The Jets are coming into the 2014 offseason with tight end at the top of their “needs” list. With Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland set to become free agents, former 2013 UDFA Zach Sudfeld will be the only tight end on the active roster. There are reports Cumberland may return, but nothing is set in stone. With that being said, let’s check out who I think is the clear cut best tight end prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft: UNC’s Eric Ebron.
Ebron is from Greensboro, North Carolina standing 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs 250 pounds. The athletic tight end from the University of North Carolina caught 63 passes his junior season for 973 yards and three touchdowns.
At the NFL combine, Ebron ran a 4.6 forty yard dash, put up 24 reps on the bench press, had a 32 inch vertical and a 120 inch broad jump. He is a rare athlete with a unique blend of size, strength, and speed.
In high school Ebron was the 20th nationally ranked tight end and also played defensive end.
Eric Ebron is a “rare” prospect in terms of what he brings to the table. The last tight end prospect that he has resemblance to is 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who was drafted eight years ago (ironically, Ebron broke Vernon’s ACC single season receiving yards record this past year).
On tape, Ebron shows a ton of positives in the receiving game. He has top notch speed for a tight end that enables him to break away from coverage. He is too strong to press at the line of scrimmage and extremely difficult to out reach for the football in the air. Ebron often attacks the ball at its highest point and has made multiple “circus” type catches.
When lined up as an in-line tight end, Ebron bursts through defenders who try to bump him backwards. He shows impressive speed off the line and can often take the top off of a defense.
Linebackers are too slow to run with him, but where Ebron distinguishes himself is his ability against more athletic defensive backs. Although these defenders have the speed to run with Ebron, he does an excellent job shielding them with his large frame to catch the ball into his body or over them.
When it comes to blocking, Ebron is incomplete. Although he has to develop his blocking skills, the effort and tenacity appears to be present. He often attempts to flatten guys on every play, which can hurt him at times. When he learns when to distinguish when to go for the kill shot and when to get his hands on a guys chest, his blocking will be much more consistent.
In the above GIF, Ebron is in the slot (pre-snap). He gets his hands on an NC State defensive back and tosses him to the ground, out of the play.
Finally, one of Ebron’s most impressive skills is his after the catch ability (as seen at Breaking Down The Play, his hurdle move!). He is a chiseled 250 pounds and quite the problem when he gets a full head of steam. He has the ability to run through and past defenders. His frame is stocky like a running back with the speed of a wide receiver, as seen below.
Although he is known for his one-handed highlight reel catches, Ebron has a bad tendency to drop the easy ball at times. It could be a concentration issue at this point which is often very fixable (Braylon Edwards tenure with the Jets).
While Ebron is seen as an elite receiving tight end prospect, his blocking IQ does leave you scratching your head at times. On tape there were a few instances where he was just beaten due to facing a 280-300 pound defensive linemen, but that is not always the case.
More often than not when Ebron misses a block off the line of scrimmage, it is due to him looking to destroy a defender and he “whiffs.” When he misses a block at the line of scrimmage, he is just over powered by much larger players.
Overall, he has a pretty high ceiling in terms of blocking in the secondary (he lines up out wide often) and is capable at the line against smaller edge rushers. He should not be relied upon to block interior defensive linemen.
Although his number of catches and receiving yards (ACC record) are impressive, he only had seven touchdowns over the past two seasons. While this is not an extremely poor stat, many people will expect more from a potential top 15 selection.
On tape there were times where Ebron is double and triple teamed in the middle of the field, as opposing defenses knew he was UNC’s most lethal weapon. The North Carolina quarterback play was also inconsistent throughout the season, especially after losing starting quarterback Bryn Renner for the season in the first week of November.
How does he fit with the Jets?:
The Jets need playmakers on offense and Ebron is exactly that. He is a downfield threat who plays a premier position of need for the Jets. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg moves his offensive personal all over the field, an aspect Ebron became quite acquainted with during his tenure at UNC.
Geno Smith sorely lacked both an underneath target and a player who can take the top off of a defense throughout his rookie season. Ebron brings both of those aspects to the field from day one. If he is on the board at 18, I do not see how the Jets pass on him.
Eric Ebron appears to be a top 15 selection in the NFL Draft. He has a productive track record and the raw ability to take his game to the next level in the NFL.
It is rare to find a talent that is unique, talented, productive, has no “baggage”, and a will to get better each season. Eric Ebron brings all of those aspects to a football team and the tape does not lie, he will be a highly touted prospect all the way until draft day in May.