Passing on defense a gamble for the Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions had a chance to make a bold statement Thursday night, to add to the side of the ball that has been lacking for years. Detroit struggled to reach the quarterback and intercept passes last season.

And with a chance to add a strong piece to their defense, the Lions, with a slew of offensive coaches leading the way, drafted the best tight end on the board instead.

Eric Ebron from North Carolina was the pick and he is a nice player. Let’s get that out of the way. He could be a difference-maker at some point and perhaps take pressure off of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. But Ebron had issues with drops at North Carolina. And while he was a dynamic tight end -- and truthfully more of a receiver than a tight end -- this feels more like a luxury pick than a pick for a team that needs to fix some problems.

Yet he is the player Detroit clearly coveted and general manager Martin Mayhew said he was the No. 2 offensive player on the board after receiver Sammy Watkins.

“He’s a matchup nightmare as a tight end. Gives you something down the field. He’s a route runner,” Mayhew said. “You know, [Joseph] Fauria, he’s good in the red area right now and is working on developing the rest of his game, running routes and things. This guy can run some routes and get open and get separation. [Brandon] Pettigrew can be a blocker and a receiver in the intermediate area.

“This guy can get downfield and make big plays for us. We expect a big impact from him.”

For the Lions to justify going away from picking defense in the first round, he has to.

To pick Ebron, Detroit passed on the best defensive tackle in the draft, Aaron Donald, perhaps the best cover corner in the draft in Darqueze Dennard and the top two safeties in the draft, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Mayhew said the Lions didn’t get any massive offers to move down at No. 10, but there didn't seem to be any real effort to trade down out of the pick, either.

When Mayhew was asked if he even considered going defense at No. 10 when the board fell, he referred to the Lions' rankings and that they believe Ebron will help them win games.

“Our defense, we were right in the middle of the pack last year in points allowed, we were 15th. Offense was 13th in points scored,” Mayhew said. “There’s this perception that there’s this huge gap between our offense and our defense, it’s not that big a gap.

“We have got some players on defense that could make some plays for us.”

When the No. 10 pick came, Mayhew said there was not any real debate. Ebron was their top-ranked player at the time, so they took him. After avoiding other glaring needs on the roster in hopes of addressing them in the rest of the draft, Mayhew needs to hope Ebron works out.