That became evident in the statistics for the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft – 28 catches, 269 yards and one touchdown, including the playoff game – and also his usage throughout the season.
Drafted as a matchup threat who could stretch the field over the middle as a third option to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ebron barely played in the first part of the season and was typically only targeted on short-to-intermediate routes.
His 9.27 air-yards per target is actually not bad compared to other tight ends – that would have been fourth in the league among tight ends in the stat if he had enough catches to qualify, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But he only averaged 9.92 yards per reception, not exactly numbers representing a major playmaker.
Ebron appears to be fine with that – for now.
“I really can’t complain,” Ebron said. “I had some great people around me, some great mentors, some great leaders, some great people to help me mature. so it was a great experience as far as a rookie season.
“Next year, come back with everything, your experiences, your wisdom, you just put on an even better show. You just keep improving.”
Compounding his lack of rookie production are the players taken right after him in May’s draft. Of the seven players taken directly after Ebron, four were named to the Pro Bowl as rookies: Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley.
That just further accentuates multiple things.
In a win-now situation, Detroit likely shouldn’t have drafted a tight end at No. 10, even if there is a decent-to-good chance he becomes a quality player in the future.
It also shows how poorly the Lions used the position after investing in Ebron in the first round. Detroit also brought back their former first-round pick, Brandon Pettigrew, in free agency and had Joseph Fauria as well.
Because of injury, experience and play calls, the tight ends combined for 45 catches, 424 yards and two touchdowns.
The group equaled the yardage production of Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, who finished 22nd among tight ends and did so in 10 games. The 45 catches put the group 20th among tight ends – two behind Buffalo’s Scott Chandler and two ahead of Denver’s Julius Thomas, who only played in 13 games.
The lack of production even seemed to surprise general manager Martin Mayhew.
“I don’t really have a solid answer for that at this point,” Mayhew said. “I thought we’d get more catches from Pettigrew. I thought we’d get more catches from Ebron and obviously Joe Fauria was injured, which is why we couldn’t get as much from him.”
Mayhew pointed to other players with big stat lines and injuries as reasons for the lack of tight end production. But in reality, it was one of many questions in an offense that struggled all season.
All three had injuries, so that was potentially part of the problem, but Detroit often appeared to ignore the position entirely. Ebron was targeted 48 times in the regular season – 3.69 times a game. Fauria was targeted 11 times in seven games. Pettigrew averaged one target per game. Kellen Davis was targeted three times and didn’t catch a pass.
So the expectations – both for Ebron and the position in general – differed with what happened. That begins with the Lions’ first-round pick last spring.
“We all have expectations,” Ebron said. “I wanted to come in and do certain things, but it’s never, ever going to play out the way you want it to. I’m sure there are some people who didn’t expect their rookie season to end up the way it did, positive or negative, but I’m pretty sure every rookie is satisfied with the learning experience that they took, the teammates and things like that they had to deal with and go through.
“You have to go through it to understand it.”
It’s a process the Lions and Ebron don’t want to repeat.