The Detroit Lions First-Round Draft Pick, Eric Ebron and the Neuroses of a Fan Base

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NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: T.J. Hockenson shakes hands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being drafted 8th overall by the Detroit Lions on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions first-round draft pick has been made and not without drawing the ire of the fan base and a little trolling from Detroit Lions former tight end and top ten draft pick Eric Ebron.

The Detroit Lions First-Round Draft Pick, Eric Ebron and the Neuroses of a Fan Base

In the weeks leading up to the 2019 NFL draft, pundits, publications and the Twitter-verse began to narrow their projections for all 30 teams first round draft picks (Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns had traded their picks).

The Lions were picking eighth and the debate narrowed to drafting a blue chip defensive player or tight end T.J. Hockenson.

The idea of drafting a tight end in the first round, let alone the top ten, was a bone of contention for the Detroit Lions fan base. Just five years earlier, Ebron was drafted by the Lions with the number ten overall pick, ahead of the more notable Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donaldand Zack Martin.

The four years that followed were flashes of potential followed by flashes of frustration. A Lion’s drive would feature Ebron hurdling over defenders for a long gain and on the next drive, a perfectly delivered Matthew Stafford pass deflecting off his hands resulting in a stalled drive. The frustrations were perpetuated by highlights of an acrobatic, one-handed catch by OBJ or a quarterback being crushed by Donald and add to that the dominant blocking of Lewan or Taylor. All positions the Detroit Lions were lacking.

The Brief History of Eric Ebron

Now, to be fair, Ebron should not be viewed as a draft bust. During his 2018 pro bowl year with the Indianapolis Colts, he posted a 60% catch rate and caught 66 of 110 targets for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Injuries to the Colts offensive playmakers T.Y. Hilton and the reliable target, tight end Jack Doyle, had forced Eric Ebron to be the focal point of Andrew Luck’s passing attack. Comparatively, after an unspectacular rookie year, he began to display the skills for which the Lions had drafted him. He caught 47 of 70 passes for a 67% catch rate and an average of 7.7 yards per catch.

During his third season, his best with the Lions, he caught 61 of 85 passes for a 72% catch rate, although for only one touchdown. He was the third option in a pass-heavy attack that featured Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. However, it was clear that frustration within the fan base was mounting and they expected more from him. Following the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions refused to pick-up the fifth year on his contract and let him leave in free agency. The parting was bittersweet for both player and fan base.

Day of the Draft

The day of the draft came and questions surrounding the Lions arose. Do they trade back? Which defensive player will they take? And will the fan base implode if they take T.J. Hockenson? It was anybody’s guess. Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia played the decision close to the vest and had nothing but glowing comments on several players.

Thursday, April 26th, 2019 it became clear that Bob Quinn wanted to trade down to acquire more picks. The Draft began as expected with quarterback Kyler Murray and defensive end Nick Bosa becoming the top two picks to the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. The New York Jets, somewhat surprised by taking defensive tackle Quinnen Williams over linebacker Josh Allen. Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders threw the first curveball by selecting defensive end Clelin Ferrell. As expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected linebacker Devin White. And then, curveball number two: with linebacker Josh Allen still on the board, commentators expected the New York Giants to make him the sixth overall selection. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked to the podium. And with the 6th selection in this year’s draft, the New York Giants select (They say misery loves company) quarterback, Daniel Jones. All of a sudden the Lions fan base was set a glow. The idea of Bob Quinn trading back in the draft seemed unlikely. Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, and T.J. Hockenson were available. The idea of Josh Allen chasing quarterbacks for the Honolulu Blue and Silver was salivating. Ed Oliver ascending a defensive line to top five status in the NFL would be a luxury.

With the 7th pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Josh Allen. Ed Oliver would be an outstanding consolation prize. Maybe even Devin Bush. He would make a great addition to an improving linebacker corps. The pick is in. The collective breath of Lions nation held as they announced their selection… T.J. Hockenson, tight end, Iowa.

The Curse of History

There are few franchises that have experienced as much futility, with consistency, as the Detroit Lions (insert Cleveland Browns). Some of the best players, at their position, in NFL history have made their way through Detroit. Barry Sanders was the closest to a Super Bowl with a trip to the NFC Championship game.

The Detroit Lions fan base has earned the right to be cynical. There is a litany of reasons that are well documented from the winless 2008 season, one playoff victory in the past 61 years (and counting), and the parade of draft busts. Through it all, the fans, for the most part, have remained loyal to their beloved Detroit Lions. There is not one reason that leads to a failed season. However, the Lions fans are astute and able to diagnose flaws within the team. We are not the professionals that scouts are, but it can be plain to see the areas of need year to year.

The Last Word

One can point to Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz. However, it’s not fair to place recency bias from one player to another. We inherently know this. But to put this into perspective for a fan base that has faced this much tumult: well, easier said than done.

T.J. Hockenson received rave reviews from coaches, scouts and the NFL community at large. Additionally, Lions fans, in general, had even come to grips and had justified picking the top tight end in this year’s draft. Fair or not, Hockenson will inexorably be linked to Eric Ebron. Hindsight says the Detroit Lions, in 2014, should have drafted Aaron Donald. Will history treat Hockenson the same?

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