamstring. It may have calmed him down a little bit, and I think he played better later in the year."

In some ways, Ebron's struggles reflect two of the big issues the Lions had:

First, they had dismal production from the tight end position. Including Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew (10 catches, 70 yards) and Joseph Fauria (six catches, 74 yards), contributed to less than 10 percent of the passing game.

Second, Ebron's speed made him the biggest threat of the tight ends, but a few drops led to a lack of trust between him and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

"One of the things I think is the quarterback being familiar with all the receivers and trusting all the receivers and knowing where they're going to be," Mayhew said. "And the (offensive) coordinator, being familiar with all the offensive skill players and what those guys are capable of doing. ... So, I think it's a process."

Looking back, Ebron said the learning curve in the NFL was steeper than he expected, but knows it was something he had to experience.

Looking ahead, he knows he has to improve on everything to provide the return he and the Lions expect.

"I can't complain about anything that happened my rookie season," he said. "It was definitely fun."