Detroit Lions: Grading first round draft pick Eric Ebron

The 2014 NFL Draft is finally underway. The first round was completed last night, and the Detroit Lions had the 10th overall pick.

The Lions drafted tight end Eric Ebron from the University of North Carolina with the 10th pick. The 6-foot-4 Ebron racked up 973 yards receiving on 62 receptions with three touchdowns as a junior last season.

The thing about the NFL Draft that makes it so fun to watch, is that each selection sets off a chain reaction to all subsequent picks. Not even the so-called “draft experts” can predict what is going to happen on draft night.

Thus, the Lions’ choice was impacted by all nine picks that preceded theirs.

With the first overall pick, the Houston Texans selected South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, the 6-foot-6 defensive end. The St. Louis Rams drafted Auburn tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick. This is where the real-life version of the draft departed from the majority of mock drafts.

Here’s how the first nine picks played out:

  1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina
  2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson OT Auburn
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles QB UCF
  4. Buffalo Bills (from CLE) : Sammy Watkins WR Clemson
  5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack OLB Buffalo
  6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews OT Texas A&M
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans WR Texas A&M
  8. Cleveland Browns (From MIN): Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State
  9. Minnesota Vikings : Anthony Barr LB UCLA

The Lions went on the clock after the Vikings, and chose Ebron. A surprising pick in the eyes of many.

Most mock drafts had the Lions targeting a defensive player at this juncture of the draft. Instead, the Lions selected yet another passing target for their already explosive aerial attack.

Detroit ignored plenty of highly touted defensive talent while taking the tight end. But forget about team needs during the draft; the Lions never reach to fill roster holes. GM Martin Mayhew believes he snagged the best player left at that point in the draft.

Let’s take a look at what Ebron will bring to the Lions:

The Good

Ebron is perhaps the most athletic tight end the NFL has seen since Vernon Davis, who was taken sixth overall back in 2006. He is quick, tall, agile, and has a wide catch radius.detroit lions

He may not be as fast as Vernon Davis, but his athletic skills take a backseat to no other tight end in the league.

He is sure-handed, deft with his feet, and has the ability to make big plays. He had 24 catches of 20-plus yards last year for North Carolina.

The bottom line is the guy is an athletic freak capable of creating matchup problems. He will most likely be lining up in the slot, like Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham.

Although he lacks Graham’s height, he has all of the athletic ability that has made Graham such an unstoppable threat in recent years.

The Bad

It’s not as if Detroit had a need for a tight end. The Lions just resigned Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year deal in March. Joseph Fauria emerged as a red zone specialist last season, finishing with seven receiving touchdowns on just 18 catches. Ebron just crowds up the position even more.

He is not a polished blocker and won’t be ready for NFL defensive ends. He will only be able to see the field in throwing packages, which is a clear disadvantage.

The team has serious needs on defense as well. The top safeties, top cornerbacks (besides Gilbert), and top defensive tackle all remained undrafted at the time of Detroit’s pick. This is why so many are confused as to why another offensive weapon was taken.

The Grade: C+

Ebron doesn’t fill a team need and joins an already crowded position on the depth chart, but I’m not going to regard this pick as a total loss.

Ebron is the latest example of the evolving tight end position. It just so happens that new Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi used to work with Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham.

I expect Ebron to play an immediate roll in the passing game, but I am not sure how large that roll can be. The talent and athleticism are there, but so are the many other options that quarterback Matt Stafford has to work with.