What Could Have Been If We Took Allen Robinson Over Eric Ebron In 2014.
With Allen Robinson coming back to his hometown of Detroit for the first time on Sunday I felt it appropriate to take a look back to 2014, and how close the Lions actually came to bringing him home long term. Prior to the 2014 draft I was one of the highest people out there on Allen Robinson despite the many criticizing his lack of breakaway speed. When the Lions took Ebron in the first round however, those hopes of drafting him were almost completely dashed when you combine that selection with the recent addition of Golden Tate in free agency and Calvin Johnson still looking as incredible as ever.
The front office went on to sell Ebron as their first choice all through the process, but that was not necessarily the case. Martin Mayhew throughout his time as Lions GM had multiple plans going at all times with his wheeling and dealing nature and those decisions could have had massive impacts on the franchise going forward. Lets examine a couple of those moves that almost were:
The First Round Tango
The 2014 draft was a fairly aggressive year for first round trades and the Lions were by no means out of this discussion. Since Terryl Austin was coming into town with the new coaching staff and wanted to use multiple defensive looks, the Lions absolutely needed to upgrade on that side of the ball. Namely at the linebacker position. Enter Anthony Barr. Lions fans all know him quite well now as one of the better versatile linebackers in the game today and defensive captain as the Minnesota Vikings, but he almost was the Lions starting middle linebacker.
While many get (maybe rightfully) frustrated that OBJ or Aaron Donald didn’t end up as a Lion, Barr going to a division rival was the real gut shot to Detroit due to the need they had for a player like him in their defence. The Vikings felt they were a sure lock to get him to the point that they actually traded down a spot with the browns to pick up extra resources in later rounds. What they may not have known though is that there was almost a deal that would have lost them out on their guy as it is rumoured that Mayhew was in talks with both the Falcons and Browns to trade up to either the number 3 or 6 spots.
The original talks for the number three spot fizzled rapidly once several teams entered the trade talks. The Bills ended up being willing to give up far more then the Lions were comfortable with for either Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack, both early targets for Detroit. That led to the Lions plan B discussions with the Falcons at the number 6 overall pick. The Falcons were locked in on going for a tackle early but there was a split opinion on whether to go with the steady Jake Mathews or gritty Taylor Lewan.
At the point where the Falcons war room was almost content with either. This opened the option that they could make a trade down, as several of the next teams behind them (namely Cleveland and Minnesota), had no percieved need at the tackle position and Detroit was in on fairly deep discussions into that trade possibility. There are dissenting thoughts on what exactly was offered but it generally revolves on two day three selections and a day two pick the following year. The conversations fell apart however once the falcons held firm on the need for either a third round pick in 2014 plus some slight pick increases in the third rounders or a first rounder the following year.
Considering the Lions ended up giving up their 4th and 7th (with a 5th in return) to move up for Van Noy later on it brings up an interesting proposal. If the Lions did go through with the Falcons more likely request, lets say for the sake of argument it would have resulted in dealing the 3rd, 4th, and 6th round picks of 2016 (Travis Swanson, *dealt to SEA then to CIN resulting in Russel Bodine, and TJ Jones) as well as Eric Ebron who the Lions would have lost out on through dealing the 10th overall pick.
Second Round Ramifications
So where does Allen Robinson fit into this discussion? Well the Lions still would have had the need for a big Y-type receiver that could go deep without Ebron on the roster any longer, and Robinson was seen in the organization as the next best thing. While true he isn’t a tight end, Ebron is not necessarily a tight end either, and Joe Lombardi could accommodate a more early Sean Payton offense that had a lot more three wide receiver looks. The home town boy was seen as the natural plan B if Ebron was not the selection in the first round, due to his bigger frame and pre draft comparisons to Anquan Boldin.
Further, he would have been well within the Lions 45th overall original second round draft slot, going 61 overall to Jacksonville with many other highly praised college recievers in the second round mix pushing him and others like Jarvis Landry with some minor knocks down. Therefore if the Lions decided to go with the Falcons Barr trade in the first, Robinson was their second round pick.
Who’d you Rather Have?
Now of course I realize hindsight is 20/20. We will never know for sure how big of a possibility this actually was, but it brings around an interesting dilemma for Lions fans and which of the two options is better three years out if this scenario came true. Especially considering the late round guys the Lions would have lost out on (Nate Freese, Caraun Reid, and T.J. Jones) did not end up being significant contributors. The discussion really comes down therefore to which you would rather have: Eric Ebron and Travis Swanson, vs. Anthony Barr and Allen Robinson.
An above average to top end tight end and a potential long term top 5-10 center, or a potential long term top 5-10 linebacker, and wide reciever. While both the Lions that never were, had hot starts to their careers, they have tempered off in performance slightly this season (both due to individual play and situation). The Lions of the present have both been rapidly improving and growing as players. At this point fans might lean towards the what could have been (center is never the sexiest position and everyone loves the big names), but I think the jury is still out on this decision. Regardless they are all great pros and we should see where these guys end up down the road.