If the Lions draft David Njoku what then happens to Eric Ebron?

Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Earlier this week the Detroit Lions became heavily linked to Miami tight end David Njoku. These rumors came as a surprise to many Lions fans as players like Temples Haason Reddick and Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham have been popular mock draft picks for the Lions. It seemed almost inevitable that the Lions would go defense in the first round, but they may surprise everyone on draft night.

The Lions had been linked to a few other first round offensive skill players. Dalvin Cook was a popular pick in early mock drafts, and comments by Bob Quinn at the NFL Combine linked the Lions to the embattled Joe Mixon. There were even murmurs linking the Lions to a few first round receivers like Washington’s John Ross.

But Njoku?

Njoku was an explosive player on Miami’s offense. He was fast, strong and big. Everything you can ask for in an NFL tight end. His blocking leaves something to be desired, but strong hands and his playmaking ability make him an elite prospect.

He seems like a good fit for Detroit, and he would potentially provide another huge target for Matthew Stafford.

But why would the Lions draft Njoku if they already have Eric Ebron?

Ebron was drafted 10th overall by Detroit in 2014. He has often been the victim of harsh criticism from Lions fans due to a few inopportune drops and poor blocking ability. His film from his North Carolina days paints him as a nearly identical player to Njoku when he was entering the NFL. He’s big, fast, athletic and a dynamic weapon out of the slot.

Njoku and Ebron both played similar roles at North Carolina and Miami respectively. They had statistically similar sophomore years in college, Ebron stayed for his junior year while Njoku elected not to.

Their combined numbers tell a different story, though. Njoku scored significantly better than Ebron in nearly every category. Relative Athletic Score, or RAS, was a system to grade prospects by their combine and pro day performance by the Pride of Detroit’s Kent Lee Platte. RAS uses an algorithm to generate a score for every prospect based on their combine scores relative to the combine numbers of other prospects from the same position. The highest score will always be 10.0 and the lowest scores generally fall between 0.2 and 0.3.

Comparing the two based on their measurables shows a clear victor.

As Platte says himself, Njoku is a much better athlete then Ebron was coming out of college, but on the field, there was not much to differentiate them. Athleticism is not always a sign of NFL success either. James Hanna, for example, is a tight end who entered the league in 2012 with a 9.89 RAS score. Hanna is buried on the Cowboys depth chart right now.

What it does mean, though, is that Njoku has more potential than Ebron did. He may not be as big, but strength and explosive speed make up for a small size disadvantage.

With so many needs on defense though, investing in another tight end when you already have Ebron, who is only getting better every year, is questionable. But there is reason to believe that Ebron’s time in Detroit may be coming to an end anyways.

Ebron is still on contract through 2017. Detroit has an option to extend him through 2018, but have to exercise their option before May 2nd. If they do not, Ebron will be entering a contract year in 2017. Odell Beckham, Khalil Mack,  Deone Bucannon and other 2013 draftees have already been extended for an additional year. The Lions have remained silent on the fate of their tight end with less than a week remaining before the deadline.

If he is not extended, 2017 may be Ebron’s last chance to prove that he’s worth a second contract in Detroit. The Lions drafting Njoku may just be the nail in the coffin though. Njoku would serve the same role as Ebron in Jim Bob Cooters offense, and it will only marginalize Ebron’s role. There is no need to hold on to both, and the Lions wouldn’t spend a first-round pick on a player they didn’t have long-term plans for.

The Miami product will probably be available when the Lions are on the clock at 21. Whether the rumor has any truth to it is still unknown, but we will soon find out. Drafting a player in the first round is always an exciting moment, but the Lions drafting Njoku could spell out doom for a previous first-rounder.

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Next: 5 mid-round tight end options for the Lions