What Is Eric Ebron's Fantasy Football Value?

Lions' tight end Eric Ebron has provided some nice fantasy scoring weeks, but can he provide stability to owners at the position?

Drafted with the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft, Eric Ebron was expected to give the Detroit Lions another big pass catcher with athleticism. A difference-maker that could run crisp routes, absorb red-zone targets, and develop into a quality blocker is what the Lions projected in their first-round pick.

This wasn’t the first time in recent years the Lions spent a first-round draft pick on a tight end. In 2009, the Lions used the 20th overall pick to draft Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew has developed into a fine player, especially when asked to block, but offers limited play-making ability.

That’s where Ebron comes into the picture.

He is an uber-athletic tight end with a large catch radius, speed, and loads of potential. There’s little question of Ebron’s receiving ability as he is the all-time ACC leader in career receiving yards by a tight end. In his second season in the NFL, Ebron has flashed some of this potential. 

The Lions appear to be more focused on making Ebron a bigger part of the offense this year, but the problem for Ebron lies in the offense itself.

Can he produce in a stagnant offense to provide fantasy owners a starting option at tight end? 

Offensive Problems

After going 11-5 last season, the Lions have collapsed under head coach Jim Caldwell. Sitting at 1-7, the Lions’ 2015 season can be considered a waste.

Based on our metrics, the Lions rank as the 30th worst team in the league with a nERD score of -9.23. This would suggest the Lions would lose by nearly 10 points to an average team on a neutral field. 

After replacing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi with Jim Bob Cooter, the offense showed zero improvement in a Week 9 drubbing to Kansas City in London. Matthew Stafford’s quarterbacking has teetered from abysmal to good for a few seasons, but his play has completely fallen off a cliff this year.

Stafford’s Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back this season is -0.03, ranking him 30th out of 33 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts on the year. His career low Passing NEP per attempt came in his injury-shortened rookie season with -0.14. He posted positive passing NEP numbers in each of the last five seasons.

NEP, by the way, quantifies how a player performs, indicating how many points above or below expectation-level he adds to his team's expected scoring output. The higher the score, the more positive impact a player has.

Stafford has reached the 300-yard passing mark just one time this season and already has four games with multiple interceptions. His struggles have negatively impacted the production of the offense and the players around him. Going back to our metrics, the Lions' passing offense is in the bottom third of the league. 

Where Does Ebron fit?

With the team typically losing, and the run game floundering (third worst in Adjusted Rushing NEP), the Lions find themselves forced to throw. Stafford has attempted at least 30 passes in all but one game this season.

The passes are mostly spread out among wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, passing back Theo Riddick, and Ebron. 

Our metrics show Ebron has provided a spark to the offense when targeted. His 0.77 Reception NEP per target ranks seventh out of a possible 28 tight ends with at least 15 catches on the season. 

Ebron has recorded a higher Reception NEP per target than both wide receivers Calvin Johnson (0.66) and Golden Tate (0.38) this season. Although targeted 36 fewer times than Tate, and 45 fewer times than Johnson, Ebron has provided a positive impact with the football in his hands. Tate has done extremely little this season, regardless of a high number of targets.

Surpassing last year's receiving and touchdown totals, Ebron has turned 23 receptions into 292 yards and 3 touchdowns in just six games. Ebron appears to be adapting to the NFL's faster, more physical play in his second season. 

Fantasy Relevance

Only a handful of tight ends have proven to be weekly roster locks this season. Ebron has not yet risen to those ranks but has provided owners with some nice weekly totals.

He has three weeks of at least 10 points in standard scoring leagues and one week with 6 points. Ebron’s other two weeks gave owners just two points each, but his totals are nothing to write off. In standard scoring leagues, he ranks 10th overall in total points at the position.

That is right where Ebron’s fantasy value should hover around the rest of the season. He is squarely in the low-end TE1 or streamer ranks. The other variable that could impact Ebron going forward is how many snaps Pettigrew will siphon now that he is back from injury. 

Ebron provides some upside based on how often the Lions will be throwing, but because of the team’s offensive troubles and the return of Pettigrew, he also comes with risk.