May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Eric Ebron (North Carolina) poses for a photo after being selected as the number ten overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Detroit Lions at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Sometimes, what’s right is not always popular, and what’s popular is not always right.
The Detroit Lions’ selection of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron falls somewhere in between both ends of that famous quote. On one hand to most, the pick will seem like a high-risk luxury selection for a team in need of patching other holes. On the other though, Ebron quietly presents another match-up conundrum for teams in their defense of the Lions’ offense.
When wide receiver Sammy Watkins commanded a major haul and Mike Evans went off the board to Tampa Bay, it was clear Detroit wasn’t getting their first round wide receiver to complement Calvin Johnson. Instead of panicking, the Lions calmly did the next best thing, quickly nabbing Ebron and his massive 6’4″ pass catching frame to play a hybrid tight end and wideout role.
Realistically, who would have been the better selection at 10? Detroit darlings Justin Gilbert and Anthony Barr were already gone. Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, a player with character questions and Aaron Donald, a defensive linemen, wouldn’t have truly filled needs either. Darqueze Dennard, a local prospect, fell into the 20s, as did safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, leading to beliefs that plenty shared the opinion neither were worthy of high selection. Between Ebron and wideout Odell Beckham Jr., size should win.
There’s no mystery here. Detroit did what they always do, taking the best player available. Because they’re the Lions, though, the move immediately becomes questionable. Had the Baltimore Ravens or New York Giants taken Ebron, it would have been a brilliant pick. Had the New England Patriots traded up to grab him, they would have been lauded as gutsy.
Now, Detroit might have the closest thing to what the Patriots had with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez, of course, is now incarcerated and Gronkowski has been slowed by injuries, but for the time they were together, New England had basketball on grass, especially in the red zone. Tom Brady could lob it up to either tight end, take his touchdown and move on. Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Ebron have that same potential for Matthew Stafford, not to mention the attention Johnson and Reggie Bush command.
It sounds like more usual false hope, but there’s a chance that this might actually work. Ebron, with 4.5 speed and his height going against a linebacker or safety? No contest. Like it or not, the NFL is now a passing league, making selections like Ebron a near necessity, especially when Joe Lombardi deems it necessary for his offense to have its own Jimmy Graham prototype.
One first round pick never makes or breaks a draft, and now, Detroit will set about addressing their other needs in the money rounds. This is where scouting must be trusted. By taking offensive and defensive starters like DeAndre Levy, Darius Slay, Larry Warford, Willie Young, Devin Taylor and LaAdrian Waddle, some equity has been earned in this department recently.
Where Martin Mayhew hasn’t gained the benefit of the doubt is with skill-position players in the second and third round. In other words, it’s better to take Ebron early than risk another Titus Young or Mikel Leshoure situation later.
Instead of the usual consternation, give Ebron’s fit the proper consideration and judge Detroit most by what plays out over the next two days.