Well, Calvin Johnson should be happy.
With defenses moving his way every time the ball is snapped, Johnson now has hopes they will look someplace else – toward the newest Lion, tight end Eric Ebron, the team’s first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL draft.
If that doesn’t pan out, this was a blown pick. The Lions didn’t make the playoffs last year, they have a horribly low-ranked defense, they already have two young tight ends and a veteran on the roster and two (expensive) star receivers. Sure, everybody would love a rangy, quick, pass-catching target in the Jimmy Graham mold, as Ebron, from North Carolina, is cast.
But he doesn’t block. He sometimes drops the ball. Was he a luxury? You bet.
You can make a strong case for Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, a potential decade-long monolith at left tackle and health insurance for your biggest asset, quarterback Matthew Stafford. Lewan was somehow still available at No.10 and went on the very next pick.
You could make a case for Kyle Fuller, the Virginia Tech cornerback – a position the Lions desperately need – who instead will be facing the Lions twice a year as a Chicago Bear. He went at No.14.
You could make a case for trading up a couple spots to get Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, who went at No.8, or trading down and stocking defensive picks, given the way the draft was going.
Instead, the Lions elected to try to outscore opponents, to give Stafford another option and to provide depth in a receiving corps that is often hurt.
“My speed, my finesse, my savvy,” Ebron told WXYZ-TV (Channel 7 in Detroit) when asked what he brought to the Lions. “For someone to be this big and this fast, it’s difficult.”
So we know confidence isn’t a problem.
A new-age choice?
Here’s what worries me about this selection. Yes, it is future-thinking. You look at Graham, Vernon Davis – even look backward at Antonio Gates – and you see what is possible offensively when tight end is truly part of your arsenal. Many offenses are moving this way in the pass-crazy NFL. And with Johnson and Golden Tate already out there, Jim Caldwell’s team just joined that movement.
But think about how many plays that Ebron won’t affect. Most analysts say he’s less than average in blocking, so running plays are off the table. He won’t do much to protect Stafford when the ball is not coming his way. As tight ends go, he’s like a thoroughbred rather than a grizzly bear. Can the Lions really afford a pick that high that doesn’t have an impact on every down?
On top of that, there were some reports he has a tendency toward, shall we say, overconfidence? Caldwell doesn’t run that kind of ship. When asked by Channel 7 about his skill set, Ebron said he planned on doing “what Jimmy Graham did, but better…. I have the talent that he has…. I’m gonna do just about the same that he’s done, maybe better.”
Call me crazy, but I prefer the old-fashioned, “I’m gonna put my head down, learn from the older guys and give it all I’ve got.”
But then, this isn’t an old-fashioned pick.
Failure to make a move
Ebron spent the early part of the day proposing marriage to his girlfriend, Brittany Rountree, on top of the Empire State Building. It was their two-year anniversary, and Ebron told the media, “I tend to stick to my guns.”
Good. Let’s hope they’re loaded.
Does it worry me that Ebron is the first tight end selected in the Top 10 in eight years? And that most tight ends, in the first round, are usually between picks 20 and 30?
Does it worry me that the Lions picked a tight end in the first round just five years ago, Brandon Pettigrew?
Does it worry me that Chicago got Fuller and Green Bay got Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the safety from Alabama, meaning the Lions’ biggest division rivals improved in the areas of Detroit’s biggest weakness?
But what worries me most is what comes next – tonight and Saturday. The Lions still have rounds to improve their defense. But their best chance is gone. The biggest impact players are taken, and now it comes down to great scouting and a bit of luck. The Lions simply cannot come out of this draft with essentially the same defense as last year, or you can write off any big hopes right now.
This was a first round to be nimble. Things started falling once Cleveland dealt away the No.4 pick – and began the annual crushing of Mel Kiper Jr.’s and Todd McShay’s time-sucking mock drafts. There were moves to be made at that point, moves that, it seems, could have impacted the Lions more than a singularly skilled tight end. Heck. If you really wanted an impact receiver that doesn’t block, could you have gotten Clemson’s Sammy Watkins as Buffalo did by trading with Cleveland and giving up your No.1 next year? Is that less risky than Ebron?
We’ll never know. For now, there will be much speculation on this pick – until tonight, anyhow. Just remember, you can’t go from losing team to winning team with a single pick, unless it’s a franchise quarterback. And even then, who knows? After all look at how far Johnny Manziel fell Thursday. I don’t want to say he had a comeuppance, but as he tumbled past five, 10, 15 and 20 – all the way to 22nd – his shirt got sweatier and they stopped running his commercials.
But, hey, maybe he proves everybody wrong. And maybe Eric Ebron proves the Lions right. A tight end? With all their needs?
“Hopefully,” Ebron told the media, “I make something insane happen.”
Some will tell you he already did.