Eric Ebron stormed into the national spotlight this season and stated his case to be the first tight end taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
He's the ACC's all-time receiving yards leader for tight ends, but Ebron still has some work to do in developing his game.
The junior has already declared that he will skip his senior season and enter the draft, so let's go ahead and evaluate his game.
Ebron is a weapon in the passing game. He uses his frame well, is smart and instinctive, and he can make some really unbelievable catches.
But I would not go so far as to say that Ebron has "great" hands, because he drops some really easy and catchable passes, which will not fly in the NFL.
The consistency is not always there, but he often shows off his impressive athleticism and instincts. His ability to high-point the ball is solid, which is important for a tight end.
Here, Ebron times his jump well, extends his arms over true freshman Kendall Fuller (a future first-round pick) and is strong with the ball all the way to the ground.
While Ebron flashed this ability to be a red-zone target, he only had three touchdown receptions in 2013 and eight total throughout his career.
Some of this can be attributed to the lack of talent around him and poor quarterback play, but Ebron is too big and talented of a receiver to only pull down a few touchdowns per season.
While he wasn't able to consistently find the end zone, there are plenty of plays where you simply shake your head in amazement at what Ebron can do. He's quick but also moves fluidly and is extremely coordinated.
These two catches show Ebron's ability to contort his body and make highlight-reel plays.
Ebron is obviously a gifted athlete, and his hands are not bad by any stretch. On most normal routes and plays, he shows confidence in catching the ball out in front of his body.
His quarterback play was also pretty poor this season, so he was forced to adjust to a lot of balls and make some harder-than-they-look catches as well.
But even though he is perfectly capable of making routine (and spectacular) catches, Ebron has mental lapses too often and drops some easy passes.
On this first play, a perfectly thrown ball is inexplicably dropped. The ball is right at his chest, and Ebron gets his hands up in time but simply doesn't make the catch.
This is a routine and extremely easy catch, as he has a clear view of the throw, which is perfectly placed from his quarterback. There's no excuse for letting it just bounce off your hands and not pick up the first down.
On this next play, Ebron looks timid going up for the ball near a few defenders and doesn't extend out fully to make the catch.
Tight ends make their living on plays like this, and Ebron needs to be stronger in traffic. This isn't necessarily a really easy catch, but he was untouched during his jump and got both hands cleanly on the ball.
It's hard to diagnose exactly what causes Ebron to drop these, but it may be as simple as maintaining focus and being more willing to take on contact.
Ebron does have good hands and has great body control and coordination that allows him to make incredible catches as well as most routine ones.
But he needs to work on limiting his mistakes because the passes will be coming faster in the NFL, and he'll have to have confident hands on every ball thrown his way.
For a tight end, Ebron is a very good route-runner. He can line up in either the slot as a receiver or in a three-point stance next to the tackle and make an impact either way.
Ebron's strength is really up the middle of the field, and he's extremely good at using different techniques to create separation and find holes in the secondary.
If you go back and watch that second acrobatic catch against Georgia Tech, you'll see how Ebron baits the first cornerback and then accelerates to find a seam over the top.
This is one of Ebron's most effective moves. He likes to fake like he's going short over the middle and then change speed and direction and beat that first defender to get open down the field.
Against Miami here, the ball doesn't actually go to Ebron, so he doesn't finish the route, but you can see how he baits the first cornerback and then gets open.
This looks pretty similar to that big play against Georgia Tech, and it is a legitimate weapon in Ebron's arsenal. But he also makes some more understated plays that show his ability to get open.
His feel for the coverage and ability to manipulate his route on the field is impressive and will serve him well at the next level.
Here, Ebron is patient and precise with his route and finds the hole in front of the safeties.
This will really help Ebron transition to the NFL because athletic tight ends like him will be required to run a wide variety of routes and find openings up the middle.
His ability as a pass-catcher is obviously pretty exceptional, but he has some work to do in the other facet of his game as a tight end.
Ebron is not the strongest tight end, but he's still strong enough to be a capable blocker. And on some plays, he shows good technique and holds off the defender.
But on other plays, Ebron simply gets overpowered.
When he fires off the line and gets a good jab at the defender's chest, Ebron has enough strength to keep pushing, which is what happens on these two plays.
These two blocks are textbook and show that he is capable of making great plays. But there are other times when he's really inconsistent in his blocking.
Ebron doesn't always fire off the line well and can lose his leverage right off the bat. On other plays, he just gets too high and is pushed backward.
He doesn't keep his legs under him enough and then can't use them to get a good base and drive up and through the defender's chest.
On this play, Ebron simply gets driven back and lets the run play get blown up on his side.
He doesn't have to be an elite run-blocker, but if he's a liability, it will hurt his chances of getting on the field, especially in his early NFL years.
There are other examples where Ebron simply doesn't show enough drive and desire to block out in the open field (which definitely happens for many tight ends and college receivers).
He has to hold his blocks longer and play through the whistle because letting up on the play and letting his man through to finish a tackle won't fly in the NFL.
These two plays against Duke are examples where Ebron just doesn't attack his blocks as hard as he should. On the first one, Ebron just gets beat, and then on the second one he lets up way too easily.
The second play is especially frustrating because if Ebron holds his block there, his running back could potentially have been able to bounce around the outside and come up with a big play on that screen after working hard to break a couple tackles.
Tight ends have to make these open-field blocks somewhat often on screens in the NFL, and if Ebron wants to be put out in the slot or trusted on the line, he'll have to work on this.
All in all, there is absolutely more work to be done with Ebron as a tight end, especially with his strength, blocking and effort.
He probably won't be used a ton in run-blocking situations, but he has to be at least adequate if he's going to be a true No. 1 tight end in the NFL.
He may not be the biggest or thickest tight end, but he's certainly strong and athletic enough to be a good blocker eventually. His biggest asset is still his speed and quickness, which is what makes him such a tantalizing prospect.
Ebron is an unbelievable all-around athlete who is especially agile and has surprising speed for a tight end. His breakaway speed is incredible and makes him look like a deep threat on some plays.
These two plays show Ebron's speed in the open field. His ability to take good plays and turn them into great ones is unique for a tight end.
The big touchdown against Miami is one of the best plays of the year and shows that he's strong enough to run through tackles and fast enough to break away from cornerbacks and safeties, which is impressive for a tight end especially.
The second play against Duke shows Ebron's ability to move laterally and get open on a broken play and show off his open-field speed to turn upfield and run 70 yards.
Ebron's athleticism is so impressive that UNC has even used him on some end-around plays, like this one against Georgia Tech.
It's extremely rare to have a tight end who's so athletic that he can be used like this, and Ebron's running ability is pretty impressive here.
He has more than just straight-line and breakaway speed; he's also pretty shifty and can make guys miss. Combined with all the big plays you've seen here already, it becomes evident that Ebron is a special talent.
Ebron's quickness and athleticism allowed him to average 16.45 yards per catch during his three-year career at UNC. For comparison, Antonio Gates averages 11.5 yards per catch this season, Jordan Cameron averages 11.3 and Jimmy Graham averages 14.1 (after Week 16).
His athleticism will be what makes him especially enticing to NFL teams, and he should impress at the combine.
Measurables and Intangibles
Ebron is listed at 6'4", 245 pounds (although he told the Raleigh News and Observer's Andrew Carter he bulked up to 254 before this season) and has a decent build for a 20-year-old tight end. He'll put on a little muscle in the NFL, but his team won't want him to bulk up too much and risk losing any speed.
While there may be some concerns about his leaner frame, he's still pretty strong and durable and hasn't had any serious injuries.
Ebron's penchant for a few mental lapses and not being a relentless blocker have been touched on here, but they should not be looked at too seriously and shouldn't damage his stock.
There's nothing really out of the ordinary with his play, as receivers or tight ends who are especially aggressive blockers in college are the exceptions to the rule.
There are also no known character issues or legal troubles with Ebron, so as long as he interviews well it should only help his stock.
Ebron is not as good of a prospect as Tyler Eifert was last year, but he's still a really talented player who carries a late-first-round grade for me.
If Jace Amaro declares for the draft, there will be a serious fight between the two of them to be the top tight end selected. I still haven't definitely made up my mind about who I like more.
But Ebron has the talent to be a lethal weapon in the passing game in the NFL, and if his team fully utilizes his quickness and open-field speed, he could become one of the best receiving tight ends in the league.
All scouting video courtesy of Draft Breakdown.
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