Eric Ebron was the only big name addition on the Colts offense this offseason. His presence will be a great boon for an offense starving for skill position talent. People love to hate Ebron and I used to feel similarly, but after his arrival in Indianapolis, I have changed my tune, and not just because he joined the Colts.
There have been many highs to go with the lows that are usually focused on for Ebron. He has put up some historic numbers in terms of early career tight end production. He is fifth on the list of yardage produced before age 25 season as Pat Thorman tweeted out earlier this year. His athletic numbers still certainly jump off the page. The major gripe people have with him is drops. While this can’t be entirely explained away, he is still a young player and has time to correct some of those issues. While these issues may not be solved immediately or completely by a change of scenery, but my arguments below will address some changes that will help clean up this area of his game.
Ebron creates separation very well as shown by his 1.8 yard target separation metric from Player Profiler. This stat shows he creates mismatches in the middle of the field well against slower linebackers. It also suggests he runs good technical routes that allow him to create separation from safeties and corners who are covering him. This bodes very well for him as he transitions to Indianapolis, where he could be a de facto receiver in an offense with an established in-line tight end in Jack Doyle and very little receiver talent.
Athletically he profiles almost identically to Kellen Winslow II, which points to his sky-high fantasy potential, and he is certainly a more gifted athlete than Doyle. This gives him a leg up in a more wide-open offense that will be implemented by Frank Reich. Ebron wasn’t used well in Detroit where he played in the middle of the field a lot and was not often sent up the seam. Instead, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay took up space outside and deeper down the field with Golden Tate also clogging up the short and intermediate areas of the field. Tate also forced Ebron to play in line more often than he should have by taking a majority of his snaps in the slot. Ebron’s average depth of target was only 7.8 yards last year. Reich used Zach Ertz slightly more in the downfield role (8.2 average depth of target or ADOT) in Philadelphia which bodes well for Ebron. He is a significantly better athlete than Ertz and will have Doyle running most of the shorter routes. This will open up the intermediate and deeper routes for Ebron giving him a chance to utilize his skill set. He could very experience an Ertz-type breakout this year. Tight end in fantasy is very shallow and it is not terribly hard to separate from the pack that exists between TE6 and TE15. He has a great opportunity to do just that.
In 2017, Jack Doyle had a 99% snap share per Player Profiler. His Hog rate (a Player Profiler stat showing passing game utilization), however, was only 12.4%. Ebron, on the other hand, had a 16.3% percent Hog rate on a 56.6% snap share, leading the league for tight ends. Ebron will see that snap share increase significantly this year. He should also see a lot more time in the slot, which will give him the best chance to create mismatches and separation. He and Doyle will be on the field together in two tight end sets often and they should end up 2nd and 3rd on the Colts in targets this year. The two rookie receivers don’t pose a threat to those targets, while Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers would have to beat them out as camp unfolds here in the next few weeks to even see much of the field.
Along with the less crowded receiving core and the longer leash, Ebron should see an increased red zone workload. He was targeted only 12 times in the red zone in 2017 and only 6 times in 2016. Without a strong between the tackles runner, they will have to target Ebron in the red zone. This will give him a chance to improve on the less than impressive touchdown thus far. I project Ebron for eight touchdowns this year. With the increased snap share, red zone targets, and an improved route tree, he will be a top eight tight end.