INDIANAPOLIS -- Eric Ebron, despite his outer confidence, beaming smile and mouth that rarely stops moving, admits he didn’t know what was ahead of him after the Detroit Lions told him they didn’t plan to bring him back in the spring of 2018.
During his first four years in the NFL, Ebron had earned a reputation as a failed former first-round pick who struggled catching the ball.
Now, some 14 months later, Ebron’s confidence is at an all-time high, his smile still lights up a room, and boy, oh boy, the Indianapolis Colts tight end’s mouth hasn't stopped moving. And if Ebron has his way, his future will include moving past the retired Rob Gronkowski in the NFL record book.
“I believe Gronk still holds the record for the most touchdowns [receptions by a tight end], which is 17," Ebron said. “So if I want to do anything that is going to be real spectacular ... I’ve got to go get 17. And if I go get 17, then what do I do? I help my team win games. I did that, proved that and I feel like if I’m at my best, then I feel like this team will be at their best."
That’s a drastic mood change for Ebron since he arrived in Indianapolis last spring. He wanted to remove those doubts about his skills and he simply wanted to fit inside the locker room. He responded with a career-high 66 receptions, 750 yards, 13 touchdowns and Pro Bowl selection as a while being used as a hybrid receiver in coach Frank Reich’s offense.
“I feel like I always have the mismatch," Ebron said. “I feel like I always can win against any opponent. I feel like if we are going to do anything further, then I have to take my game further. So that is kind of my next step: What can I do to elevate myself? What can I do to elevate me physically, mentally? That’s the next step."
The next step -- one that has taken a lot of fighting to accomplish -- started in Ebron's kitchen.
He's eliminated his biggest weakness: honey buns, which could pack as many as 500 calories each.
“I’m a snacker,” Ebron said. “When it comes to the night, we put the kids to sleep and that pantry looks real good so I could tear that thing up. I can’t do that no more. ... I’m on a diet, trying to be the best person I can be. I cut out of a lot of BS.”
Avoiding those late-night urges is just one of the things that could get in Ebron’s way in the record books.
There was no doubt that Gronkowski was Tom Brady ’s favorite target in New England. The Colts’ offense is predicated on spreading the ball around between the passing and running game so that they’re not predictably easy to defend. The words "scary" and "dangerous" have been used by some of the players in describing how good they can be offensively next season with the receivers quarterback Andrew Luck has at his disposal.
So Ebron getting at least 18 touchdowns wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing unless the Colts still spread the ball around and are averaging about 50 points a game.
"The year Eric had last year, it was a heck of a year," Reich said. "It was a tremendous year. It sometimes goes that way. We hope for big things for Eric and we're counting on him in a big way. But what you learn over the years is you never know how it's going to go. We'll continue to feature Eric the way we did last year, but we do have a lot of weapons and Andrew is going to spread the ball around."
If Ebron passes Gronkowski or simply makes a significant impact next season, he won’t have to worry about landing his next contract, as he’s headed into the final season of the two-year contract he signed with the Colts.
“I know if I duplicate what I did last year, we’re gonna be all right. You know?" he said. “Might send my kids to private school even though I don’t want to. I know we’ll be all right. But that’s not necessarily what I think about. I just know if I go out there and produce, everything handles itself.
“I was in a place where I didn’t even know if I was going to get picked up or anything like that. I thought I had tarnished my image coming out of college. I thought a lot of things. But know it’s a different story for me. I’ve just got to continue to elevate that."