ALLEN PARK (AP) — For the Detroit Lions, Eric Ebron’s talent was too dynamic to pass up.
Detroit drafted the North Carolina tight end with the No. 10 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, even though it already has Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria.
General manager Martin Mayhew insisted the team was prepared to pick a player at any position other than quarterback with the team’s first pick, and he proved it by taking someone who may not start this season.
“He’s a matchup nightmare” Mayhew said shortly after making the slightly surprising selection.
The Lions could have chosen a cornerback to plug into the starting lineup, perhaps Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, but went with the player they rated as the best available.
Ebron was among the 102 early entrants in the draft. He had 62 catches for 973 yards last season, breaking the ACC record for yards by tight end held by Vernon Davis at Maryland. Ebron is regarded as an exceptional athlete, who can help teams with his size, speed and sure hands. He may need to improve as a blocker and to prove he can play at a high level consistently.
“They didn’t ask him to block a whole lot,” Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ebron impressed Detroit’s scouts and coaches with his ability to get downfield on pass-catching routes.
“Tremendous physical talent,” Caldwell said. “He’s a guy that can run for his size.”
The Lions went into the draft with a new owner, Martha Ford, and a new coach, Jim Caldwell.
William Clay Ford died two months ago, leaving the team in control of his wife, after he had steered the franchise since 1964. Jim Schwartz was fired following last season with a 29-51 record over five years as coach.
In free agency, Detroit seemed to fill key voids by signing receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo. The Lions avoided having other short-term needs by re-signing running back Joique Bell, center Dominic Raiola and Pettigrew.
The franchise hopes it ends up making the right moves to return to the playoffs after losing 21 games the last two seasons.
Detroit did have relative success a year ago in the NFL draft.
The Lions selected four players who appeared to pan out: defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay, guard Larry Warford and punter Sam Martin. They also got contributions from a pair of undrafted prospects, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle and Fauria.
Caldwell predicted Pettigrew and Ebron would be on the field at the same time for some snaps, and Lombardi said Fauria is not “out of favor” on the roster.
“He’s still going to have a big role for us,” Lombardi said.
The Lions fell way short of expectations last season with a 7-9 finish after Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led Detroit to a 6-3 start. The Lions lost 12 games in 2012, a year after ending the franchise’s 11-season playoff drought.
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