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2017 Position Breakdown: Tight ends

The good: After a slow start, veteran Eric Ebron came on strong the second half of the season. Over the last eight weeks, Ebron ranked fourth among tight ends in catches (40) and yards (472), seventh in touchdowns (3) and third in 25-plus-yard receptions (5).

Ebron's targets saw a significant uptick the second half of the season vs. the first half. He was targeted 32 times Weeks 1-8. Through Weeks 9-17, that number jumped to 54 targets.

Ebron proved over the final eight weeks he can be a mismatch weapon for the Lions if they utilize him the right way and target him accordingly.

When Ebron was struggling early in the year, veteran Darren Fells picked up the slack. Known more as a blocker than receiver when signed this offseason, Fells had two touchdown catches in a Week 5 loss vs. Carolina and another the following week in a loss to New Orleans.

View photos of the Detroit Lions tight ends in 2017.

Rookie Michael Roberts was an all-around tight end in college, but his 16 touchdowns at Toledo his senior year showed off his receiving prowess. Roberts actually impressed more as a blocker for the Lions in 2017, which is a terrific sign he could be a versatile, three-down tight end with a little more seasoning.

The bad: If Ebron is going to be considered among the NFL's top tight ends, he can't have another tale-of-two-halves season like we saw in 2017. He has to be good all 16 weeks. Over the first eight weeks of the season, Ebron ranked 30th in catches, 32nd in yards, 27th in touchdowns and 22nd in catches of 25-plus yards among tight ends. That's not good enough.

Roberts missed a team meeting leading up to Detroit's Week 17 game and was suspended by head coach Jim Caldwell. He didn't play in the game vs. the Packers. That's a big warning sign. Roberts owned up to the mistake after the season, and said he's moved past it, but it's still something to monitor moving forward.  

Key stat: Ebron was credited with six drops this season, per Pro Football Focus, which was the fifth most among tight ends this season.

Free agents: Darren Fells (unrestricted)

Fells is known as a blocking tight end first, but he had an opportunity to contribute catching the football based on his athleticism.

Fells had a stretch of games in Weeks 4-8 where he was targeted 14 times and scored three touchdowns. That stretch was key for Detroit's offense, because it coincided with Ebron's inconsistency catching the football.

But Ebron snapped out of his funk and was one of the best tight ends in the NFL the second half of the season. Fells caught just five passes the last eight games.

One of the big surprises with Fells this season is that he received a negative run-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus and was just average as a pass blocker.

The Lions might want to get Roberts more playing time in year two. We'll have to wait and see what that means for Fells this offseason, if anything.

Draft: Last year, three tight ends were taken in the first round and five in the first 45 picks.

The year prior, the first tight end off the board was Hunter Henry in round two.

This year's draft looks to be more like 2016 than 2017.

Most draft pundits list Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State), Mark Andrews (Oklahoma), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina) and Ryan Izzo (Florida State) as a few of the tight ends to watch in the pre-draft process.

MVP: Ebron showed the second half of the season why general manager Bob Quinn picked up the fifth-year option of his rookie contract in 2018. He scored two touchdowns lining up in the slot, and was a handful for both linebackers and safeties in coverage.

Most improved: Ebron is going to double-dip here because of the improvements he made from the first half of the season to the second half.

Ebron lost his confidence after some early drops and boos from the fans at Ford Field. He started to get targeted less, and things could have easily gone from bad to worse.

Credit Ebron for snapping out of it. The birth of his son Oliver was a motivating factor for him. Ebron started making plays, he got his mojo back, and he heads into 2018 with a ton of confidence in a contract year.

Quotable: "Eric had a good year," Quinn said after the season. "I think Eric really, the last seven, eight weeks of the season really kind of turned it on.

"When you look at his play time over the course of the season, it actually went down over the course of the season, but his production went up. So, I think he was really used effectively. He gained some confidence over the course of the season and he performed better."

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