ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Eric Ebron had quite a day.
The North Carolina tight end dropped to his right knee and got engaged to his college sweetheart on Thursday and a few hours later was taken with the No. 10 pick in the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.
Which one was better?
“They’re both incredible,” he said. “I’m going to go with getting engaged because that’s my personal life, but with the Lions, it’s right there. It’s right there.”
Detroit used a first-round pick on a pass-catching player for the sixth time in 12 years, deciding Ebron’s talent was too dynamic to pass up even though they already have Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria on the roster. In Ebron they get a big tight end with down-the-field skills.
“Good players is a big need,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “He’s a matchup nightmare.”
Mayhew insisted a week before the draft that the team was prepared to pick a player at any position other than quarterback with the its first pick, and he proved it by taking someone who may not start this season. The Lions could have chosen a cornerback to plug into the starting lineup, perhaps Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, but went with the player they rated as the best available.
Ebron was among the 102 early entrants in the draft. He had 62 catches for 973 yards last season, breaking the school record for receptions by a tight end and the Atlantic Coast Conference mark for yards receiving at his position previously held by Vernon Davis at Maryland. Ebron is regarded as an exceptional athlete with good speed. He may need to improve as a blocker.
“They didn’t ask him to block a whole lot,” Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ebron impressed Detroit’s scouts and coaches with his ability to get downfield on pass-catching routes.
“Tremendous physical talent,” new coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a guy that can run for his size.”
Ebron’s best game was a nationally televised game against then-unbeaten Miami in which he set career-highs with eight catches for 199 yards, including a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown, in a 27-23 loss.
“Eric is the prototype tight end that the NFL is looking for these days,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said in a statement released by the school. “He can run all the routes. He can catch the ball, make people miss and has the speed to run away from defenders.”
Caldwell predicted Pettigrew and Ebron would be on the field at the same time for some snaps. Lombardi was quick to say Fauria is not “out of favor” on the roster.
“He’s still going to have a big role for us,” Lombardi said.
Ebron said the Lions expect to feature him in their offense, “the same way Jimmy Graham was” when Lombardi was an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints. He appeared to be ranked No. 2 among offensive players on Detroit’s draft board.
“Probably after Sammy Watkins, this was the player that Joe liked the best in this draft,” Mayhew said.
Ebron was not surprised the Lions selected him because of the feedback he got from their coaches and front office.
“I demand a little bit of attention when I’m on the field,” Ebron said.
Calvin Johnson does, too.
Even with him, though, the Lions fell way short of expectations last season with a 7-9 finish after Matthew Stafford and Johnson led Detroit to a 6-3 start. The Lions lost 12 games in 2012, a year after ending the franchise’s 11-season playoff drought.
The Lions went into the draft with a new owner, Martha Ford, and a new coach. William Clay Ford died two months ago, leaving the team in control of his wife, after he had steered the franchise since 1964. Jim Schwartz was fired following last season with a 29-51 record over five years as coach.
In free agency, Detroit seemed to fill key voids by signing receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo. The Lions avoided having other short-term needs by re-signing running back Joique Bell, center Dominic Raiola and Pettigrew.
The franchise hopes it ends up making the right moves to return to the playoffs after losing 21 games the last two seasons.
As for Ebron, he gleefully recalled how he asked Brittany Rountree to marry him near the top of the Empire State Building. And later in a conference call with Detroit-area reporters, he acknowledged having a “rough childhood,” while growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina.
When asked for details, Ebron passed.
“I’m in too good of a mood to reminisce,” he said.