Nov 24, 2012; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron (85) with the ball in the first quarter at Kenan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina


The North Carolina football program has struggled to sustain consistent success in the win-loss record, but they have become an impact program in terms of sending prospects to the NFL Draft.  They have yet to find a way to get all of their talent to play on the field together and win football games, but they have been able to boast some of the best prospects at a number of different positions over the past 5 to 10 years.  Perhaps the most intriguing player on the Tar Heels that will be draft eligible after this year is their tight end, Eric Ebron.

In terms of appearance, he looks like a yoked up wide receiver that can line up in the slot or out wide and be a big bodied, strong wide receiver.  That is true; he is and can be an effective wide receiver.  On his build and appearance, he might be pigeon-holed as an H-back by some, but he is a developing inline presence who plays with a ton of effort and tenacity in terms of his blocking and should only get better with more experience and increased strength.  He appears to be able to play each spot or both depending on the situation and gives the Tar Heels a ton of options offensively.  Ebron was athletic enough where he even saw time as a defensive end in their game against N.C. State and while he obviously was not polished, he looked like he had done it in high school and was impressive with his physical talent to try to make a contribution on the fly.  It might come off as a gimmick to some, but his willingness to go out there and try to help his team is always a plus for teams and is just another way to show off how athletic he is.

Ebron was able to contribute 40 catches for 625 yards and 4 touchdowns and his contributions should only increase this coming season.  He is a tremendous athlete with great speed and burst down the field and as he gains strength and bulk along with consistency with his technique, he will continue to improve and become more legitimate as a tight end as well as a wide receiver, giving both North Carolina and the NFL a player who can legitimately be called a wide receiver or tight end at the next level.  In a league that continues to enable tight ends to make plays, he gives teams a truly versatile weapon.  Ebron looks the part of a top 100 pick right now but his talent and potential could significantly raise his stock and potentially warrant a first round pick.  The problem facing Ebron could be the incredible number of talented tight ends that could be potentially available.  In any case, Ebron is going to be fun to watch for the next season or two in Chapel Hill.

Vitals & Build

Ebron is listed at 6’4” 235lbs with quickness and speed while possessing good functional strength for his size.  He is going to obviously want to continue adding strength and is probably going to try to get to around 250lbs ultimately, but the Tar Heel program, smartly, seems to be having him do it the right way and not just adding weight for the sake of adding weight, which might just make him sluggish.  Ebron possesses a frame that looks like it should easily add strength and continue progressing without losing his athleticism the way they are having him do it, so he has a fantastic amount of physical potential going forward.

Route Running & Technique

In terms of his stance, both from an inline stance and as a receiver, Ebron is lined up effectively so it he can fire off the ball cleanly and efficiently.  His stance lined up outside does not look pretty, but the results are good, with all of his motion going forward immediately allowing him to be explosive from the snap.  This is also the case when he is in a three point stance and he fires off the ball incredibly well and was often ahead of the tackle playing next to him in terms of getting out of his stance and into the play.

Along with this, Ebron does a tremendous job of selling the idea that he could be blocking before releasing into his route, which can cause opponent to hesitate in both situations.  The result is that when he fires out into his route, he is able to get behind the initial defender easily and in run situations, it can result in him able to establish his block because the opponent is worried he might be going out for the pass.

When he gets out into his routes, he can show the ability to make a great plant step and get out into his cuts, but he tends to round off too many routes.  Some of this is by design but there are too many examples where he is just rounding it instead of making a crisp cut.  His athleticism, size, and strength make it so he can get open against just anyone trying to cover him.  Ebron is simply too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for most defensive backs.  He is able to create separation pretty easily at this point, but further development and really hammering out technique as a route runner could make him virtually indefensible one on one.

One area where Ebron has shown to be really aware is finding and settling in holes in the zone.  If the route does not call him to stop, he will slow play it just to give his quarterback a chance to hit him there before progressing in his route to its fruition.  In situations where he is running a route and he finds a hole in the zone, he will settle in it and give his quarterback an open target to throw the ball.

Hands

Ebron’s hands are a work in progress and he shows tremendous potential in this area but needs to continue to work on this area.  He demonstrates good body control and has a large catch radius as a result with the ability to catch the ball over his head or contort his body to adjust to passes thrown behind him.  There is potential for him to be able to make big time catches in traffic, but he just needs more experience to be able to get more comfortable doing this and functioning in traffic.

Ebron needs to do a better job of securing the ball when he catches it and protecting it from being stripped out by defenders; getting it into his body faster as opposed to holding it out where it can be a target.  He has lost a couple of passes he would have otherwise caught when defenders were able to knock it out after he initially had caught it.

Ebron will occasionally have some drops where he is trying to run before he has caught the ball and he needs to focus on the ball all the way in until he secures the catch.  There are a few times where he appears to double catch passes as well and can work to eliminate those and improve at snagging the ball out of the air cleanly as well as getting better of tracking the ball when bodies flash in front of the ball.

Run After Catch

Ebron has the speed and strength to be a good runner after the catch and the Tar Heels offense tried to isolate him at times on bubble screens and other plays where he could make plays after the catch.  He possesses the agility and speed to be a threat after the pass and the strength to push the pile.  Once he gets stronger and gets more comfortable running with the ball in his hands, he has the potential to develop into a nightmare that can break or avoid tackles and take a pass all the way for a score, but to this point, there have only been flashes of what he could be.

Blocking

Ebron is undersized as a blocker, but he does far better than most would expect given his size.  He fires off the ball and approaches blocking aggressively and works to drive his opponent off the ball and onto the ground.  Ebron has shown that he will keep working his feet and getting himself in position when he has to come out from the slot and work his way to get in between the ball carrier and the defender as well as working to adjust his feet to work around a block to shield off the defender from the play as the play progresses.  His aggressiveness and attitude as a blocker has paid off and there are a number of big runs for the Tar Heels where they run behind him and he is able to either land a block himself or be effective working in a double team to create a big running lane.

Ebron is a good blocker out wide as well and he does a great job of making sure he lands blocks in space.  He approaches it the right way.  Rather than just running and launching himself, he gets in the right position, establishes the block, and then works to move his opponent off of the spot to help create a lane for the ball carrier to run the ball.

Ebron still has issues to work on and will occasionally lean too far forward and get off balance enabling opponents to slip the block and have him end up on the ground.  Because of his size, he can be overpowered and overwhelmed as times.  There are times when he will get beaten to the inside and will fall off of blocks.  And another area that should come with experience is that Ebron will occasionally get too far ahead of his block in terms of where he is positioned and will occasionally allow guys to slip underneath too early.  Most of what Ebron needs to improve upon should be helped by increased strength and experience as long as he can maintain that killer instinct and the effort that consistently showed up on tape during his sophomore year.

System Fit

The only thing that really limits the fit of Ebron is the imagination of the team that is looking at him.  He appears able to play legitimately as a wide receiver or tight end and can easily be used inline or on the outside, so unless there is a team that does not like a big receiver or an up and coming inline prospect, he seems like he can fit somewhere on every team.  He is probably best suited to play on a team that will use him at both spots in their system depending on the situation, so the best fit is on a team who is willing to be creative with both their offensive scheme as well as his role.

Schedule

Thu, Aug. 29 at South Carolina
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. Middle Tennessee State
Sat, Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. East Carolina
Sat, Oct. 5 at Virginia Tech
Thu, Oct. 17 vs. Miami
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. Boston College
Sat, Nov. 2 at N.C. State
Sat, Nov. 9 vs. Virginia
Sat, Nov. 16 at Pittsburgh
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Old Dominion
Sat, Nov. 30 at Duke

Notable Games

South Carolina presents a huge opportunity for Ebron, because he will likely be asked to help try to block Jadeveon Clowney in addition to being a pass catching threat against an SEC opponent.  This is an opportunity for both North Carolina and Ebron to make a statement the first week of the year.  Georgia Tech was Ebron’s least productive game in terms of receiving in addition to being a shootout they ultimately lost.  Both of the Tobacco Road opponents are a big deal for the Tar Heels every year and they are both on the road this year.  First, at N.C. State, a team the Tar Heels was ultimately able to beat is a rivalry game and another opportunity for Ebron to make a lasting impact for the Tar Heels.  And then Duke, the final game of the regular season, on the road against a team that beat them last year in Chapel Hill 33-30, provides another big game and an opportunity for revenge.

NFL Comparison

Ebron is a unique prospect and is not an easy one to compare, but his best comparison might be Ed Dickson, formerly of Oregon and currently of the Baltimore Ravens.  Dickson came out as an impressive athletic receiving threat that was paired with Dennis Pitta in the same draft to really overhaul the tight end position and give them a lot of options in Baltimore after Todd Heap finished his career there.  Dickson is built similarly to how Ebron will probably end up being built in the NFL.  Dickson had a productive second year, but is looking to bounce back after not having the year he hoped for this past year.  Ebron has the potential to be better than Dickson has been, but he offers the same type of versatility.

Draft Projection

At the moment, it seems as though Ebron’s talent and potential would be difficult to get out of the top 100 picks based on what he has done to this point and what he brings to the table, but he could significantly raise his draft stock and be competing with what could be an extremely talented group of tight ends in the upcoming draft if he ultimately decides to declare early.  He has some issues to work on that should be helped with experience but if he can continue adding strength, maintain his athleticism and continue to be a threat at both wide receiver and tight end, he could be scary.

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