Even though the Lions focused largely on their offense in free agency, they continued that trend with their top pick in the draft in taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron. He is 20/1 on Bovada's NFL odds to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Tight End In Name Only
The Lions were oft-rumored to be interested in trading up in the first round of the 2014 draft because they were hoping to get Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. That didn't pan out, and with Watkins and the other top receiver, Mike Evans, off the board when the Lions were up at No. 10, they chose to take the best tight end prospect in Ebron.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Ebron had 62 catches for 973 yards and three touchdowns last year. Is he a good player? Probably. Was he a need? It doesn't seem to be the case. Detroit already had two good tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew (41 catches, 416 yards, two TDs), whom the team re-signed this offseason for $8 million over four years, and Joseph Fauria (18 catches, 207 yards, seven TDs). Clearly the team wants to give Matthew Stafford every chance to succeed. The Lions also signed Seahawks free agent receiver Golden Tate this winter to be a No. 2 to Calvin Johnson.
Don't expect to see Ebron lined up much actually at tight end -- the team will use him more like the Saints do with Jimmy Graham. The Lions' new offensive coordinator is former Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi. Ebron is considered a very poor blocker so he'll be a tight end in name only. He's been compared to San Francisco's Vernon Davis. At North Carolina last season, Ebron caught the majority of his passes lined up as a wide receiver.
Some experts questioned the Lions for not addressing the defensive line or secondary with that first-round pick. Pittsburgh tackle Aaron Donald, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were still on the board then, for example. The Lions are stacked on the defensive line, sure, but Ndamukong Suh is always a risk to be suspended and the team declined to pick up the 2015 option on tackle Nick Fairley's contract.
With their second-round pick the Lions took BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a guy they knew pretty well from scouting his teammate, Ziggy Ansah last year -- the Lions took Ansah with their 2013 No. 5 overall pick. Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Van Noy will be a three-down player for the Lions. Van Noy had a much better junior season with 53 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, seven pass breakups, six forced fumbles and two interceptions when Ansah was causing havoc up front. Van Noy wasn't as dominant last year.
Not too many seventh rounders make rosters, but Boston College kicker Nate Freese could. He only needs to beat out Giorgio Tavecchio for the Lions kicking job this fall. Freese hit 86.4 percent of his career at Boston College, including all 20 his senior season, but doesn't have a ton of range (career long of 52 yards). He also punted. Don't rule out undrafted free agent quarterback James Franklin of Missouri also sticking. The only guys behind Stafford right now are Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky.
Full List Of Draft Picks
Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina (Round 1, No. 10 overall); Kyle Van Noy, outside linebacker, Brigham Young (2, No. 40); Travis Swanson, center, Arkansas (3, No. 76); Nevin Lawson, cornerback, Utah State (4, No. 133); Larry Webster, defensive end, Bloomsburg (4, No. 136); Caraun Reid, defensive tackle, Princeton (5, No. 158); TJ Jones, receiver, Notre Dame (6, No. 189); Nate Freese, placekicker, Boston College (7, No. 229).
NFL free picks: Ebron won't win Offensive Rookie of the Year because Stafford has so many other weapons in Johnson, Tate, Reggie Bush, Pettigrew, etc. But he'll get on the field plenty.