Should The Detroit Lions Address The Tight End Position Early In The 2018 NFL Draft?
My short answer is no.
The release of Eric Ebron has put the Detroit Lions in a bit of a tough spot at the tight end position, and there aren’t a lot of really good options to fill the void that Ebron’s departure has left in the Detroit Lions’ offense. The Lions signed Luke Willson. They still have 2017 draft pick Michael Roberts on the roster. While I am a fan of both of their games, neither projects to be a full-time solution for the Lions at the tight end position as of right now.
The tight end market is depleted in free agency. Most free agent tight ends landed lucrative deals involving far more money than I would want the Detroit Lions to invest in the position. So the logical way to address the position would be the NFL Draft, right? The idea doesn’t excite me. Here’s why.
Tight Ends Have a Long Development Period
It has been a general rule of thumb that players take about three years to develop out of college. Over the recent years, this has changed for many positions, and the development period tends to vary from position to position.
Given the short shelf life of NFL running backs, ball carriers are expected to contribute immediately. Wide receivers have shown to have a more immediate impact than they previously did historically. We’ve seen a lot of splash impact rookies at a lot of different positions. One position that hasn’t shown a faster development rate is the tight end position.
Tight end is one of the more difficult positions in the NFL due to the diverse skill set that is required to be a complete player at the position. They have to block like a lineman, and they have to catch like a receiver. Tight ends have a lot to learn and, physically, they are asked to do a lot more than most other positions.
Looking at this from the Detroit Lions’ perspective, three years is a long time to see a return on their investment. Matthew Stafford is 30 years old right now. He will likely still be playing at a high level at age 33, but that certainly isn’t an ideal way to support a franchise quarterback when your team is in a window to make a playoff run.
Signing a lesser talent that is ready to play now, probably a veteran, is probably the more efficient way to address the position. While Luke Willson probably isn’t going to be an elite tight end for the Lions, between him, Michael Roberts, and whoever else the Lions add to the roster, the position should be at least passable from a talent standpoint.
Tight Ends Are Tough To Project
If you take a look at previous drafts, tight ends have among the highest “miss” rates in the NFL Draft. The reasoning is simple. Tight ends need more development than most other positions, and the more development a player needs, the harder he is to project.
It is always easier to tell what a player is rather than what he will become. That is why there are so many flops of players that are considered “raw”.
Selecting a tight end in the first round carries about a fifty percent chance that the tight end will be successful (obviously a subjective term). Those are not odds that I would want to invest in. Missing on players early in the draft is a surefire way to set a team back for a long period of time. Draft picks are ways to add starting caliber talent with minimal salary implications. Missing on those picks puts a team at a distinct disadvantage.
I know that is all obvious, but it is important to apply that to the tight end positions, where misses are especially common.
The Lions Have A Number of Needs To Fill
The Lions currently have glaring needs on both the interior and the edge of the defensive line. Detroit’s pass rush was non-existent last year, and the defensive line put a lot of unnecessary pressure on the secondary last year. The defensive line needs to be a priority.
While the Lions invested heavily in the linebacker position, both in the draft last year and in free agency this year, the position is still far from certain and has been a serious concern for the team since the loss of DeAndre Levy. Coverage from the linebacker position has been a real problem for Detroit’s defense over the past few years, and the position may still need to be addressed in the draft.
The Lions are still missing a starter on the offensive line. Depending on where the Lions decide to put Graham Glasgow, they will be looking at either the center or the guard position. Bob Quinn has invested a lot of money and draft capital in the offensive line, showing that he indeed considers the offensive line to be of utmost importance. With only four starters on the roster, I’d expect Quinn to continue the trend of investing in the trenches and take a long look at the interior offensive line prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That brings us to the dreaded running back position. The Lions have had a historically bad drought in the running game. This needs to be fixed. The idea is to give Stafford the best chance to win. That involves fixing the run game. The Lions will almost certainly select a running back in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
With all of those missing pieces, it’s tough to see a situation where taking a tight end early in the NFL Draft is prudent.
The Tight End Position Is Generally Not Worth A First Round Pick
I may upset people with that statement, and I admit that there are exceptions to that rule but, in my opinion, there are far more important positions to address in the first round. First round tight ends are more of a luxury pick for teams that can afford to beef up their supplementary positions.
I’m sure that this is not a popular opinion, but teams can find a way to work around having a sub-par tight end group by using different personnel groupings and by platooning the position. The same can be said for running back to a certain extent. A team doesn’t need a feature back and can win with a committee, but they do generally need to be able to have some success running the ball. Teams do not need to target their tight end in the passing game in order to succeed, and no teams are spending top draft capital on a blocking specialist at the tight end position.
A look at the two Super Bowl teams from last year will show you what a good tight end can do for an offense. It certainly can be a focal point and a mismatch, but it is one of the few positions that a creative coach can scheme out. For guards, defensive tackles, and defensive ends, this is not the case.
This is Not a Particularly Strong Tight End Class
Last year was among the deepest tight end classes in memory. This year pales in comparison. The top tight ends in this class will likely go before the Lions have an opportunity to pick them at a value. I’m not completely opposed to selecting a tight end in the second round if one of the top players falls, someone like Dallas Goedert, but I don’t see a situation where that happens, thus leaving the Lions in a position to reach.
I think that the Lions have enough other needs to fill that they won’t need to reach at a position in order to fill a specific need.
All About Value
If one of this year’s top tight ends falls to the Lions in the second or third round, and they don’t particularly like any of the guys available at their other positions of need, I would be alright with drafting a tight end a little earlier than I normally would. As the heading suggests, it is all about value for me. The problem for me is that this is not a particularly strong tight end class and, given the contracts that have been handed out to tight ends in free agency, I would expect that the position is over-drafted.
The release of Eric Ebron put the Lions in a position where they have another glaring need that is not easy to address. Let’s hope that Bob Quinn has a plan in place for the position going into next season.
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