May 8, 2014 at 10:47 pm

John Niyo

Lions' selection of TE Eric Ebron understandable, but still debatable

Allen Park — The Lions found their mismatch.

Lions fans might’ve found theirs as well.

The team’s first-round selection of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron probably didn’t sit well with folks clamoring for a top-10 addition on the defensive side of the ball.

But for the guy calling the shots in the Lions draft room, not to mention the guy calling the shots on offense -- new coordinator Joe Lombardi -- this was an enticing consolation prize, with top wideouts Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans already off the board.

And with little luck trying to move up without paying a ransom -- the Buffalo Bills coughed up first- and fourth-rounders next year moving up five spots to snag Watkins -- and no takers for the 10th pick when the Lions were on the clock, this was hardly a surprising move from general manager Martin Mayhew.

Cupboard bare

The Cleveland Browns snagged the cornerback the Lions liked best -- Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert -- at No. 8 after swapping picks with Minnesota. And then the Vikings at No. 9 grabbed UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, a pass-rush specialist who might’ve been a reach but probably intrigued the Lions as well.

That led the Lions to where they always seemed to be leaning, anyway, finding another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“I bet you he’s pretty fired up,” Lombardi said, smiling.

Ebron was, too, newly engaged -- he proposed to his girlfriend Thursday morning in New York -- and now headed to an offense that already boasts Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush, among others.

“He’s got a different skill set,” Lombardi said of Ebron. “And that just adds a whole new element to your offense, a tight end that can run like that.”

Lombardi was careful Thursday night to avoid comparisons to Jimmy Graham, the dynamic tight end he left behind in New Orleans, but that’s the idea, all right. Asked what he’d been told about his likely role in Detroit, Ebron said, “I mean the same way Jimmy Graham was when (Lombardi) was coaching Jimmy Graham.”

Past relived

So there you go. And I know what everyone in Detroit is thinking now: Here we go again.

At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Ebron certainly fits the profile for the NFL’s new breed -- a versatile pass catcher who runs well and stretches the field in a variety of ways. He also fits the narrative -- accurate or not -- that the Lions are easily distracted by shiny objects and receivers.

Maybe so. But Mayhew called him a “very special offensive weapon” and a “matchup nightmare as a tight end,” and he might be right on both counts. He also called Ebron “an impact player” and a “difference-maker.”

“I think you’ll see that when he starts playing,” Mayhew added.

Until he does, nothing the Lions say will make a difference, of course. But by now, they’ve come to expect that from their fans, just as the fans have come to expect this kind of pick from them.

North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, center, reacts after being chosen by the Detroit Lions as the 10th pick Thursday in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. / Craig Ruttle / Associated Press
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