Detroit Lions first-round pick T.J. Hockenson isn't Eric Ebron, and it's not even close
Hockenson brings new dimension to Lions offense
DETROIT – To say the Detroit Lions' first-round draft pick, tight end T.J. Hockenson, generated mixed reactions from the fan base would be putting it midly.
Detroit passed on possible defensive stars Ed Oliver and Devin Bush to select Hockenson, a move that outraged what appears to be the majority of Lions fans.
Was it the right move? There are good arguments on both sides of the debate. (Click here for an argument supporting the selection of Hockenson at No. 8 overall.)
But one argument that makes no sense is comparing Hockenson to Eric Ebron.
It's only been five years since the Lions used a top 10 pick on Ebron instead of selecting the likes of Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham, Dee Ford, C.J. Mosley and Ryan Shazier. It was the wrong move, and most fans knew it at the time. But just because Hockenson plays the same position doesn't mean he's destined to follow in Ebron's footsteps.
Catching the football
When the Lions drafted Ebron with the No. 10 pick, they did so knowing he had problems catching the ball at North Carolina. His overall college numbers masked the issue, but the drops were there, and the issue carried into the NFL.
Even last year, when Ebron caught 66 passes for the Colts, he dropped nine passes, according to PlayerProfiler.com.
Hockenson was incredibly reliable in college, snagging 73 of 75 catchable passes the last two years, according to Pro Football Focus.
He racked up 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons, averaging 14.8 yards per reception.
When the Lions drafted Ebron with a top-10 pick, they did so knowing he had a problem with dropped passes, and they shouldn't have been surprised when that continued over four years in Detroit.
Hockenson was the 2018 John Mackey Award winner for college football's top tight end and was the focal point in the Iowa passing game. Bob Quinn knows he found a reliable target for Matthew Stafford.
Another major difference between Ebron and Hockenson is the ability and willingness to be a blocker, especially in the running game.
Hockenson was asked to do a ton of run blocking in Iowa's power offense, and he is considered a very good finisher in one-on-one blocks. He has room for improvement in pass protection, but the willingness to be a blocker is there, so there's reason to believe he will make strides.
Hockenson is athletic, but he's also very strong, so as the Lions try to incorporate a more effective running game behind Kerryon Johnson, he should be able to help offensive tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner and also get to the second level.
Ebron wasn't considered a talented or overly willing blocker coming out of college and, well, that didn't exactly improve.
The video above is an extreme example, obviously, but Ebron never developed into a good blocker with the Lions, and that hurt the running game.
There were also plays, such as the one above, in which Ebron simply didn't look very interested in blocking.
Detroit has invested heavily in the offensive line and running backs the last three years, so Hockenson's ability to both make plays in the receiving game and be a reliable blocker fits this team's offensive mold.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between the 2014 and 2019 first-round picks is team need.
In 2014, the Lions were coming off a season in which the offense finished sixth in yards per game and third in receiving yards per game. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate were elite targets who combined for 2,408 receiving yards in 2014.
The Lions had an excellent passing attack to go with a defense and running game that needed work. Then, with their top-10 pick, they selected a receiving tight end who can't block.
The pick didn't make any sense on May 8, 2014, and it still doesn't make sense now.
Thursday's selection comes amid completely different circumstances.
Detroit doesn't have Calvin Johnson, one of the best NFL receivers of all time. It doesn't have Tate, who was traded for a draft pick. The Lions have Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones -- solid receivers, no doubt, but not in the same conversation as Calvin Johnson and Tate.
The Lions were 24th in the NFL last season in yards per pass attempt and finished in the bottom 10 in yards and points per game. The defense, meanwhile, was solid last season and made big free agent signings in Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman.
In 2014, the Lions chose Ebron as a luxury when they had major needs elsewhere. In 2019, the Lions desperately needed a reliable target in the passing game and run blocking help. They took a player who gives them both.
Fans don't have to like the pick -- the Lions' organization certainly hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt in terms of draft picks or fielding a consistently competitive team.
But regardless of how you feel about Hockenson at No. 8 overall, don't compare it to the Ebron selection five years ago.
Hockenson is a much different player with a skill set that matches the team's needs. Anyone who watched the Lions' offense after the Tate trade last season should be happy to have the draft's No. 1 receiving weapon coming to Detroit.
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