MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Megatron has the most to gain from Ebron addition

Posted May 9, 2014

Because of a lack of receiving talent surrounding him the last couple of years, Calvin Johnson has taken a beating game in and game out because of the way teams have schemed to defend the Lions’ passing game.

Eric Ebron has a personal highlight reel of Calvin Johnson’s acrobatic catches stored in his memory banks. There are too many of them to catalogue. Classify them as all great.

“He wows you almost every play,” Ebron said after arriving in town Friday in his first full day as a member of the Detroit Lions.

Eric EbronTE Eric Ebron (Photo: Gavin Smith)

“I’ve seen a whole bunch of Calvin’s caches. Some of them, you just have to watch.”

Ebron was drafted 10th in the first round Thursday night to add another receiving threat to the Lions’ offense as a modern pass-catcher who is a tight end in name only.

Call him what you want – pass-catcher, big slot receiver, matchup nightmare. The tight end position has evolved away from the hulking blocker at the line of scrimmage and outlet receiver to a big man with speed and a basketball player’s agility to run routes and split the secondary.

Charlie Sanders, the Lions’ Hall of Fame tight end and a member of the pro personnel department, envisions Ebron giving the Lions a player that most opponents lack.

“He’s different,” Sanders said. “He’s a big wide-out. That’s what he is. He creates some problems for the defense. He’s special. He has great hands. He creates matchup problems. Any time you create matchup problems, you’re special.

“He’s different. He can do things that a lot of the teams have no answer for.”

The Lions have upgraded their receiving corps. In March, they signed free-agent receiver Golden Tate to provide balance and sure hands opposite Johnson.

Ebron is another piece in the building process. At 6-4, 250 pounds and 4.56 speed in the 40-yard dash, Ebron’s role will be to stretch the field and help force defenses to do something other than load up their coverage to stop Calvin Johnson.

The popular perception is that Ebron was drafted to give quarterback Matthew Stafford another asset.

In reality, if anyone’s going to have his burden reduced, it will be Johnson. Because of a lack of receiving talent surrounding him the last couple of years, Johnson has taken a beating game in and game out because of the way teams have schemed to defend the Lions’ passing game.

It’s been common to double-team Johnson in coverage and have a third defender close by to attack him like a missile the instant he touches the ball. The fact that Johnson has remained the NFL’s most dominant receiver with prolific production is a testament to his transcendent ability.

However, Johnson has paid a high price for every catch. He has limped to the end of the last two seasons – at least – and underwent some form of surgery in the last two offseasons.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was asked if defenses have been able to punish Johnson.

“When he catches the ball, there are more guys around to hit him,” Lombardi said. “I don’t know if ‘punish’ is the right word, but they certainly can commit more resources to stopping him.”

The opinion here is that the Lions still need to add a traditional receiver to that unit, either in the draft or acquiring a veteran free agent.

Ebron, who was in good spirits when he arrived in Detroit to meet the coaching staff and do an afternoon press conference, might miss one signature part of Johnson’s game.

The NFL has banned dunking the ball over the crossbar to celebrate scoring a touchdown.

“That was so disrespectful what the NFL did by taking that away,” Ebron said. “Some people love doing that, like Jimmy Graham and Calvin Johnson.

“My initial touchdown thing was going to be to dunk over the crossbar. I’m going to have to shoot a three or a free throw now.”