What woulda, coulda, shoulda been in the 2014 NFL Draft

Forever will Eric Ebron‘s career be juxtaposed to that of Aaron Donald‘s. This week’s game against the St. Louis Rams will be the first time the two have ever faced off in the professional setting. In the 2014 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions sat at the 10th overall pick with plenty of talent left on the board. Their options included the likes of Ebron, Donald, Odell Beckham, and Zack Martin. Three of those aforementioned players would go on to make the pro-bowl in their first year in the league. We all know which one did not.

Unfortunately for Ebron, it wasn’t his choice where he was drafted and the decision came as somewhat of a surprise to many fans. The overall consensus between draft experts had Ebron falling in between the early to middle first round, just not many pegged the Lions as possible suitors. Little did we know, Ebron was actually the number two ranked offensive player behind Sammy Watkins.

With dire needs at other prominent positions, why would the Lions select what seemed to be a luxury pick? When head coach Jim Caldwell was asked about the selection, he stated,

“There’s a lot of different factors that go into it, but at that particular point and time, Eric was a guy that we needed.”

You could make a case that the tight end position was lacking in talent on Detroit’s roster. Both Brandon Pettigrew and former Lion, Joseph Fauria, were not athletic enough to fit the hybrid role that newly appointed offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, had envisioned. Lombardi’s entire system while in New Orleans revolved around a gifted tight end. In order to replicate the success of his New Orleans offense, we “needed” a threat, a la Jimmy Graham. Ebron was one of the best athletes of any position in the entire draft. There was good reason why he was projected as a top pick, but his propensity for dropped passes and difficulty understanding the complicated playbook have so far limited his effectiveness.

Just because Ebron was our final decision, doesn’t mean that Donald wasn’t almost the pick.

“Just like anybody else, we look at him thoroughly, we look at him really closely, see where they fit in, see what we think. He was a guy that we certainly liked,” Caldwell said about Donald.

At the time, the Lions already had two first round picks invested in the defensive tackle position. In the win-now culture that Caldwell inherited, Donald would have been the third wheel behind impending free agents, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. The Lions brass made the critical error of believing they could resign their fearsome duo. After coming up empty handed in the courting of Suh, it would sure be nice to have a force in the middle like Aaron Donald right about now.

Donald had the measurables and stats coming out of Pitt that any defensive coordinator would covet. The only true knock on Donald was his size. Listed at 285lbs and just a hair over six feet tall, his smallish stature engendered enough skepticism for teams to stray at the top of the draft. His size limitation has not caused any apparent disadvantage in the NFL, however. Donald has been a monster, already accumulating 17 sacks and grabbing the 2014 defensive rookie of the year.

The draft would have shaken out quite differently if it were up to Teryl Austin. Our DC was a major advocate for taking Aaron Donald and didn’t hide his feeling when asked about it.

“There’s always going to be guys that are drafted that you’d love to have and he’s one of those guys, but the way the board shook out and what we drafted, that’s how it works,” said Austin.

The fact of the matter is that the Lions drafted who they felt would help their team win immediately. They broke the cardinal rule and did not follow Mayhew’s mantra of drafting the best player available. Austin was quick to point out that he can only do so much when lobbying for a certain player.

“We can lobby for a guy, but the bottom line is if the guy isn’t in the right pecking order, then we go another direction.” “The scouts have much better knowledge of everybody. They watch more film than we have, and rank players accordingly. They draft off the board, and how they have ’em ranked. And that’s how it goes.”

Looking back, we all know who should have been the pick. Caldwell won’t come out and say what we are all thinking, as there is no use crying over spilled milk. We must live with the decisions that are made.

“One of the things that you have the benefit of is hindsight. So when you look at it, we don’t look back. We make our choices and we move forward with it. We never worry about that after that,” said Caldwell.

There is still time for Ebron to develop, as most tight ends need a few years before they take the next step. Let’s just pray that Donald doesn’t make us regret more than we already have for passing him over this upcoming Sunday.