Shortly after they went on the clock with the 10th overall pick, the Detroit Lions drafted North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. After the pick was made, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said that Ebron was the top player on the Lions' board and one of the few players they actually viewed as "elite" in this draft. What's more, Mayhew said that aside from Sammy Watkins, Ebron was offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's favorite player.
So, what exactly do the Lions have planned for their new tight end? Generally speaking, Mayhew expects Ebron to make an immediate impact because he's going to create nightmare matchups for opposing defenses. The Lions view Ebron as another weapon in their offense and another target in the passing game for Matthew Stafford.
On a more specific level, Lombardi is planning to use Ebron much like the New Orleans Saints use Jimmy Graham. The Saints are Lombardi's former team, and the Lions' playbook is based in part on New Orleans' offense. Lombardi was careful to not directly compare Ebron and Graham as football players aside from commenting on their size and athleticism, but Graham's role in New Orleans is a good starting point for how Ebron will be used in Detroit.
#Lions OC Joe Lombardi on TE Eric Ebron: 'He’s going to be a top tight end-type receiver who’s also an effective blocker.'— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) May 9, 2014
Instead of simply labeling Ebron as a tight end, I think it's more accurate to describe him as a hybrid WR/TE. In today's NFL, there's a big difference between a traditional inline tight end who spends most of his time blocking and someone like Graham, who is in the slot or out wide as a receiver more often than not. That's the whole reason there is a grievance over Graham's franchise tag. He's technically a tight end, yes, but in reality he's more of a wide receiver than anything. With Ebron slated for a similar role, chances are he will play more receiver than the traditional tight end role.
So, what exactly does the Ebron pick mean for Brandon Pettigrew, who was just re-signed this offseason? Quite simply, it doesn't mean a whole lot since they're different players in different roles. Mayhew described Pettigrew as an "intermediate" type player, whereas Ebron will be expected to stretch the field. What's more, the Lions are expecting to have situations where Ebron and Pettigrew are on the field at the same time. Actually, Lombardi didn't rule out the possibility of three tight ends being on the field together, as he thinks there is still a role for Joseph Fauria in this offense as well.
Simply in terms of what kind of impact he'll have as a rookie, it's not fair to compare Ebron to Graham. Very few players in the league in general come close to what Graham is able to do. However, based on the role the Lions have in mind for Ebron, it seems that down the road, they're hoping for a Graham-like impact on the offense. In the short term, Ebron gives the Lions more flexibility with their offense and another weapon in the passing game, and he really helps fill a need at wide receiver just as much as he adds extra depth at tight end.