By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – In the estimation of Detroit Lions sideline reporter Tony Ortiz, the Detroit Lions will most likely not do what ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have predicted they will do come May 8.
Kiper has the Lions taking wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., while McShay has the Lions picking tight end Eric Ebron. The analysts agree Detroit has more pressing needs at other positions but expect the Lions to take whoever is the best player available when they pick, whether Detroit needs help at that position or not.
At tight end, the Lions already have Brandon Pettigrew, whom they re-signed this offseason, and Joseph Fauria, who carved out a red-zone role in 2013. Ortiz believes Pettigrew’s role could expand under the direction of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who comes from a New Orleans Saints system in which quarterback Drew Brees targeted tight end Jimmy Graham on more than 20 percent of his pass attempts over the past three seasons.
“Pettigrew has been used more as a blocker than Graham has been,” Ortiz said. “I’ve seen the Saints use Graham almost as a wideout, so to me, that’s the biggest difference. They use Graham more as a wideout than a tight end, whereas the Lions do use a guy like Brandon Pettigrew as a tight end in the literal sense.”
Pettigrew might get more passes thrown his way in Lombardi’s new offense.
“I think [the Lions will] try to use Pettigrew a little more in the Jimmy Graham role,” Ortiz said. “I think they’ll try to use him a little more as a wide receiver and a little less of a tight end. But here’s the thing – he’s the best blocking tight end they have currently on their roster. Joseph Fauria still struggles with blocking, and you don’t know what you’ve got with Michael Williams, who they drafted in the seventh round last year from Alabama who didn’t play a game in the regular season. He’s a good blocker, but you don’t know if he can catch passes.
“If they picked Eric Ebron in the draft, I think some fans would embrace it, but the problem with it is, you draft Ebron, you’re adding to a position that’s already a strength,” Ortiz continued. “You went out in the offseason and signed Brandon Pettigrew. You have so many needs on defense. You need secondary help, you need linebacker help. Adding a tight end, just, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Similarly, the Lions look adequate – more adequate than they do at other positions, particularly on the defensive side – at wide receiver. Currently on the roster are superstar Calvin Johnson and recently acquired Golden Tate plus role players in Kris Durham, Jeremy Ross and others.
Taking a wide receiver in the draft, however, still seems a more plausible play for the Lions than taking a tight end.
“The Lions still need a third wide receiver,” Ortiz said. “They’ve got a couple of guys underneath of the roster – Jeremy Ross comes to mind, Kris Durham comes to mind, but these are guys that are, at best, depth. You need a third wide receiver, especially with the way the NFL’s going now. That’s why they have the interest in Sammy Watkins. That’s why a guy like Mike Evans from Texas A&M is also a guy that Lions will take a hard look at as far as adding some value at wide receiver.”
If both Watkins, Evans and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert are taken when the Lions pick, Ortiz does not believe the Lions would take Beckham. Instead, he thinks they will go with UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
There has been plenty of speculation about the Lions trading up to take Watkins – including speculation from Watkins himself, via Twitter – but Ortiz said the risk may be too great.
“If you’re the Lions, do you want to take that gamble? I don’t think you want to do that,” Ortiz said. “Watkins could be the next Calvin Johnson, and it’s great to have, but I think if you’re the Lions, you need more help than just another wide receiver. You might be able to find it in this draft, but why take the chance? You never know what could happen. You might be without your first-round pick [in 2015] and a guy you desperately need is there. It’s a gamble. I don’t think the Lions should take that gamble at this point – my opinion.
“He’s good, I think he’s very, very good, maybe the best player in this draft,” Ortiz added, “but I think the Lions have more pressing needs than adding another wide receiver.”