After looking at each of the top three receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft, we now reach the last of the New York Jets’ preferred first round options. North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron looks like a star in the making, and he is someone the Jets will be studying very carefully as the draft approaches. The Jets got decent production from Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow this season (combined 57 receptions for 786 yards and 6 TDs), but both are free agents, and Winslow is unlikely to return. The NFL has become a league where a star tight end can be a nearly unstoppable weapon, and Ebron has that potential.
Ebron started to make his push into a key role at UNC as a sophomore, when he caught 40 passes for 625 yards and 4 TDs. He improved to 62 receptions for 973 yards and 3 TDs as a junior, and it is fair to blame his good but not great college production on both average quarterbacks and being the focal point of the defense. UNC is not a football powerhouse with the supporting cast to maximize a star’s talents, and Ebron shouldn’t take too much heat for not having better numbers.
Ebron checks in at 6’4″, 245 lbs, and he certainly has room to add some muscle. Ebron is expected to run about a 4.6 at the combine, and he has very good leaping ability to go with his speed. Ebron has good hands and is capable of making tough catches in traffic and making plays after the catch. However, he often gets by on his natural athleticism, and his route running needs work. Ebron is a very good athlete, but that will not be enough in the NFL.
That being said, Ebron remains a matchup nightmare. He is part of the new breed of tight ends that are too big for defensive backs to cover and too fast for linebackers, and he shown the ability to make plays from a three point stance, in the slot or split out wide. Again, his athletic gifts are a huge part of what makes him so difficult to cover. Adding some polish to his route running would make Ebron nearly unstoppable.
A quick note on blocking here, since the Jets are a run first team that requires their tight ends to block quite a bit. Ebron is an average blocker, but his abilities in the passing game easily make up for any deficiencies in that area. If the Jets, or any other team for that matter, drop their grade on Ebron because of blocking they would be making a big mistake.
Geno Smith showed a strong tendency to target the tight end this season, as many young quarterbacks do. The Jets would be well served to give him a better option than Cumberland at that position, and there is no doubt that Ebron would be a huge upgrade. I do not believe the Jets would take Ebron over Sammy Watkins or Marqise Lee, but I think it would be close between Ebron and Mike Evans. Also, if all three receivers are off the board at No. 18 and Ebron is all that’s left, the Jets should not hesitate to draft him. Ebron is not going to be Jimmy Graham, but he should be a high level tight end for a long time in the NFL, and he would be huge boost to the Jets’ passing game.