MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Martin Mayhew goes bold with first pick

Posted May 8, 2014

Martin Mayhew used the Lions’ first-round draft pick to add another talented pass catcher to the offense, but not the one that most fans expected or favored.

General Manager Martin Mayhew has made his boldest decision in the six years he has been in charge of the Lions’ draft.

He used the Lions’ first-round draft pick to add another talented pass catcher to the offense, but not the one that most fans expected or favored.

Eric EbronTE Eric Ebron (Photo: AP Images)

With wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans off the board to Buffalo and Tampa Bay with the fourth and sixth picks respectively in a first-round draft order jumbled by trades, Mayhew took tight end Eric Ebron of North Carolina 10th overall Thursday night.

Ebron was unquestionably the top-rated tight end in the draft, and many analysts rated him a top 10 prospect.

However, the prevailing wisdom – from myself included – was that Mayhew should, and would, use the first pick to shore up holes in the defense if Watkins or Evans were not available.

I’m on record as saying the defense needed to be addressed first. But I’ve also written that Ebron was one of the three best pass-catchers in the draft, behind the two receivers, Watkins and Evans.

With the second and third rounds on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday, Mayhew still has plenty of picks to use to help defense in key areas – linebacker, secondary and pass-rusher.

But the first-round pick is the prize and carries the most weight with the fans. And judging by the immediate reaction via social media, most fans were not in favor of drafting a tight end.

Not bowing to public sentiment is part of what makes drafting Ebron a bold decision. And the other part is that Mayhew put on hold at least until the second round using the draft to help the defense.

I am positive that there is one person who does not think drafting Ebron was a bold decision. That person is Martin Mayhew.

When asked at his press conference if Ebron was in his top 10, Mayhew referenced comments he made earlier about setting up the draft board and following it.

“When I talked about our top 10 and how we put it together, I said we’re going to take them the way they come off,” Mayhew said Thursday night. “That’s the way I took him.

“He was the highest graded player. He was the best player available for us. There wasn’t a whole lot of debate about other players.”

Mayhew also referred back to the comment he made at the NFL meetings in March that he did not think there were 10 elite prospects in the draft.

“I talked earlier at the league meetings about there being a certain number of athletes and prospects in the top 10,” Mayhew said. “He’s one of the guys I was talking about. He’s an impact player. He’s a difference-maker. This guy’s a play-maker.

“He’s a matchup nightmare as a tight end. He gives us something down the field. He’s a route runner.”

At a little over 6-4 and 250 pounds with 4.56 speed in the 40-yard dash, Ebron is a physically gifted athlete. NFL scouts have raved about his sure hands and ability to get deep in pass routes.

In two seasons as a starter at North Carolina, Ebron had 112 receptions for 1,805 yards and 8 TDs. He averaged 16.1 yards per catch.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s annual comprehensive position analysis for the draft, scouts spoke glowingly about Ebron.

“He’s a top 10 talent,” one scout was quoted as saying. “He’s as talented a tight end as has come out in the last five years.”

That’s lofty praise for Ebron and a bold statement to rate him that high.

But not as bold as drafting him.