Does Eric Ebron's departure signal shift in how Lions use tight ends?

Every Saturday, we take some of your questions in a Detroit Lions mailbag. To ask a question for a future mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Now, on to your questions.

Every Saturday, we take some of your questions in a Detroit Lions mailbag. To ask a question for a future mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com. Now, on to your questions.

It would be an explanation for moving on from Eric Ebron, a better pass-catcher/athlete/route-runner, in favor of two guys who just haven't put up the same type of numbers in Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson. That said, I don't know if it makes sense to take away a bigger target for Matthew Stafford unless you're going to only have the tight end run short-to-intermediate routes and go mostly with a three-receiver or two-back set to utilize the likely Nos. 3 and 4 receivers (Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones) and a combination of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount and a running back to be drafted later. If that's Detroit's strategy, then sure. Considering how much Jim Bob Cooter's offense is derived from Tom Moore's system that utilized Dallas Clark so well, and that Matt Patricia came from a team that had two dynamic tight ends, I'm not sure I buy it. The Lions say it was strictly financial, but I'm not sure I completely buy that, either, considering the relative market of tight ends. I still anticipate the Lions to add a tight end in the draft. Both Willson and Toilolo are on one-year deals, so whether it's a player to develop or a potential impact playmaker, I would be surprised at this point if Detroit didn't take a tight end in the draft. Of course, the Lions need to have one worth the value at a pick, too.

This is an interesting question. While Pro Football Focus is just one metric to use in player evaluation (and team-to-team can be tough, based on role), it does give an idea of how players performed last season. And it hasn't been good for the Lions, based on this breakdown of incoming players:

  • Devon Kennard (71.0 grade, No. 72 edge rusher, average)
  • Christian Jones (45.3 grade, No. 64 linebacker, poor)
  • DeShawn Shead (77.1 grade in 2016 - was injured for much of 2017)
  • Kenny Wiggins (38.3 grade, No. 70 guard, poor)
  • LeGarrette Blount (69.9 grade, No. 41 halfback, below average)
  • Sylvester Williams (76.5 grade, No. 67 interior defender, average)
  • Luke Willson (48.2 grade, No. 43 tight end, poor)
  • Jonathan Freeny (44.1 grade, not rated as a linebacker)
  • Levine Toilolo (63.8 grade, No. 27 tight end, below average)
  • Wesley Johnson (31.3 grade, No. 35 center, poor)

So what does all this mean? Again, tough to totally tell. But if you go based off Pro Football Focus rankings, it's not an impressive free-agent class at all. I've had my issues with PFF grades in the past, particularly about line play, but it is a worthwhile way to look at who the Lions signed.

How this class ends up being will largely depend on their roles. For instance, if Kennard and Blount are used in specific roles, they have a chance to be quite good for the Lions. But if too much is expected of them (for instance, Blount as an every-down back), that could be problematic.

A'Shawn Robinson should still be looked at as a starter. I don't look at the Sylvester Williams signing as a pushing out of Robinson (for what it's worth, Robinson graded out better by PFF than Williams last year with a 78.6 grade) and would be surprised at this point if Robinson weren't a starter. The Williams signing, to me, was more about flexibility and shoring up the run defense than anything else after the departure of Haloti Ngata. Personally I might have signed Johnathan Hankins instead of Williams based on who was available at that time, but the price point on Hankins might have (again) been too high for Detroit to really consider it. This is a big year for Robinson - both for his own career and for what the Lions need out of him. That he has his old defensive line coach, Bo Davis, should help, too. But I wouldn't look at the Williams signing as a sign of anything about Robinson or Akeem Spence. I'd look at it as the Lions need depth there and need to get better. That's it. Whether Williams provides that is a question. Justin, at this point it would not seem like Hankins and the Lions would happen. Once Detroit signed Sylvester Williams, that possibility appeared to go away. Do I expect Detroit to still rotate defensive tackles? Absolutely. It's a brutal position to play and Detroit wants to keep people fresh. Although the need for it could be lessened a little because Ngata is gone and the linemen the Lions have are younger (and theoretically less susceptible to injury). It's also going to depend on the type of defense the Lions are playing. A 4-3 needs more interior linemen than a 3-4. Remember, too, that some of Detroit's linemen (Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington) can kick inside if necessary, too. That said, the Lions still need an impact defensive lineman or two. John, tough to predict with the draft still about a month away. But what the Lions would need to go up or down is a willing partner. A quarterback or cornerback dropping to No. 20 could help, too, because that might be more enticing for a team to move up to snag said player at a position Detroit doesn't need to invest a first-round pick in. So that would help. Tough to say exactly what compensation would be, either, because of how far Detroit would move up or down. But would have to think at least a mid-round pick would be involved.