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Film Room: Eric Ebron and His Unique Role in The Colts Offense

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Did GM Chris Ballard find a diamond in the rough with this free agent signing?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

GM Chris Ballard’s 2018 free agent class hasn’t necessarily been super impactful. WR Ryan Grant and LB Najee Goode have look solid in their roles, but OT Austin Howard was a big failure that was cut before the season started.

The biggest bright spot appears to Eric Ebron.

Some believe that Ebron has been an underachiever to this point in the NFL. After the Lions drafted him 10th overall in 2014, they allowed him to test free agency. After drawing interest around the NFL, Ebron chose to sign a two-year deal with the Colts. He was likely added to the roster to fill the second TE role behind Jack Doyle, for use primarily as a receiving weapon.

Through two games, Ebron has notched 77 yards on 7 catches for 2 touchdowns. The stats don’t scream productivity but when you factor in the fact that the Colts offense has been limited by an injured offensive line, and that Ebron has only played 37% of the offensive snaps (54 of 143 possible snaps), he is off to a strong start in Indianapolis. He is on pace for 56 catches for 616 yards and 16 touchdowns. The touchdown production will be hard to maintain but he is easily on pace for the best season of his career.

Since there is limited tape available with Ebron’s small number of snap counts, there won’t be too many clips in this film review. My main focus here is to show the way that Ebron has been used in the offense and how the scheme could open up more opportunities for Ebron moving forward:


Film Review:

Lets look back on Eric Ebron’s career. He was a top 10 selection after a dominant collegiate career at North Carolina. In college, Ebron had 112 catches for 1805 yards and 8 touchdowns in 3 years as a starter. He cemented his status as a top selection in the draft with a 4.6 40 time and 120” broad jump at the combine.

While he showed plenty of flashes with Detroit, he could never put together a good overall season. Inconsistency showed in his stats and even his best season with the Lions was 61 catches for 711 yards and 1 touchdown in 2016.

Despite the poor numbers, Ebron flashed potential.

Ebron’s hot start with the Colts should be credited to how he has been schemed into favorable match-ups. The Colts offense has focused on quick hitters and crossing route concepts to help create separation for receivers. Ebron has benefited from these concepts but HC Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirianni have also shown trust in Ebron on isolation routes with favorable match ups.

Take this this play against the Bengals. They appear to be in man coverage, which Luck is able to diagnose by motioning Nyheim Hines out to the receiver spot. Ebron is matched up with rookie linebacker Jordan Evans. Luck never takes his eyes off Ebron as he is able to easily beat the linebacker for a touchdown.

Excellent play design by Reich and Sirianni to get that favorable matchup.

This next play again shows Reich’s scheme at work. Ebron is isolated at the bottom of the image against Redskins’ safety Montae Nicholson. Knowing that Nicholson has the height and speed advantage on Ebron, the play calls for a natural pick on a crossing concept. Ebron is able to create separation by extending his arm to ensure that Nicholson runs into the T.Y. Hilton’s pick.

Excellent design again by Reich as this is a genius way to scheme open one of your better players.

Lastly, this play shows growing trust from Andrew Luck. Ebron is matched up with Nicholson with on a goal line fade route. As I mentioned earlier, Nicholson has the advantage on Ebron in height and speed. Ebron is able to release after the impressive jam and work his way up field. This is a pure trust throw by Luck (perfectly placed I might add) to give your guy a chance. Ebron is able to win the 50/50 ball here.


Analysis:

At this point in his career, Ebron may be what he is. A solid receiving tight end who can win isolated match-ups. The main reason Ebron didn’t work out in Detroit was because he was being asked to do too much. He will never be a Rob Gronkowski who can catch balls in double or triple coverage. He’ll never be a Jordan Reed or Travis Kelce who can beat you with receiver-like route running. He can win is in isolated, favorable match-ups.

This attribute makes Ebron a near perfect fit for Reich’s offense. The offense doesn’t ask players to be world beaters. It asks players to play their role and make the most of their opportunities. In this offense, Ebron will get the opportunity to be a successful NFL tight end. He may also be able to provide a big spark in the red zone.

My biggest takeaway is the amount of trust the Colts have in Ebron at this early of a stage. Three of Ebron’s seven catches have come on third down. He’s also been getting targets in or around the red zone, which is arguably the most important area of the field for an offense.

After scoring a touchdown in a second consecutive game, Frank Reich commented, “at the end of the day, I’d probably like to get him the ball a couple more times than we did.” If true, we could see an increase in snaps and usage going forward. In my eyes, if Eric Ebron can stay healthy, this will be his best season of his NFL career.