Matthew Stafford can’t afford to be naive about his tight ends

Detroit Lions

Eric Ebron isn’t a perfect tight end, but he will be missed by Matthew Stafford. The Lions didn’t do a lot to enhance their tight end group this offseason.

Matthew Stafford is one of the most naturally gifted passers in the NFL. That doesn’t mean he can succeed without good receivers. The team’s decision to let Eric Ebron go this summer leaves Stafford without a dynamic tight end to utilize.

Ebron certainly wasn’t perfect. His penchant to drop important passes was maddening for Stafford and the Lions coaching staff. Still, it’s important to note that he was only credited with eight drops in 16 games during the 2017 season. That’s far too many, but it does pale a bit in comparison to his 53 receptions.

That total was good for third on the team last year. His 574 yards receiving also placed third behind wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate. Simply put, Ebron was an important part of Stafford’s receiver group last year.

Despite his production, he never lived up to expectations in Detroit. When they couldn’t find a team willing to trade for him and his $8.25 million salary, they chose to release him. In a vacuum, that decision made good sense for the Lions. Ebron probably wasn’t going to give him that type of production in 2018.

Of course, good NFL decision makers can’t make personnel decisions in a vacuum. They have to consider their ability to replace someone like Ebron. That’s where the Lions failed to do enough. Nobody in the team’s current tight end trio of Luke Wilson, Levine Toilolo and Michael Roberts is capable of filling Ebron’s role in the office. That’s a harsh reality Stafford needs to understand.

Unfortunately, the Lions quarterback hasn’t come to grips with this issue quite yet. He recently applauded the amount of “talented guys in the (tight end) room.” That probably does a lot to endear him to his tight ends, but if he really believes the statement it’s a bad sign for Lions fans.

In the absence of a real receiving threat at tight end, Stafford will need to adjust his philosophy. He’s never been afraid to throw the ball down the field, but he’ll need to double down on that gunslinging philosophy this season. He’ll need to make a point to target his receivers more than ever before. That could be good news for Tate, Jones and Kenny Golladay.

The decision to part ways with Ebron could also cause the Lions to run the ball a bit more. While his replacements are inferior wide receivers, they can’t help but be a plus in the blocking department. Wilson, in particular, is known to be a very capable run blocker out on the edge.

That could portend a big season for the Lions’ talented quartet of running backs. In truth, it may be tough for the team to find enough carries for Ameer Abdullah, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and rookie Kerryon Johnson. Stafford will have to come to grips with handing the ball off more after losing his receiving threat at tight end.

The bottom line is that Stafford can’t stick his head in the sand and pretend like there hasn’t been a downgrade in tight end talent for the Lions. Instead, he has to acknowledge it and embrace the changes it means for his offense. If he does that, the Lions attack can be more dangerous than ever before.

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