Since it's inception in 1985, the NFL Scouting Combine has been inherently more beneficial for some players than others.
It's the nature of the beast. The drills at the combine, at least where offensive skill players are concerned, favors the fleet of foot. Turn heads with your speed and/or athleticism in Indy, and it can make a significant difference on draft day.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron was in just such a position heading into Saturday's workouts at the combine, but on a day where no tight ends really performed well Ebron squandered a golden opportunity to solidify his draft status as a potential top-10 pick.
So Good It's Criminal
Want to know how good Ebron is? Just ask him.
As NFL.com's Greg Huguenin reported, while speaking with the Raleigh News and Observer before the 2013 season, Ebron brushed aside concerns that the weight he added the preceding summer would detract from his 4.57 speed.
"Same speed. Same speed," Ebron said. "It looks illegal. It looks like it shouldn't be on the field, but it is."
Ebron then preceded to brush aside ACC defenders for much of the season.
|Eric Ebron Career Stats|
|Per CFB Stats|
Granted, Ebron's numbers as a junior in Chapel Hill weren't exactly eye-popping. However, Ebron is far from the first collegiate pass-catcher whose production was hampered by his quarterback.
Chicago Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery just nodded so hard his head popped off and rolled across the floor. In 2010, Jeffery had over 1,500 receiving yards at South Carolina. The next year he had just over half that, falling to the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.
A look at Ebron's game film tells something of a different story.
Speed. Agility. Precisely run routes. Soft hands. In other words, every bit the "wide receiver in a tight end's body" that's so in demand in today's NFL.
A Lock for the First Round
With every team in the NFL that doesn't have a Jimmy Graham or Julius Thomas at tight end looking for one, the top prospect at the position is very much in demand on draft day.
Well, not only does Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller believe Ebron is this year's top tight end, but Miller also feels Ebron is one of this season's top prospects at any spot:
Miller had more on the youngster while breaking down this year's top tight ends:
The North Carolina tight end doesn't move like a tight end, and that open-field ability he brings to the table is tantalizing. Give him an inch and a little daylight and he's gone. And that's from an in-line or flexed position. Ebron doesn't care. Just give him the ball and watch big plays happen.
Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, via CBS Sports, also ranks Ebron as this year's No. 1 tight end, calling him a "freaky athletic specimen"; he and Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers "move like wide receivers, but have the size and length of tight ends to create mismatches in coverage."
However, much like Davis, it may take a little while for Ebron to realize his immense potential at the professional level.
If there's a prevailing criticism of Ebron, it's that he doesn't play like he's 6'4" and 250 pounds, especially when it comes to establishing his route across the middle.
|Eric Ebron 2014 NFL Draft Rankings|
|Ranker/Site||TE Rank||OVR Rank||Proj. Round|
|Matt Miller/Bleacher Report||1||15||1|
|Rob Rang/CBS Sports||1||14||1|
|Charlie Campbell/Walter Football||1||18||1|
|Eric Galko/Optimum Scouting||1||8*||1|
|*QBs not included|
Rich Cimini of ESPN recently reported it's a deficiency that caught the eye of at least one NFL executive. "I don't think he's tough enough to run down the seam and catch the ball in the middle," the AFC personnel executive said. "Is he a great athlete? Yes. Does he have good hands? Yes. Can he catch the ball in traffic? I don't think so."
Bleacher Report's McCrystal saw it as well while watching tape of Ebron:
At this point in time, Ebron plays like a wide receiver without any concept of how to use his size to his advantage. Once he becomes more aggressive and masters the technique of being more effective as a possession receiver, he could become one of the most well-rounded pass-catching tight ends in the game.
Of course, when McCrystal says "at this point in time," he means it.
After all, Ebron doesn't even turn 21 until April.
A Chance to Lock Down His Stock
Entering the 2014 combine, there was again concern that in trying to "bulk up" Ebron may have sacrificed some speed.
Once again, though, it appears to have been much ado about nothing.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei reported not long after the Super Bowl that a "veteran front-office man" told him Ebron had "put on some significant weight since his junior season in an effort to be a better blocker," losing some speed in the process.
Just as he did one year ago, Ebron again dismissed those concerns while speaking recently with Huguenin, stating that his size/speed combo "should be illegal," while pledging a "great overall day" in workouts.
The extra weight wasn't there in Indy, as Ebron weighed in right at 250 pounds, according to WalterFootball.com.
However, Ebron's confidence was still very much on display.
When it came time to actually run, Ebron didn't come close.
|Eric Ebron 2014 NFL Combine Results|
|Height||Weight||Arm||Bench||40 (U)||40 (O)||Vert.||Broad|
|* Unofficial results|
Mind you, this isn't to say Ebron had a "bad" combine. His 24 reps in the bench press were very respectable, as was his unofficial time of 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
However, his official time (as with all the tight ends) came in significantly slower, and apparently Ebron ran into some trouble while he was running.
And that was that. The injury prevented Ebron from participating in position drills, and his combine was done.
It wasn't a disaster by any stretch. As I wrote earlier, most of the other high-end tight ends wither chose not to run, pulled up hurt themselves or also disappointed.
Ebron remains the overwhelming favorite to be the first tight end selected, and there are still more than a few draftniks who feel he's worthy of a top-10 pick.
However, the last tight end to be drafted that early, Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, came to Indy and lit the combine on fire back in 2006 with a 4.4-40.
In that regard, at least, Ebron's combine fell flat.