Allen Park — Eric Ebron has increased his production every season. This year, the Detroit Lions tight end is eyeing a loftier goal.
“Everybody sets their goals high, but there’s one thing,” Ebron said. “I made a promise to my family and to myself that I’m going to do my best to make it to the Pro Bowl this year. I feel I’m capable of it. I feel if I do have three more games under my belt, a full 16-game season, I see no reason I can’t be (a Pro Bowler).”
He might not be as far away as you think.
The four tight ends selected to the Pro Bowl last year averaged 74 catches, 921 yards and five touchdowns. Jimmy Graham, an injury replacement, caught 65 balls for 923 yards and six scores. Ebron, in his third season with the Lions, recorded 61 receptions, 711 yards and one score.
So yeah, assuming Ebron’s production continues to steadily rise, it would be foolish to rule out a Pro Bowl nod. But to reach that level, the upper echelon of his position, he must improve in three key areas.
First, he must stay healthy.
Sure, Washington’s Jordan Reed made the Pro Bowl playing 12 games last year, but that’s not the norm. Ebron, 24, has missed at least two games each of his first three seasons, and lost extensive practice time during the offseason program the past two years. He missed all of training camp and the preseason this year after suffering a hamstring strain during the first camp practice.
“There’s never a benefit to missing action with your guys,” Ebron said. “That creates rapport, that creates chemistry and things like that. I guess the upside of it is you get to recover your body and prepare for a long season.
“If I can get a full 16 games, there would be a lot less hate upon me and the things that I do,” he said. “I plan on it this year. I’m praying for it, I need it, I want it to fulfill my goals and things I want to do in the future.”
To be fair, durability is largely out of Ebron’s control. He can do everything right leading up to the season -- and by all accounts, he puts in the necessary work to take care of his body – but the violent nature of the game leads often results in injuries.
And even though he missed most of camp last season, it didn’t result in a slot start. He hauled in five balls and a touchdown in the season-opening victory over the Colts.
Assuming he manages to stay on the field all season, his Pro Bowl chances will significantly go up if he can find his way into the end zone more frequently.
In his second season, Ebron reeled in five touchdown passes and appeared on the cusp of emerging as the offense’s preeminent red-zone weapon. Instead, Anquan Boldin came in and claimed that role during the 2016 campaign.
Boldin is gone, calling it a career after briefly joining the Buffalo Bills this offseason. The opportunity is there for Ebron to seize those targets once again.
“I took a lot from him,” Ebron said. “I learned from him last year more than it put my production on hold. …Anybody that’s been the game that long, has a lot of knowledge. Especially being in the slot, playing the same position that I play.”
Finally, Ebron has to clean up the drops. Even though it was part of his scouting report coming out of college, the continuance of the issue is somewhat confounding. Over the past few seasons, he’s come down with several high-degree-of-difficultly receptions he had no business making, then, sometimes in the same game, he’d let an easy one slip through his fingers.
He put seven on the ground last year, 8.2 percent of his targets. On average, tight ends drop more passes than other positions because they largely operate across the middle of the field, through heavy traffic. Still, Ebron’s numbers were well beyond the high side of normal.
There’s the checklist: Continue to increase production, stay healthy, score more touchdowns and cut down on the drops. Ebron’s Pro Bowl goal is reasonably within reach. And if he manages to accomplish the individual goal, the Lions’ offense will reap the benefits.