Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery. There once was a time when the words “Pro Bowl” and “Eric Ebron” would be more likely listed as antonyms in a thesaurus than a Google search yielding results. That time was four months ago.
From the moment he entered the league in 2014, UNC’s own Eric Ebron had a lot to live up to. He had been taken by the Detroit Lions with the 10th overall pick, two picks ahead of Odell Beckham Jr. and three picks ahead of Aaron Donald. That’s a situation that NO tight end this side of Rob Gronkowski could possibly have lived up to, but Ebron’s struggles in Detroit only magnified the fanbase’s discontent with his frustrating play. Four disappointing years featuring underwhelming numbers and maddening dropped passes made him Public Enemy #1 at Ford Field. By the end, he was booed by his home crowd as often as any opponent. In early March if this year, he was cut.
Looking back at Ebron’s time in Detroit, the expectations were unfair. The Lions had hoped to make him a lethal pass catching threat to complement Calvin Johnson, one of the best to ever do it. That was the burden placed on a young man who had only been playing football since his junior year of high school. Despite his vast array of physical skills, he still had a long way to go in terms of learning the minutiae of being an elite NFL tight end. If Eric Ebron was going to become an elite player proportional to his potential, it would take time. Four years, to be exact.
Five days after being cut by Detroit, Ebron was signed to a two-year deal by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, whose quarterback Andrew Luck is a tight end-friendly quarterback (note the red zone effectiveness of Dwayne Allen, now a glorified blocker in New England) provided renaissance for Ebron, who is about to complete his finest season in the NFL.
As the leading red zone weapon in the Colt’s high-powered offense, Ebron has reeled in 12 touchdowns after Week 16. That is more touchdowns than in his entire four years in Detroit. His targets are up as well, and he simply looks like a new man, more confident, less mistake-prone, and more like the fun-loving kid that played in Chapel Hill. Part of that is due to Indy coach Frank Reich’s usage of him; Ebron’s been used as the primary pass-catching tight end while leaving the blocking responsibilities (something Ebron has struggled with) to Jack Doyle.
But tremendous credit needs to go to Ebron for taking advantage a new opportunity with clear eyes and renewed optimism. As he said back in November: “Things happen, but you have to roll with it and keep pushing. Everything that happened was meant to happen…It’s led to where I am now.”
It’s not often you see a Tar Heel named to the Pro Bowl whose name isn’t Peppers or Saturday. But thanks to a second chance and a drive to change the narrative, that’s exactly what Eric Ebron is.