Allen Park – Eric Ebron was a first-round draft pick. Robert Tonyan Jr. went undrafted out of Indiana State. But the two Detroit Lions tight ends share some notable similarities, so much so that Tonyan has picked up the nickname "T-Bron" around the practice facility.
“I don’t know who gave it to him,” Ebron said. “I think it came from upstairs when they were watching film on him.”
Here’s where the two favorably compare. Both are highly athletic. Coming out of college, Ebron ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash with a 32-inch vertical leap and 120-inch broad jump. Tonyan, at his pro day in March, bested each of those numbers slightly.
In college, neither played a traditional tight end role. At North Carolina, Ebron was typically split wide, with minimal emphasis placed on his blocking. The 6-foot-5 Tonyan is making the conversion to the position as a professional, having played wide receiver at Indiana State. In three seasons, he caught 150 passes for 2,047 and 20 touchdowns.
And although the learning curve is going to be sharper for Tonyan, with less margin for error given he doesn’t carry the draft status of Ebron, the veteran has been able to offer meaningful advice on adjusting to life as an NFL tight end, particularly what is expected within Detroit’s scheme.
“He’s been a good mentor so far,” Tonyan said. “Honestly, he’s just been real with me. That’s what I want. I don’t want people to beat around the bush. If I need to do something to get me on the field or make the team, I want to be told that straight up. He’s not one to shy away from telling me the truth and I respect him for that.”
Ebron has been impressed with what he’s seen from Tonyan on the field, particularly his route running. As for the blocking, everyone understands it’s going to be a work in process because it’s new for the rookie.
But where Ebron believes Tonyan can make up some ground is with his attitude.
“I tell him all the time, you just need to get your confidence back,” Ebron said. “Some of us sat around and watched his college highlight tape and he was so swagged out and comfortable, playing in his own realm, at his own pace.
“This can take a lot out of people – confidence, self-esteem – so just building that back up will be the main thing. Once he has that, he’ll figure everything else out."
Tonyan also needs to continue to bulk up. His college bio listed him at 220 pounds, but he’s currently up to 237. He plans to reach 240 by training camp with an eye on 245 by the end of his rookie season.
Practice squad is a realistic possibility for Tonyan. The Lions bolstered their tight end group this offseason by signing Darren Fells and drafting Michael Roberts. The team also returns Cole Wick and Khari Lee, who each saw playing time last season.