Now that Travis Swanson has signed with the New York Jets, the Detroit Lions’ 2014 NFL Draft class is almost completely bare. Only Detroit’s fourth (Nevin Lawson) and sixth (TJ Jones) round picks remain from their original eight selections. Gone are Eric Ebron, Kyle Van Noy, Swanson, Larry Webster, Caraun Reid and Nate Freese.
That was a particularly rough draft for the Lions, but they have seen their ups and downs over the past decade on draft day. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein scoured the past 10 years of the Lions draft class and found their best and worst pick since 2008.
For the best, there’s little question what the selection should be. When the Detroit Lions drafted Matthew Stafford first overall in 2009, it transformed the franchise almost immediately. From 2001 to 2008, the Lions were 31-97. Since the Lions drafted Stafford, the Lions are 65-79. As a starting quarterback, Stafford is 60-65.
That, too, was Rothstein’s pick. “In an era when teams that have quarterback uncertainty have often floundered, that’s the one spot the Lions have continuously felt good about for most of the past decade,” he wrote.
Rothstein’s pick for the worst draft pick of the past decade is much more debateable. He chose tight end Eric Ebron, who the Lions just released after just four years on the roster. Rothstein supports his argument based less on what Ebron has done in his career and more on what the Lions could have had instead. “Six of the next seven picks after Ebron have been to at least one Pro Bowl,” Rothstein writes.
That’s a sound argument to make, and one that’s important to note when discussing just how poor of a pick Ebron was at the time. However, there are a couple other examples of the Lions making worse decisions in the draft.
There are high draft picks that contributed far less than Ebron in their short Lions careers. First-round pick Laken Tomlinson started just 24 games before the Lions shipped him off to San Francisco for just a fifth-round pick. In the same draft, cornerback Alex Carter was taken 80th overall and never played a defensive down for the Lions. Second-round receiver Ryan Broyles played in just 21 career games before the Lions moved on.
But the Lions’ most egregious pick in the past 10 years, in my opinion, was linebacker Jordon Dizon. Chosen 45th overall in the 2008 draft, Dizon never made a start in his NFL career, and most of his contributions came in two years of special teams play. Torn tendons in his knee ended his 2010 season before it began, and ultimately cost him his career.
Worst of all, the Lions could have had some seriously talented players instead of Dizon. Calais Campbell went five picks after Dizon. The Lions had a serious need at running back that year, choosing Kevin Smith in the third round. But had they gone with a running back instead of Dizon in the second round, they could have had Ray Rice or Jamaal Charles.
All that being said, there’s little doubt that Eric Ebron’s name has to be among the most disappointing picks for the Lions. Hindsight is 20/20, but Detroit would be much better off with the likes Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr. or Zack Martin on the roster. But the Lions did get some production out of Ebron in four years, and that’s certainly more than you can say of the some of the Lions’ many busts over the past 10 years.