Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions)
Coming into his third NFL season, Ebron is just 23 years old. He came out as a junior after dominating in the ACC for the Tar Heels. His pro career has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but he started to flash his superb ability last season. With Brandon Pettigrew no longer a thing and Calvin Johnson gone, Ebron may get a lot of opportunities to score touchdowns considering Megatron’s 16 red zone targets are now up for grabs. Ebron might be the go-to guy for Matthew Stafford near the end zone.
His previous year numbers weren’t overly impressive (47/537/5), but he had a solid 11.4 yards per catch average and operated for most of the season as the do-it-all tight end. And if there was anything that was impressive from his 2015 season, it was his red zone efficiency. While he racked up only a modest eight red zone targets, he caught six of those and converted five into touchdowns. He may not have seemed consistent in fantasy football, but in eight of his 14 games played last year he either caught a touchdown or went over four catches and 49 yards. For a second-year, 22-year-old tight end, that’s not too bad. Look for him to produce much more this season.
Clive Walford (Oakland Raiders)
All offseason, the Raiders as a whole have been poised as the breakout team in the NFL. With rising stars in Derek Carr, Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper, an improved offensive line, and a young, athletic defense, it’s easy to see why they are expected to be really good. Walford is another young player that is expected to contribute to the movement in Oakland, as he’s expected to take over the starting tight end position after enjoying a mildly successful rookie season.
The leading pass-catcher for the Miami Hurricanes in his final year, Walford was brought along slowly in his debut NFL season after being drafted in the third round by the Raiders. By the end of the year, he out-snapped the previous main pass-catching tight end, Mychal Rivera, and was nearly on par with pure blocking tight end Lee Smith. He ended up with just 329 yards and three touchdowns, but he offered some big-play ability with an 11.8 yards per catch average, signaling that he is more than just a safety blanket. With the Raiders expecting him to play a big part this season, Walford should be among the most improved tight ends in the league.
Will Tye (New York Giants)
We don’t know how good Tye actually is, but we do know how good Larry Donnell (his competition) isn’t. After a “breakout” 2014 for Donnell in which he caught 63 passes for 623 yards and six touchdowns, Donnell’s 2015 was cut in half by a neck injury. Donnell started slowly anyway and was well off his previous year stat pace. A big-bodied, slow-footed safety valve, Donnell averaged just 9.9 yards per catch in 2014 and a feeble 7.7 average in 2015. During Donnell’s eight-week absence, Tye caught 34 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns while averaging a much better 11.0 yards per catch.
While they’ll be in a bit of a battle for targets, Tye has had the edge over Donnell to be the starter. The tight end in the Giants offense is a very important aspect of it. With Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham commanding attention at the X and Z receiver positions and Rashad Jennings/Shane Vereen serving as capable pass-catchers out of the backfield, the middle of the field is usually there for matchups to be won. Tye is more athletic and faster than Donnell and can pose more worrisome problems for defenses. Look for Tye to win the starting job once the season rolls around and have a productive sophomore season for the G-Men.