Born: April 10, 1993
Eric Ebron Jr. was born April 10, 1993 in Newark. Eric’s mom, Gina Jackson, and father, Eric Sr., divorced when he was a toddler. He moved to North Providence Rhode Island with his mother, but his father and New Jersey family remained an important part of his life. His father works in the Newark school system.
Eric became extremely close with his grandfather, a Marine who’d seen action in World War II and Vietnam. When Oling Jackson died from cancer in 2003, Eric lost interest in his other passion, football. Not until the family moved again, to Greensboro, North Carolina—when Eric was a high school freshman—did he throw himself into the sport again.
A transcript foul-up kept Eric off the gridiron as a sophomore after enrolling at Smith High School in Greensboro. The following summer, he attended a football camp in Chapel Hill and blew the college scouts away—despite not having played a down of prep ball. Eric had been a defensive player during his days in Rhode Island. But he was unstoppable in camp as a tight end.
Eric finally made it on the field in 2008 as a junior for coach Rodney Brewington’s Golden Eagles, playing defensive end and tight end. He caught 24 passes, including 4 for touchdowns. The Golden Eagles had a good varsity football program, boasting among its grads former NFL quarterback Vince Evans and the Bostic brothers. Eric became a Top 20 college prospect at tight end during his senior year, when he caught 28 passes and scored 10 TDs. Eric was named a SuperPrep All-America, AP All-State and was ranked the #13 athlete in North Carolina. He received scholarship offers from Duke, Clemson, Arkansas and NC State. Eric didn’t have to travel far to play college ball. He committed to UNC before his senior season.
Eric saw action in all 10 games as a true freshman for the Tar Heels in 2011, catching 10 passes. When he did get his hands on the ball, Eric had a knack for turning short gains into big plays. This earned him the starting job in 2012. Eric reeled in 40 passes for 625 yards—both school records for tight ends—and only legendary ACC tight ends Vernon Davis and Heath Miller had gained more yards in a season.
In 2013, Eric broke Davis’s conference record with 895 receiving yards on 55 catches. He and senior QB Bryn Renner were big reasons the Tar Heels finished with a winning (7–6) record. Linebacker Kareem Martin anchored Larry Fedora’s defense. Eric was named First Team All-ACC and was a Mackey Award finalist (Austin Seferian-Jenkins won the award). Though he now stood 6’5” and weighed over 250 pounds, he was actually faster and more fluid on his routes than ever. This made Eric a potential first-round NFL pick. He decided to skip his senior year and enter the draft.
In the spring of 2014, Eric was selected by the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick in the opening round. He was the third receiver take, behind Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, and the only tight end taken in the first round. The day of the draft, he also proposed to his girlfriend Brittany atop the Empire State Building. They had met during freshman orientation at UNC.
The Giants were sitting at #12 and probably would have taken Eric, but he was excited to be picked by Detroit. Besides working with Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, he would learn from offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who had transformed Jimmy Graham into an All-Pro tight end during five years on the Saints’ sidelines.
Eric worked primarily as a line-in tight end, doing a lot of blocking behind starter Brandon Pettigrew. He did manage to catch 25 passes as a rookie, including one touchdown, against the Jets in Week 4. Eric was granted a bigger role in the offense in 2015. He surpassed his 2014 catch total at mid-season despite being injured in early October. Eric scored in each of the season’s first two games, road losses to the Chargers and Vikings. Unfortunately, the Lions were unable to maintain the standards they’d set the season before, when they won 11 games to earn a Wild Card berth. Eric improved his own numbers, reeling in 47 receptions in2015 for 537 yards and 5 touchdowns—including 13 catches in the last three games, all of which the Lions won.
In 2016, the Lions retook the field without their Hall of Fame receiver, Calvin Johnson. Eric helped pick up the slack with a career-high 61 catches for 711 yards. He registered just one touchdown, and that came on a running play—a one-yard plunge against the Jaguars for the winning score in a 26–19 victory. The Lions won 9 games and snagged the final Wild Card spot in the playoffs, as they relinquished their division lead to Green Bay in December. Detroit lost to the Seahawks in the opening round, 28–6.