The Detroit Lions have chosen to keep tight end Eric Ebron under contract through the 2018 season.
The Lions exercised their option to pick up the fifth year of his contract Tuesday.
Detroit drafted Ebron in the first round, No. 10 overall, out of North Carolina in 2014. He has 133 career receptions, seven touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards receiving.
The transition to the NFL was difficult for Ebron. He missed three games to injury as a rookie, dropped 8.3 percent of his targets and only had 25 catches for 248 yards.
The numbers were slow to come. Eventually, though, they did. Ebron’s receptions and yards increased from 2014 to 2015 and again from 2015 to last season, when he had career-bests with 61 catches and 711 yards. Those numbers put him in the Top 10 among all tight ends in the league in 2016 — eighth in yards and 10th in catches. This is what the Lions drafted him to do.
The drops were still there, but he’s made progress. Last season, he had five drops — but that was only on 5.8 percent of his targets, the lowest drop rate of his career while being targeted more than he ever had been before. The drop percentage was better than two other Lions pass-catchers, Theo Riddick and Marvin Jones, and drops were an issue for almost every Lions receiver last season.
At this point in his career, it’s fair to think drops will always be an issue for him — he was tied for 23rd among qualifying tight ends — but last year had a better drop rate than Antonio Gates and Charles Clay. He’s improved here, though.
The other main complaint with Ebron is his blocking. He’s much improved from his rookie season, but consider why Ebron was drafted. He was taken to be a stretch-the-field tight end, a mismatch up the seams who would become a nightmare defensive assignment for a safety or linebacker. He was taken to be a red zone reception threat, not an in-line blocker opening up holes for Lions running backs.
The progress has been there for Ebron the last three seasons, enough where the Lions made the right call to not only have him on the team for a fourth year, but keeping him an extra season, as well. Had he been drafted anywhere later than where he was — say at No. 21, the pick the Lions had this season — it likely wouldn’t have been much of a debate at all.
But that’s the perception problem Ebron has had since he’s been in Detroit. There’s nothing he can do about it other than continuing trying to play as he’s been doing, getting better and better as the seasons go along.