3. Detroit Lions
Eric Ebron is a polarizing figure among Lions’ diehards, who can make excellent cases for and against placing their faith in him as the team’s primary pass catcher at tight end.
While the 2014 10th overall pick hasn’t exactly been the paragon of week-to-week consistency, his numbers have improved every year.
His third season in the pros saw Ebron produce 14 more receptions (61), register nearly 200 more yards than the previous year (711) and—perhaps most importantly—a slightly improved catch rate from 67.1 percent to 71.8 percent.
Oddly enough, however, No. 85 continued to struggle with dropped passes by leading the position in that department with 7, which doesn’t include two egregious balls he failed to secure in Detroit’s Wildcard loss to Seattle.
Making matters worse is Ebron’s plumetting touchdown output from 5 in 2015 to 1 this past season.
The organization seems to think that things will only get better for the 24-year-old, as evidenced by their decision to pick up his 5th-year option along with public words of support by head coach Jim Caldwell.
Caldwell and company certainly have to be encouraged by the fact that Ebron has become a formidable route runner. Those harboring any doubts about his ability to execute pass patterns should go back and view how the New Jersey-born playmaker routinely shook off Micah Hyde in Week 3 on a series of slants and in-breaking routes.
The addition of a pair of blocking tight ends (more on them later) and the release of grizzled slot master Anquan Boldin is a sign that the team has big plans for Ebron in a pass-catching role.
Fourth-round pick Michael Roberts should see plenty of action as a rookie due to his versatility as both a pass and run blocker.
The large-framed 270-pound tight end features a powerful lower body and the ability to sink his hips to drive defenders off the ball.
His massive 11 ½” hands should also serve him well on short, drive-extending routes.
Similarly, 31-year-old Darren Fells will serve as a quasi-offensive lineman. Though he’s caught only 40 balls in his three years in the NFL, the 6-foot-7, 281-pound veteran is a former basketball player that is among the most physical competitors among his tight end peers.
Bears castoff Khari Lee is a versatile piece that is better equipped at extending outside of his frame for off-target throws, as well as running the seam. In terms of blocking, the journeyman is reliable on running plays, but can struggle against speed rushers in pass protection.
Lee is an insurance policy protecting the team in the event of any sort of injuries to their other three tight ends. The fact that he’s only in his third year as a professional means that he still has practice-squad eligibility.