Lions TE Eric Ebron didn’t play much football the first two weeks of OTAs, sidelined with an injury. He returned this week and immediately slid into his position in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. It’s a role he believes will be “a lot more exciting” than it was his first two seasons under Joe Lombardi.
Ebron is going to have to take more responsibility, too. With Calvin Johnson's retirement, he becomes one of the team’s primary mismatches for opponents. When he was drafted, he was supposed to be another option for Matthew Stafford. Now, he’ll likely line up with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate as a primary one.
“I see him hopefully taking strides this year,” Cooter said. “And making those big strides.”
Ebron caught 47 passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns last season and finished as the #13 TE in PPR formats, though he was actually worse under then-interim and now-official offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. He averaged 13.0 FP (PPR) through the first seven weeks, and 7.3 FP once Cooter was promoted. With Calvin Johnson gone, there are a lot of moving parts in Detroit, so this doesn't mean that Ebron won't produce similar (or better) numbers in his third season.
The offense being installed in Allen Park this offseason is very different than the one the Lions ran even the second half of last season.
“I think it's exactly what it is, we started from scratch,” receiver Golden Tate said after an open OTA practice last week.
“The calls are different. The signals are different. From top to bottom it’s all new and we’re just taking it day by day. I think our guys are doing a great job staying in their book and trying to learn it.”
There are obviously some elements that were put in place on the fly the second half of last year that have been adopted into the new package. But this has truly been a full reinstall, according to Tate. And like anything new, it takes time to perfect.
It would explain some of the sloppiness, penalties, missed assignments and balls hitting the ground on offense over the course of the two open OTA practices the last two weeks.
The offense was more productive once Jim Bob Cooter took over in Week 8, averaging 2.24 points per drive compared to just 1.54 points per drive in the first seven games. Total yardage and number of plays remained about the same, but there was a larger commitment to the run (+4.8 rushing attempts per game). Passing yardage declined (-26.5), but touchdowns were up (+0.36) and interceptions were way down (-0.99). Given Tate's comments about the new install, it sounds as if the offense is a work in progress, and the team will have to get new WR Marvin Jones up to speed.
Lions.com writer Tim Twentyman was asked via Twitter who will lead the team in catches. His response:
I think it will be hard for Theo Riddick to reach 80 catches again this season. Teams will scheme hard against him.
I expect Eric Ebron’s stats to take another significant increase in year three, but the 90-catch range is probably a bit high for him.
In the end, I expect Tate and Marvin Jones to be right there, with Tate edging Jones out.
Jones had a career-high 65 catches in 2015, so it's tough to see him pushing Tate, who has back-to-back seasons with 90-plus catches. Tate looks like a great value, especially in PPR formats.
Johnson’s future -- and the possibility of him returning -- came up in an interview Wednesday evening on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR-760 at the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field.
“In my mind, I don’t see that happening,” Stafford said. “He retired because he wanted to. That’s it.”
It's up to Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron to pick up the slack. Over the last two seasons, in 11 games in which Johnson was questionable, doubtful or out, Tate averaged 6.6 receptions for 77 yards and 0.73 TD. Fantasy-wise, that’s about what Allen Robinson scored as the #6 WR in PPR formats in 2015. It’s also solid WR1 production in standard formats. Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TD in his last 32 games. The 6’2” receiver has been especially good at catching touchdowns (14 in his last 32 games), so he'll likely have a large role in the red zone.
Andy Dalton is back to zipping the ball. He’s got no restrictions with his throwing thumb; he’s got one visit under his belt to passing specialist Dr. Tom House last month, and after watching two of his most established targets leave via free agency he got one back with a Super Bowl ring and knows Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert are already here.
“It would be tougher if it was my first or second year, but this is year six,” Dalton says Monday from Dallas of his revamped receiving corps. “It’s easier for me now than early on in my career. That is going to be fun. We’ve got these guys from the start; we’ve got to get them exactly where we want them to be.
The two guys who lockered next to him and meant so much to the passing game won’t be here two weeks from Monday when the Bengals gather for offseason workouts. Wide receiver Marvin Jones turned down at least the same $40 million to go to Detroit and Mohamed Sanu got No. 2 money in Atlanta when a No. 4 role loomed in Cincinnati.
That means the Lions are looking for the supporting cast at WR to step up. Golden Tate will be featured prominently alongside Marvin Jones, and Detroit has acquired former Jet Jeremy Kerley to man the slot.
"We really expect him to come forward and be a little bit more of a prominent threat," coach Jim Caldwell said.
Jones was a sixth-round pick of the club in 2014, but experienced nerve pain following shoulder surgery that offseason and never played a down. He caught passes in four of the final five games including a 29-yard touchdown in a Week 16 win against San Francisco. Caldwell went on to say Jones return ability and scat-back ability, where he can catch screens and take off and go.
Marvin Jones signing in Detroit per sources.
Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TD in his last 32 games. He's been especially good at catching touchdowns, so he'll try to pick up the slack after Calvin Johnson's retirement. Used inconsistently in Cincinnati, he should see plenty of work with the Lions, though we expect he'll play second-fiddle to Golden Tate in terms of total targets. This is a good landing spot for Jones. Consider him a fantasy WR4 with some upside heading into 2016.
Friday, January 1, 2016, 6:26pm
Wednesday, December 30, 2015, 6:13pm
Friday, December 18, 2015, 6:32pm
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (concussion, out) has been ruled out for Week 15. Eifert’s absence means that A.J. Green and Marvin Jones are a bit more attractive, though the loss of Andy Dalton doesn’t help.
Friday, December 11, 2015, 6:22pm
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck, probable) took full practice reps again Friday and is probable for Week 14. He’s the #2 TE in the league in PPG, so he’s pretty much a must-start if he’s healthy. His return is a downgrade for A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, but Andy Dalton gets a small bump given Eifert’s effectiveness in the red zone.
Thursday, December 10, 2015, 6:31pm
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck) took full practice reps Thursday after being limited Wednesday. Eifert says he is “on track to play Sunday” and was a “full go” on Thursday. He’s the #2 TE in the league in PPG, so he’s pretty much a must-start if he’s healthy. His return is a downgrade for A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, but Andy Dalton gets a small bump given Eifert’s effectiveness in the red zone.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015, 6:33pm
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck) took limited practice reps Wednesday. Eifert says he is “on track to play Sunday.” He’s the #2 TE in the league in PPG, so he’s pretty much a must-start if he’s healthy. His return is a downgrade for A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, but Andy Dalton gets a small bump given Eifert’s effectiveness in the red zone.
Friday, December 4, 2015, 6:28pm
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck, doubtful) missed practice all week and is doubtful for Week 13. Eifert is still recovering from a Week 12 stinger. Owners should make other plans. A.J. Green and Marvin Jones may see more looks in the red zone with Eifert sidelined.
Friday, November 27, 2015, 6:20pm
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