It’s a topic that some Detroit Lions fans want to forget forever, and one that other fans will never forget or forgive.
In 2014, the Lions had the 10th overall pick. Fans had little idea of who the team would pick. Odell Beckham, Eric Ebron, Taylor Lewan and Aaron Donald were all popular mock draft choices from the peanut gallery, with each choice having their pros and cons list full of excuses and overanalysis.
It’s only taken four years for it to be clear the Lions made a huge mistake picking Ebron over defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has already made four Pro Bowls, been named All Pro three times, and was even named Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
NFL draft war rooms are particularly tough to crack—unless you’re the Dallas Cowboys, who seem to accidentally post their big board every year. So we’ve never really heard an proper explanation as to why the Lions chose Ebron, or, more importantly, why the passed over Donald, who went three picks later to the Rams.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press talked to former Lions defensive line coach Jim Washburn and got an inside scoop as to what went on that fateful April night.
Washburn was a huge fan of Donald and was pounding the table for the Lions to take him 10th overall.
“I said this guy is a Jedi. Everybody looked puzzled and Mrs. Ford was sitting there and she couldn’t figure out what the heck a Jedi was,” Washburn recalled. “And I said a Jedi, he’s like Yoda. It’s like a Jedi, they see things before they happen, and I said Aaron Donald sees things before they happen. And he’s John Randle. Maybe when it’s all said and done, he’s better than John Randle.”
But Washburn got some pushback from some other scouts and coaches in the room. Donald’s biggest concern, according to most draft experts, was his size. “Donald” and “undersized” became synonymous, and that’s exactly the counterarguments Washburn encountered in the war room.
“That’s one I’ll never forget,” Washburn said. “They had one guy there that said, ‘What in the world are we going to do with a little guy like that? I thought we were trying to get away from little guys.’”
Washburn refused to identify the Lions employee by name, but Birkett did clarify that it was not general manager Martin Mayhew.
As for who was in Ebron’s corner, then assistant head coach/tight ends coach Ron Prince was one of the louder voices in the room, giving “an impassioned plea” on why the Lions should select the North Carolina star.
Of course, since this now infamous decision, the Lions have purged themselves of nearly everyone that was in that room back in 2014. Washburn was out of Detroit by 2016. Mayhew was fired in 2015. Ron Prince was sent packing earlier this year, and the scouting staff—including some of the longest-tenured Lions employees—has since been completely overhauled by new general manager Bob Quinn.
Still, as Donald comes to town on Sunday, the Lions are still feeling the pain of a four-year-old mistake.