The consensus top tight end in this year’s draft class is North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, who like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski is expected to fit the new mold of athletes at the position in the NFL.
A second team All-American, Ebron was the Tar Heels’ leading receiver in 2013, hauling in 62 catches for 973 yards, an ACC single-season record and program-best mark for tight ends. Much like a big wide receiver, Ebron creates tremendous mismatches for defenders, with the length (6-foot-4 and 245 pounds) and flexibility to ring in most patches thrown in his direction. He also displays above-average straight-line speed, big-time ups and strong hands, as well as major run-after-catch potential.
Ebron can also block. He’ll need to add some weight in order to improve in that area, though teams that’ll draft him will do so to improve their passing games. On the professional level, Ebron will have to become a better route-runner and learn how to better use his body to his advantage. Some scouts compare him to a more physical version of St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook Jr., while others view him closer to the San Francisco 49ers’ Vernon Davis.
The North Carolina standout is ranked No. 14 by both CBS Sports and Rotoworld, and No. 7 and No. 22 by Mel Kiper Jr. and ESPN Scouts Inc., respectively. He’s considered the best tight end prospect this year above Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro and a surefire bet to go in the first round.
The two teams linked to Ebron most frequently reside in the AFC East. Both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets could be in search of a tight end to broaden their passing attacks, and the Bills will have the first crack at him with the No. 9 selection.
Ebron presents a go-to option for quarterback E.J. Manuel entering his second season as the starter. The offense already features Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods split wide and C.J. Spiller in the backfield, so adding Ebron into the mix adds yet another threat to make the Bills that more formidable. The question is whether the Bills will need to address a more pressing need first.
The Jets certainly have to add more pass-catchers in the draft, with wideout Santonio Holmes a possible release candidate and Stephen Hill not developing as quickly as anticipated, not to mention tight end Kellen Winslow is not a long-term solution. Ebron could become a safety valve for Geno Smith as he enters his sophomore season, lining up both as an in-line tight end or in the slot or out wide.