Four years ago, the Baltimore Ravens drafted a high-upside tight end prospect with the hopes of him becoming the heir to Todd Heap as the face of the franchise at the position.
Nope, not Dennis Pitta, but Ed Dickson.
Both tight ends were selected in the 2010 draft, but it was Dickson who was supposed to develop into the star of the two.
At the time of their arrivals in Baltimore, Pitta appeared to be the complementary piece to the future backbone of the position in Dickson. Four years later, the exact opposite has been the case. With both set to become free agents, all signs point to Pitta returning on a long-term deal, and Dickson ending up on the outside looking in.
After four years in the NFL, what Dickson is right now is likely what he’ll be for the rest of his career: an average blocker and average receiver, but with high athletic ability. Essentially just a guy but with notable athletic flashes here and there.
In order to replace Dickson and/or Pitta, the Ravens may look to the draft, where the tight end position offers a few potential future offensive centerpieces.
But is one of the top tight ends the next Ed Dickson?
Eric Ebron, a junior from North Carolina, is widely regarded as one of the top tight end prospects in this year’s draft class. With the athleticism he brings, it’s hard to disagree with the intrigue. Ebron and the Ravens have been linked as a potential match almost as much as Mike Evans and Baltimore have been.
But is Ebron a good match for Baltimore?
Let’s take a look at what Ebron brings to the table, and how/if he would be a viable option for the Ravens in May.
The first thing with Ebron is upside, which stems from his incomplete frame and speed. At 6’4, 245 pounds, he presents plenty of room for growth to fill out his body. Throw in his (likely) sub-4.70 40-yard dash speed, and Ebron could be a yards after the catch technician in the NFL.
But that’s where the problems arise for Ebron, who is far from the complete tight end.
In fact, of all the top tight ends in this year’s class, Ebron may have the highest upside, but one of the lowest floors. Whichever team selects Ebron will be gambling on whether or not he can develop into a complete tight end. His most glaring issue right now is his hands, which is where the Dickson comparisons begin.
Ebron’s hands are the most inconsistent of any tight end that is considered a potential first-round pick.
If he were inconsistent when it comes to bringing in contested catches, that’d be a different story. But for Ebron, it’s simple, uncontested passes that consistently bounce right off his hands.
A few examples…
This pass right to Ebron was dropped:
So was this one:
And this one:
Shades of Ed Dickson?
For every head-scratching drop, Ebron also displays the ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls and make catches that some tight ends can’t make.
A few examples of him doing just that.
An enigma, to say the least.
What kind of receiver will Ebron be in the NFL? To predict that probably takes more guessing than prior knowledge, and it’s hard to lean one way or another.
Back to his fit in Baltimore…
It looks like Ebron is best suited for a slot receiver role, and compares favorably to St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook with his length, playmaking ability, but also inconsistencies.
He was used on occasion as an in-line blocker for the Tar Heels, but is still raw in that aspect. Ebron will likely make his living as a pass catcher, with blocking being an afterthought. Given Baltimore’s assumed intention of re-signing Dennis Pitta, Ebron is far from the best fit in Baltimore.
Pitta is the farthest thing from a true tight end, as he’s practically a wide receiver. If the Ravens add yet another tight end who leans heavily toward the receiving aspect, they’ll still be without a blocking tight end.
Given new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s usage of tight ends as blockers in Houston, it’s a safe bet the Ravens will want to have one regular tight end that can block.
Ebron can get by as an in-line blocker, reminiscent of how Dickson managed to stay afloat during his tenure in Baltimore. Dickson was far from the most ideal blocker, but he earned the blocking role by default.
Where Ebron sometimes looks lost as a blocker, though, is out in the open, where he often whiffs in one-on-one situations.
His safest bet in the NFL would be to go to a team that would allow him to develop primarily as a pass catcher, with blocking being an afterthought.
If Pitta is in Baltimore, that wouldn’t be the case for Ebron.
Regardless of where Ebron ends up, be wary of the high risk that comes with him. As was the case with the Ravens and Dickson in 2010, whichever team inherits Ebron will bank on him overcoming his wildly inconsistent hands and average route-running, with his incredible range and athleticism being the overriding factors.
See more of Eric Ebron at DraftBreakdown.com.