The Detroit Lions spent a first-round draft pick on an athletic tight end three years ago with the selection of Eric Ebron, but NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks the Lions just might be in the tight end market once again this year with pick No. 21, if Miami's David Njoku is still on the board.
"I have a much higher grade on him than I did on (Eric) Ebron coming out (in 2014), so I think he can do a lot of those things (that Ebron does), he just does them at a higher level," Jeremiah said in a conference call today. "I think he's got more potential in the blocking front, showed a little bit more want-to there in that regard."
View photos of the tight end on-field workouts at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
The Lions took Ebron with the 10th pick of the 2014 draft, and he's coming off a career year that saw him catch 61 passes for 711 yards last year – both ranking in the top 10 among tight ends.
Ebron has one year left on his contract and a potential fifth-year team option the Lions can pick up by early May.
The team also signed veteran tight end Darren Fells in free agency this offseason.
But in his latest mock draft, Jeremiah had the Lions selecting the ultra-athletic Njoku at 21.
"We've talked a bunch about how Bob Quinn coming from New England and the success they had there with a couple tight ends," Jeremiah said.
"With Detroit, I've just heard from several different people around the league that they seem really dialed-in on these tight ends and are doing a lot of homework on them.
"So that's why I ended up connecting those dots with Njoku and I think, look, I think the kid, he's got All-Pro potential. He could be a dominating player at the position, so that's why I've matched him up with Detroit on occasion here."
Jeremiah and fellow NFL Network draft analyst Bucky Brooks also touched on a couple other subjects related to the Lions and some of their positions of need in their joint conference call:
-- For teams looking for offensive line help in this year's NFL Draft, there will be some good players available at the top, but the overall talent and depth of this class is down considerably from year's past.
Jeremiah said one NFL offensive line coach told him this week it was the worst overall offensive line class in the last 15 years.
"It is not a good group of offensive lineman," Jeremiah said. "I can get on board with that statement."
It certainly could be one of the big motivating factors to why Lions general manager Bob Quinn chose the avenue of free agency to fill his needs upfront along the offensive line.
The Lions improved at both right tackle and right guard with the additions of veterans Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang this offseason.
-- Where is this draft class strong in Jeremiah's opinion?
"When I look at this draft as a whole, the things that jump out to me is just the depth we have in the secondary, especially corner. Corner is a really, really, deep group, even though we've had a couple injuries at the position," he said.
"Safety is just loaded. And then edge rushers. It's a good group of edge rushers overall. Guys are either going to be standing up or hand down on the edge, it's a good group of guys.
"Offensively, the best tight end and running back groups I've seen in a decade. It's loaded at those two positions. High end talent as well as depth."
It just so happens that the Lions could use more help at all of those positions of strength.
-- Brooks has the Lions selecting Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis at No. 21 in his most recent mock draft. But if Detroit decides to go another route at 21, Brooks and Jeremiah were both asked what names would make sense for the Lions at linebacker in Day 2 (second and third rounds) of the draft.
Brooks highlighted Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham and LSU's Duke Riley.
Jeremiah mentioned Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan as an option.
-- Jeremiah was asked about the loaded running back class and said one player in particular would be a good fit in Detroit.
"A running back I love for them and I think would be a great fit to compliment what they already have is Kareem Hunt from Toledo," Jeremiah said.
"He's almost 220 pounds. Not the most explosive guy, but you talk about someone who runs behind his pads, between the tackles and can grind out tough yards. He's a little more elusive than he gets credit for. He had a nice week down at the Senior Bowl. I think he'd be a great value pick. We're probably talking about him in that third round range."
Hunt (5-10, 216) finished his Toledo career rushing for 1,475 yards and ten touchdowns while also racking up 41 catches for 403 yards and a score last season.
-- Brooks also chimed in on Detroit's need at running back.
"The Detroit Lions need a bigger running back that can be a 20-plus carry a game guy," he said. "They've tried to do it with the little guys that are more pass catchers, but they need a true running back that can help alleviate the burden on Matt Stafford. Where they have to throw the ball 35 to 40 times a game.
"If they can find a feature back, like a (Joe) Mixon or some of these other big backs in the draft, then I think you'll see that offense evolve and become one that is more suited in a perennial playoff contender."
-- Brooks was very high on the cornerback class, a class he says is one of the deepest he's ever seen.
"I don't know if there's necessarily a transcendent star at the position, but I do believe there are a bunch of plug-and-play players," he said. "Guys that would traditionally be viewed as No. 2 corners on most teams.
"Teams that are looking for corners should be pleased in this draft because there are plenty of options available to them."