As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
College: North Carolina
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.60
Vertical Jump: 32”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
Ebron excelled at both tight end and defensive end at Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro, N.C., and was rated as a three-star recruit from Rivals.com. He saw action in 10 games and flashed his big-play ability as a true freshman, averaging 20.7 yards on 10 catches in 2011. Ebron became a starter the following season and promptly smashed the Tar Heels’ single-season school records for a tight end in receptions (40) and receiving yards (625), numbers topped only by Vernon Davis and Heath Miller at the position in ACC history. The 2012 second-team All-ACC selection continued to terrorize defenses in his final college season, breaking Davis’ conference single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (973) while also shattering his own school record for receptions (62). Ebron, who was named a Mackey Award finalist for his efforts, enjoyed his finest game in 2013 in a nationally-televised contest against Miami (Fla.) when he established new career highs with eight catches and 199 receiving yards. The highlight of his performance was a 71-yard touchdown reception that perhaps encapsulated his rare talent the best: Ebron took a pass on a short rollout from quarterback Marquise Williams around the Tar Heels 41, broke a pair of tackles and easily outraced the rest of the Hurricane defense down the sideline the final 59 yards for the score.
NFL Player Comp(s): Vernon Davis
- Absolute matchup nightmare down the middle of the field; prototypical tight end size with the speed, burst and acceleration to take any pass the distance.
- Spent a significant time in the slot in 2013 and looks like a natural; should be an above-average “move” NFL tight end right away.
- Routinely shows an understanding as to how to maximize his physical talent as a receiver.
- Plants and accelerates out of a break just like a receiver.
- Often makes the difficult catch look easy, especially in the red zone.
- Does a good job of sitting down in zone coverage and is willing to take the punishment that comes along with it.
- Dropped a few more catchable balls than he should have (11 percent drop percentage in 2013, highest of all the top prospects at his position); seems to be more reliable on throws away from his frame than on-target passes.
- Although he separated easily from defenders in college, he lacks polish as a route runner; telegraphs his breaks and allows himself to get redirected from time to time.
- Effort and technique as a blocker are inconsistent; has the potential to be dominant in this area with better attention to detail and more strength.
- Shows incredible desire to make the big catch in the red zone, but needs that same passion over the rest of the field.
- Is guilty of losing focus occasionally when he’s not the top option in the passing game.
Stating the somewhat obvious, Ebron is a rare physical talent and perhaps the most physically-gifted tight end to come out of college in recent years. North Carolina used him a great deal out of the slot and in a variety of ways, including on the occasional jet sweep or tunnel screen. His current shortcomings aren’t all that different from those of most college prospects and should become less of an issue so long as he takes to professional coaching and embraces football as his full-time job. His strengths, however, are incredibly rare for a 6-4, 250-pound young man who can pull away from safeties, linebackers and most cornerbacks. Critics will point to the high drop percentage and, while it is a legitimate concern, there is more than enough tape to suggest his biggest problem is focus. Look no further than two of his most incredible one-handed catches in 2013 to understand why that may not be as big of an issue with him as it might be with another player. On a 19-yard touchdown catch against Georgia Tech, Ebron hauled in a pass that was probably 2-3 feet over his head with his left hand. On another poor throw weeks later against Miami (Fla.), he runs up the field and shows enough ability to turn his hips around despite running near full speed to reach around with his right hand on a pass thrown high and about 4-5 feet behind where it should have been placed. In short, he has natural hands. Although it is very likely he will be used primarily as a field-stretcher in his rookie year, it would be a mistake if a team decided to limit him to that role long-term. His floor should be what Davis has accomplished this far, because Ebron is less raw now than Davis was coming out of Maryland. Assuming he wants it bad enough, there is no reason why Ebron can’t make it to at least 3-5 Pro Bowls in his NFL career.