North Carolina's Ebron stands out in TE draft class
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Scouting the tight ends
1. Eric Ebron
North Carolina, 6-4, 250
Ran the 40 in 4.58 at the combine. Still developing. Also played special teams, a rarity for many elite players. Needs to be more physical. Broke Vernon Davis' ACC record for tight ends with 973 yards receiving in '13.
2. Troy Niklas
Notre Dame, 6-6 1 ⁄ 2 , 270
Irish's Tyler Eifert (Bengals) was top tight end last year, and now comes Niklas, a mega-sized receiver who is the nephew of Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews. Had hernia surgery in February. Unlike Ebron, Niklas will block, and he had 32 catches for 498 yards and five TDs last season.
3. Jace Amaro
Texas Tech, 6-5, 265
Nice acceleration, yet still ran 40 (4.75) much slower than Ebron. Competitive; often beats defenders for the ball. Set NCAA record with 1,352 yards receiving as a tight end last season and also had a Big 12-leading 106 catches (nine against WVU, with two TDs).
4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Washington, 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 262
Projected as a third-rounder. Three-year starter with 146 catches, 1,840 yards, 21 TDs. Beat out Ebron to win Mackey Award as top Division I TE (36 catches, eight TDs in '13). Didn't work out at combine (stress fracture). Suspended one game for DUI arrest.
5. A.C. Leonard
Tennessee St. 6-2, 252
Heavily recruited out of high school, he left Florida after being arrested for an altercation with girlfriend. Caught 85 passes (11 TDs) in two seasons at FCS level. Could have played one more college season. Plays like an oversized wide receiver. Forty time of 4.57 was faster than Ebron's.
6. C.J. Fiedorowicz
Iowa, 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 265
Three-year starter who adjusts well to the ball in flight but can be slow off the snap and doesn't accelerate well. School has turned out a succession of NFL TEs (Dallas Clark, Tony Moeaki). Old-school TE who blocks well and makes most catches close to line of scrimmage; only 299 yards in '13.
7. Crockett Gillmore
Colorado St., 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 260
Converted DE who had 47 catches last season. Ran 40 in 4.89. Is difficult to bring down when he gets moving. Plays with toughness. Has added 50 pounds since high school.
8. Xavier Grimble
Southern Cal, 6-4, 257
Made 11 career TD catches as three-year starter. Has wide receiver-type moves and good hands but needs to get stronger to play at NFL level. Had ankle, rib and shoulder injuries. Stats limited by not being targeted much with Lane Kiffin as coach.
9. Jake Murphy
Utah, 6-4, 250
Son of two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy of Braves. Athletic; older than most (24) because he spent two years on Mormon mission. Made 58 catches (nine TDs) in 2012-13. Turned down offer from Blue Jays.
10. Joe Don Duncan
Dixie State, 6-2 1 ⁄ 2 , 268
Division II All-America pick after spending two seasons at JUCO level. Made 71 catches (13 TDs) as senior and 64 (nine TDs) as junior. Averaged almost 100 yards per start. Negatives: lower level of competition, injuries (multiple right-knee injuries, hamstring, broken left foot).
Best fit for Steelers
Niklas is much more suited for the Steelers than Ebron, but they'd likely have to take him in the second round — and needs at cornerback, wide receiver and the defensive line probably won't permit that.
One to watch
Rob Branchflower, UMass, 6-4, 250
The Steelers liked him enough to bring him in for a South Side visit. Average '13 stats (27 catches, three TDs) while fighting through injuries on a team that won only once. Very good blocker, and that's probably what intrigues Steelers.
Larry Webster, Bloomsburg, 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 252
Four-year basketball starter and PSAC East defensive player of the year in '11. Played two seasons of football at DE and could stay there, although many teams project him as a TE. His father, Larry Webster, played 11 NFL seasons.
There's no consensus about which quarterback is the best available in the NFL Draft, but there's only minimal debate at tight end.
Eric Ebron of North Carolina “won't block for you,” according to ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. — seemingly an incongruity at a position where that once was the priority. But that doesn't seem to matter as much in today's NFL.
Ebron, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, is fast, fluid and a perfect mesh for offenses in which the tight end effectively operates as another wide receiver.
“I think he's one of the premier players in this draft,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “It's rare you'd say a tight end is worth a top 10 pick, but I wouldn't have any problem at all if he was.”
Davis compares Ebron to Vernon Davis, who had 13 TD catches for the 49ers last season. And who does Ebron compare himself to?
“Vernon Davis — his speed, he's powerful, he's very strong at the line of scrimmage,” Ebron said. “Love everything about him.”
Just as many teams feel that way about Ebron, who is likely to be off the board before the Steelers draft No. 15 overall on May 8.
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