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Fantasy Players - Rookie Watch
By Mike Beacom

Rookie Watch – Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

Geez, how many weapons does the Lions passing attack need? Well stocked at tight end, and in possession of the game’s best receiver and one of its best receiving backs, Detroit used the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to take the only tight end worthy of a first round grade. Secondary help? Another offensive lineman? Nah – more weapons for Matthew Stafford!

The Lions have ranked among the top five in passing attempts in each of the past four seasons with no indication of change. To complement Calvin Johnson the team added Golden Tate, and the selection of Ebron is further evidence the Lions are trying to win an arms race with the rest of the NFC.

But, with so many weapons, what can fantasy owners expect from a first-year tight end? Here is how Ebron’s first season in the Motor City could shake out…

Dissecting the depth chart: It’s crazy to think Joseph Fauria caught seven touchdowns last season and in 2014 he’ll be No. 3 on the depth chart. Ebron’s arrival has almost made Fauria a non-factor – what could Detroit possibly need him for with Brandon Pettigrew already on the roster? Pettigrew has averaged 56.8 catches in his five NFL seasons. However, he’s missed time in three of those five seasons, and has never been a steady go-to-tight end the team imagined he’d become when they used a first round pick on him in 2009. Ebron is the most gifted athlete of the group, and even though he lacks experience it’s likely he’ll start to see the most reps at some point early into the season.

Just the stats: Ebron averaged an impressive 16.1 yards per catch over his three seasons at North Carolina. As a junior in 2013 he set career bests in catches (62) and yards (973). All three of his career 100-yard games came last season, including a 199-yard gem in a four-point loss to Miami-Florida in which Ebron took a 71-yard catch for a score in the first quarter. He caught four or more passes in nine of 13 games as a junior before declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft.

2014 Projection: 41 receptions, 566 yards, 5 TDs.

2013 rookie comparison: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Like Ebron, Ertz was thrust into a muddled passing game for a team already in possession of a veteran tight end. Ertz emerged, and by the end of the year had caught 36 balls for 469 and four touchdowns (most among rookie tight ends). Much of his production came in the season’s final month (195 yards, three touchdowns).

Interesting fact that won’t help you: During his senior year of high school, Ebron recorded 13.5 sacks playing defensive end.

What he’s worth: Ebron is one of the few skill position rookies worthy of fantasy starting lineup consideration. He is by no means as reliable as Jason Witten, but his upside is through the roof, especially playing for Detroit. View him as a fringe No. 1 and safe No. 2 tight end in most leagues.

Follow Mike Beacom on Twitter @mikebeacom
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