James Dudko assesses the potential impact of the Detroit Lions’ top draft pick.
To some it was a reach, to others it ignored an obvious need, namely the secondary. But the Detroit Lions decision to select tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall in the 2014 NFL draft will prove to be a masterstroke.
The dominant “move” tight end will make the Lions unstoppable offensively in the new season.
Ebron was the highlight selection of a solid draft haul for the Lions under new head coach Jim Caldwell. The team also came away with outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a natural fit for Detroit’s 4-3 defense, as well as cener Travis Swanson and quick-twitch defensive tackle Caraun Reid.
The Lions even made room for small school development project Larry Webster, a pass-rushing defensive end, who could convert to tight end at the pro level.
But the Lions aren’t likely to need Webster at that position now Ebron is in the fold. He is a dynamic, ultra-athletic “Joker.”
Ebron represents the modern evolution of the position. The 6’4″, 250-pound pass-catcher can be moved anywhere on a formation to attack defenses in a variety of ways.
Those ways include being split out as a wide receiver, working from the slot, or even catching a screen out of the backfield. Ebron has superb hands, awesome agility and runs clever and precise routes:
Not many defensive schemes can successfully legislate for this type of roving weapon. That’s something new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi knows well.
He used to be the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints and saw how the team utilised Jimmy Graham, perhaps the best “move” tight end in football.
Now Lombardi has his own Jimmy Graham, a fact not lost on Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew. He has stated Lombardi will use Ebron the same way the Saints unleashed Graham on defenses, per Chris McCosky of The Detroit News.
Mayhew believes Lombardi will have fun deploying multiple-tight end sets featuring Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew. He should also make room for 6’7″, 255-pound red zone specialist Joseph Fauria, who tallied seven touchdown catches from only 18 receptions in 2013.
Having a Graham-style weapon is usually enough to cause headaches for defensive coordinators. But it’s Ebron’s presence alongside Detroit’s plethora of other talented weapons that will give opponents nightmares.
The Lions still have big-bodied wide receiver Calvin Johnson, probably the premier player at his position in the NFL, available to cause havoc on the outside.
Johnson will be buoyed by the arrival of ex-Seattle Seahawks flanker Golden Tate. His brash manner often alienates opposing players and fans, but Tate has qualities the Lions need.
Specifically, he is an excellent blocking receiver, a boon for a running game led by outside speedster Reggie Bush. Just as important, Tate is a highly capable inside, possession receiver.
His ability to win underneath and over the middle will serve as the perfect complement to Johnson’s natural big-play dynamism.
As for Bush, he will continue to be a productive and underrated runner, as well as a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. The same is true of his deputy, Joique Bell, an outstanding pass-catcher and tough, power-style runner.
Facing the Lions will force defenses to pick their poison in 2014. Detroit simply has too many weapons for any unit to effectively cover.
But Ebron will be the wild card. His ability to stretch the field vertically, win over the middle and even explode out the backfield, will take coverage away from Johnson and Tate:
Ebron will also draw safeties away from run support, leaving Bush and Bell to attack seven-man fronts.
It will be up to quarterback Matthew Stafford, a talented but inconsistent passer, to make the best use of his latest weapon. If he can, the Detroit offense will be a treat to watch when the Lions visit Wembley Stadium to battle the Atlanta Falcons on October 26th.
The Lions defense still remains a question mark. The defensive backfield is short on marquee quality, but will surely be boosted by a sustained pass rush.
That will require Caldwell getting temperamental D-tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to produce their best more regularly.
But if Ebron plays to his billing, the Lions have a playoff-ready offense that will dominate the NFL in the new season.