NFL DRAFT: UNC TE Eric Ebron happy to go anywhere in 1st round

May. 07, 2014 @ 05:03 PM

North Carolina junior tight end Eric Ebron caught a 13-yard pass from Marquise Williams, broke free from two would-be tacklers and outraced the Miami secondary to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown — all in front of 37 NFL scouts and five general managers at Kenan Stadium, plus many more watching on ESPN.

It was a play that showed Ebron’s combination of power and speed, a big reason why theGreensboro native is expected to be the first tight end taken when the NFL Draft begins Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“It looks illegal,” Ebron said of his 6-4, 250-pound frame. “It looks like it shouldn’t be on the field, but it is.”

The first round will be conducted Thursday from 8-11:30 p.m. The second and third rounds will take place Friday from 7-11:30 p.m., and Rounds 4-7 are Saturday from noon-8 p.m.

Ebron is listed as the 10th best prospect by Scouts Inc. and is projected to go between 12th and 19th by the four draft analysts at NFL.com.

Ebron finished the Thursday night game against Miami last October with 199 yards, the most ever by a UNC tight end, which cemented his decision to turn pro after his junior year.

Ebron announced his intentions before the final regular-season game against Duke. He ended the year with 973 receiving yards – breaking the conference record for most yards by a tight end set by Maryland’s Vernon Davis — and 62 receptions, a school record at his position.

“What separates me from other tight ends and other guys in the draft, period (are) my great speed, my great hands and my execution of route running,” Ebron said. “And people say I can’t block, but I don’t think they’re watching the right tape.”

UNC coach Larry Fedora said that when he talks to NFL personnel about Ebron, the questions aren’t about on-the-field issues. Instead, they revolve around subjects like character, work ethic and if he can be coached. But Fedora said that there’s no reason for NFL teams to be concerned.

For instance, Ebron injured his shoulder at Pittsburgh during the 10th game of the season, but played the next week against Old Dominion.

“There were times this season when Eric was beat up and I know was not 100 percent, and knew that he was coming out (to the NFL), and still got out there on Saturday and played his heart out,” Fedora said. “It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to sit back and get ready for the NFL.’ It was, ‘On Saturday I’m going out there and giving you everything I’ve got.’”

Ebron is expected to continue a recent trend of first-round picks from UNC. The Tar Heels have had a first-round pick in five of the six years, including two in 2013 — guard Jonathan Cooper (seventh overall) and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (28th). The six first-round picks since 2008 are the most from any ACC school.

But half of UNC’s 22 previous first-round picks have been defensive linemen. Ebron would be the first Tar Heel tight end to land in the first round. The highest a UNC tight end has been picked was when Alge Crumpler went in the second round (35th overall) to Atlanta in 2001.

“Wherever I end, I end up,” said Ebron, who will be attending the draft. “I don’t care — as long it’s in the first round.”

As for other UNC prospects, first-team all-ACC defensive end Kareem Martin is expected to be picked on Friday, while left tackle James Hurst, center Russell Bodine and safety Tré Boston will most likely be drafted on Saturday. Quarterback Bryn Renner, cornerback Jabari Price and defensive tackle Tim Jackson also are potential late-round selections.

Follow UNC beat writer Harold Gutmann on Twitter at @haroldgut.