May 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Lions put their needs ahead of fan desires

Allen Park — One day, you find their decisions offensive. The next, they get defensive about it — and you can’t help but nod your head approvingly.

Then they go and catch you off-guard again — with a center, no less.

The Lions do have a way about them, don’t they? They push you away, and then they reel you back in, like their own personal yo-yo.

Friday night’s first draft pick — BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy — drew rave reviews, unlike Thursday night’s surprising choice of tight end Eric Ebron. The second less so, as the Lions went with an interior lineman — and not a defensive back —filling a need while hardly moving the needle.

But what matters with these selections isn’t how they play with the public. It’s how they play on the field. It’s not about making picks that are a hit with the masses. It’s about whether they’re hits or misses.

The Lions haven’t exactly been marksmen with their second- and third-round selections over the years, from Kalimba Edwards to Jordon Dizon to Titus Young. And of the 10 players Martin Mayhew has selected in those two rounds during his tenure as Detroit’s general manager, only six are still on the roster.

That’s hardly a passing grade, especially if you’re counting picks like Mikel Leshoure and Ryan Broyles in the win column.

And considering the boilerplate draft goals Mayhew laid out earlier this week, it only adds to the pressure that’ll be placed on Van Noy and Arkansas center Travis Swanson beginning next week, as they get to work here as NFL rookies.

“We want to find three starters in every draft,” Mayhew said.

Have they yet in this draft?

Ebron has to be, obviously.

And Van Noy certainly should be, though head coach Jim Caldwell stopped short of guaranteeing that Friday night, saying only, “We know he’s going to contribute. We know that right away, and he has that kind of ability.”

Linebacker worth swap

A 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker who was a solid run stopper and among the most efficient pass rushers in college football, Van Noy seemed like a no-brainer Friday. He can drop in coverage, he can chase down quarterbacks as a blitzer, and the assumption is he’ll supplant Ashlee Palmer as the starting strongside linebacker in the fall.

That’s why the Lions went chasing him, swapping second-round picks with Seattle to move up five spots to No. 40 overall, throwing in their fourth- and seventh-round picks (Nos. 111 and 227) in exchange for a fifth-rounder (No. 146).

In doing so, Detroit leapfrogged Buffalo, where former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is now the defensive coordinator and a likely Van Noy fan. But the Bills, who promptly traded out of their pick, weren’t the only team that concerned the Lions on Friday.

“Yeah, there were a couple teams that we thought were hot spots for him,” Mayhew said.

So they started making trade calls with Houston — the first pick of Round 2 — and worked their way down until they found the right deal.

“We liked him enough to trade for him at the top of the second round,” Mayhew said. “There were about three or four guys that we targeted and said, ‘We’ve gotta get one of these guys today.’ ”

Van Noy, frequently compared to Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway in pre-draft scouting reports, was “at the top of that list,” the GM said.

Bulking up interior

Swanson checked off another item on the Lions’ to-do list in this draft, even if Mayhew insists such a list doesn’t exist.

This team is extremely thin on the interior line, with Rodney Austin the only real viable backup on the roster. And with veteran center Dominic Raiola perhaps entering his final season in Detroit, Swanson — a four-year starter in the SEC — will be groomed as his replacement. (“He’s been in the NFL for years — years upon years,” Swanson said. “I just can’t wait to meet him and pick his brain.”)

The Lions knew they needed to come out of this draft with a pass rusher, a pass catcher and a pass protector. But that still leaves them wanting a pass defender — or two — in today’s final three rounds. Or perhaps via trade or free agency between now and August or September, especially if Chris Houston’s injury lingers.

You know that, and they do, too, even if they seem oblivious to reality, at times.

Teryl Austin, the Lions’ new defensive coordinator, smiled when he was asked a loaded question about draft-room etiquette and lobbying for one side of the ball over the other. He wasn’t going to get drawn into the Ebron debate.

But when asked what else his defense needed Friday night, Austin immediately pointed to the secondary and the need to find a ball hawk of some variety. The Lions had just 15 interceptions a year ago, and only two came from a cornerback — both by Houston.

“We need something back there,” he said.

Some things never change, right?

Lions president Tom Lewand, GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Caldwell welcome Eric Ebron to the team Friday. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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