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.
With Calvin Johnson settling into retirement, the Lions will need more from their running game this fall. Ameer Abdullah is the No. 1 back, and if he conquers his fumble problems, he should be in for a big season.
Abdullah had a disappointing rookie season after an electrifying preseason. Joique Bell is gone, but Theo Riddick is still around to handle third-down duties and the team signed Stevan Ridley to compete with Zach Zenner for carries behind Abdullah. The rookie had five fumbles on 168 touches, which is not a good fumble rate. As the article highlights, if Abdullah can prove he can hold onto the ball, he could surpass 250 touches in his second season.
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.
The most prolific wide receiver in franchise history and one of the most talented at the position in NFL history is retiring after nine professional seasons in which he accumulated over 11,000 receiving yards, seven 1,000-yard seasons and six Pro Bowl invitations.
With Johnson’s retirement, Golden Tate steps into the WR1 role assuming the Lions don’t target a receiver in the 1st round of the draft (or acquire a bona fide WR1 via trade). 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. 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. Tate averaged 5.5 catches for 62 yards and 0.10 TD (high-end WR3 numbers in PPR) in the other 21 games. The defense will be more focused on Tate, so we’re expecting WR2 numbers in 2016. Eric Ebron also stands to benefit greatly from Johnson's departure.