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Lions 'dialed in' on TE in draft, analyst says

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Miami tight end David Njoku

Allen Park – The Detroit Lions still need tight end depth, but would the team seriously consider drafting one in the first round of the NFL Draft later this month?

Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout turned analyst for the NFL Network, is among the group buying the idea. Twice this offseason, including his most recent take published last week, Jeremiah projected Miami tight end David Njoku to the Lions with the No. 21 pick.

The Lions met with Njoku at the scouting combine. Beyond that, the team’s tight end coach, Al Golden, recruited and coached Njoku at Miami. But there’s significant overlap with his skill set and Eric Ebron’s strengths and weaknesses, raising concerns about redundancy with the possible pick.

“With Njoku there to Detroit, look, I have a much greater grade on him than I did on Ebron coming out,” Jeremiah said during a Wednesday conference call. “I think he does a lot of the (same) things, but does them at a higher level. I think he has more potential in the blocking front, showed a little more want-to in that regard.”

Ebron remains under team control for two more seasons. He’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, but the team holds a fifth-year option, which it must exercise by early May. Guaranteed only for injury, the extra year would pay Ebron the average of the top 10 players at his position.

Justin Rogers' Detroit Lions 'Big Board'

As a pairing, Jeremiah alluded to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who dominated in New England prior to Hernandez’s career coming to an end after he was convicted of murder.

“The thing with a tight end to Detroit, we’ve talked a bunch about Bob Quinn coming from New England and the success that they’ve had there with a couple tight ends,” Jeremiah said. “Mock drafts, to me, are more based off what I’m hearing, what people around the league seem to point out to me, teams are showing interest in this position or this player. I go off what I hear.

“With Detroit, I’ve just heard from several different people around the league that they seem really dialed in on these tight ends and are doing a lot of homework on them to not be serious about it. That’s why I connected those dots with Njoku.”

Jeremiah believes Njoku has All-Pro potential. After catching 43 passes for 698 yards and eight touchdowns last season, the 6-foot-4, 246-pounder showed well at the combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, while showcasing his explosion with some of the best numbers at his position in the vertical and broad jumps.

In terms of where Njoku ranks in his class, both Jeremiah and NFL Network colleague Bucky Brooks have him well behind Alabama’s O.J. Howard. Jeremiah slotted Howard to the Jets at No. 6 and Brooks had the tight end off the board at No. 12 to Cleveland.

Brooks said Howard is close to a can’t-miss prospect.

Among the more traditional in-line blockers who could be available to Detroit on the second day, Jeremiah likes Ashland’s Adam Shaheen and Michigan’s Jake Butt.

Jeremiah acknowledges that Shaheen is still a work in progress, but loves the potential of the surprisingly athletic behemoth, who checked in at 6-foot-6, 278 pounds at the combine.

Butt might have been in the conversation in the later stages of the first round had he not torn his ACL in Michigan’s bowl game in January.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see where he goes,” Jeremiah said. “He’s somebody that plays with his hand in the ground, is a big guy  almost 6-5 ½, 250 pounds – who can do the blocking stuff you want him to do, but is also a really good option-route type guy from a tight end standpoint."

The NFL draft will take place in Philadelphia April 27-29.

Twitter: @justin_rogers