Lions select top tight end Eric Ebron

Posted May 8, 2014

When it came time for the Detroit Lions to make a selection with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft Thursday night, general manager Martin Mayhew stayed true to his board and tight end Eric Ebron was the top name left on it.
Joe LombardiOffensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi (Photo: Detroit Lions)

The Lions could have used defense, and will certainly need to address that side of the ball Friday and Saturday, but in Ebron, they think they’ve selected one of the top matchup nightmares in the draft.

Mayhew and Co. hope they have the next Jimmy Graham. At least that’s how they’ve explained the job to Ebron.

“The same way Jimmy Graham was (used) when (Lombardi) was coaching Jimmy Graham,” Ebron told reporters in a conference call after the pick about the role coaches have told him he'll have.

Ebron explained that he and Graham are very different players, but the role still fits.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent the last five years as the quarterback coach in New Orleans and watched Graham become one of the best matchup weapons in the NFL. He’s bringing over a lot of those elements from the Saints offense to Detroit and needed to fill a role for an athletic tight end, one that could stretch the field vertically.

Graham had at least 85 catches per season the last three years and 36 touchdowns overall during that span.

Ebron (6-4, 252) established North Carolina school records for receptions (62) and receiving yards (973) by a tight end last season and the Lions plan to use him as a down-the-field threat. He had 24 catches of 20-plus yards last year and that’s where they think he’ll be most utilized in their offense.

“They are not exactly the same players but they are both very athletic guys,” Lombardi said of the comparisons to Graham. “Jimmy has a little bit more length while Eric has a little more quickness.

“There are some things that we did with Jimmy in New Orleans that we will be able to do with Eric and maybe some things we can do with Eric that we didn’t do with Jimmy. They are both unique but (Ebron) is going to have a pretty big role in what we plan on doing.”

It’s a bold pick by Mayhew and one that puts the pressure on Ebron, Lombardi and the offense to be special in 2014.

“The guy’s a very special offensive weapon,” Mayhew said. “I talked earlier (this offseason) at the league meetings about there being a certain number of elite, I thought, athletes and prospects in the top 10. He’s one of those guys I was talking about.

“He fits us because he can do some of the things that coach (Joe Lombardi) did with Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. He fits into our offense. He had a great visit here with us. We feel great about him. He got engaged today, so it’s a big day for him. We’re looking forward to working with him.”

Ebron was one of Detroit’s 30 allotted pre-draft visits.

Brandon Pettigrew is a terrific blocker and intermediate pass catcher for the Lions. Joseph Fauria is a matchup nightmare in the red zone (seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2013). In Ebron, the Lions have added the big-play threat down the seam they’ve been lacking from the position.

It could be tough for defenses to matchup with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Ebron and Pettigrew in the game together. Lombardi didn’t discount some three tight end looks, either, with Ebron, Pettigrew and Fauria hitting the field together -- probably in the red zone.

Ebron will be used in-line as a tight end, but also quite a bit in the slot, much like the Saints do with Graham, who played 67 percent of his snaps in the slot last season.

The Lions expect Ebron to have an immediate impact and he’ll need to for this offense to take off and the Lions fan base to feel better about the pick.