The Indianapolis Colts recently signed former Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year contract. Ebron gets a fresh start in an offense, and with a quarterback which will feature the tight end quite a bit.
Jack Doyle and Darrell Daniels will be designated more as the in-line blockers in the group, while Ebron, potentially Erik Swoope as well as Ross Travis appear to be set to become the big targets as quality receiving options. Now, obviously, Ebron won’t be asked to commit a heavy dose of his time as a blocking option, but he is able to step in occasionally and offers the ability for Frank Reich to move him around in various positions in order to create mismatches.
The Lions offense won’t much resemble that of which the Colts are putting together this season, so we won’t dive deep into the scheme specifically. However, I will point out enough for you to see just how diverse Ebron — as a chess piece — could be, and how dangerous he actually is with his combination of speed and athleticism.
One thing that stands out here is that Ebron is used in motion to force the defense to tip their hand. We see Giants safety Landon Collins in a single-high look with a lot on his plate here. Ebron simply has to get behind the linebackers here and with this design he has the potential to break a big gain.
But, the real advantage to having a fast tight end who can run quality routes is that his abilities open up opportunities for his fellow pass catchers as well. Let’s assume that T.Y. Hilton or Chester Rogers is in the slot here for the Colts. You can see that Luck would have the option of going over the top — as Collins bit early on the pass to Ebron — or getting it to Ebron with the possibility of having a lot of green ahead of him.
Doyle is a very good route-running tight end, but the speed and ability to break a long gain makes Ebron a strong focus for linebackers and safeties. He’s going to challenge opposing teams’ back seven quite a bit this coming season which could leave Luck with even more options to put points on the board, and could take some of the pressure off of Hilton as defenses wouldn’t be able to bracket him quite as freely.
As I mentioned, Ebron isn’t a blocking aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. However, he’s a big boy and when he’s asked to chip edge rushers, he can have a significant impact on the success of a play. That’s what he does here, as he sets up tight to the line and puts this guy on his can quickly.
After Ebron cracks down on the defensive end, he slips out into the flat with 10-plus yards of cushion to make a play after the catch. Now, the cornerback makes a very nice play, but had quarterback Matt Stafford’s pass come out on time, Ebron could have chewed up every bit of 15 yards. Any of the Colts’ current tight ends can execute this play, but none of them have the ability to outrun and shake defenders right now.
This clip probably shows just how talented and athletic Ebron truly is. Here, he sets up outside along the boundary matched up against a safety. Yes, he obviously has the size advantage here, but most tight ends aren’t going to get off of the line of scrimmage this quickly, have the agility to stop, jab inside, then burn past the defensive back to the end zone.
Speed, route running and the versatility to be stretched out away from the formation on an island is something the Colts haven’t had much success at with tight ends in a very long time.
Here, we see some determination to get through multiple defenders — as he’s checked just short of the goal line — the speed to create space against the defensive back, as well as his catch ratio being put on display. For a tight end who is mostly used as a receiver, he has the body stability to take on a linebacker trying to take him off of his route, yet still finishes his route and beats the safety to the spot for a touchdown.
Additionally, you can see that he understands that the offensive tackle is responsible for the defensive end, dodges him to get off of the line of scrimmage quickly and stays focused on his route. At 6-foot-4, you can see that he has the potential to be a solid red zone target as well as being a force between the 20’s.
While this isn’t an option route for Ebron, I like to see that he draws so much attention from the linebackers and secondary that his route could open up the wide out had he not been open initially. He hesitates only slightly at the line of scrimmage (to appear as a blocker), has no false steps in his route, sticks his foot in the ground and makes a tough catch.
This is where he’ll be so imperative to the passing game. With so many defenders in coverage, Ebron’s route running is key to a reception here.
Something that can’t be understated is his ability to go down and get the ball. He’s long been stigmatized as a poor blocker, and a receiving threat who struggles to catch the ball consistently. The reality, is that he was much more efficient last year (3 drops) than in years previous, and actually caught a handful of balls he probably shouldn’t have been expected to haul in.
Yes, this is a nice read and throw by Stafford, but Ebron in man coverage against a linebacker is a mismatch all day, every day. I know I’ve mentioned it a few times, but watch his footwork at the line of scrimmage. Ebron toys with the linebacker, because he knows he doesn’t have help over the top, therefore, he can’t afford to jam him at the snap.
Ebron’s length, speed and quality route running is going to be a welcomed addition to the Colts passing game. With multiple pass catchers at tight end, good route-running at the top of the depth chart and some new big play possibilities should have Colts fans excited about what is to come with Ebron in the lineup.