CHAPEL HILL — After Eric Ebron worked out for NFL scouts during his pro day at North Carolina, somebody asked how he felt about being invited to New York and what it might be like to be there at the NFL draft, live, to hear his name called.
I started to think about how good Im going to look on the stage when Im walking up there, Ebron said with a wide grin. But no (I) just couldnt believe it. It was like, you know, dreams come true.
The first part of his answer was classic Ebron brash and cocky and served with a smile. Yet even the moment upon him has inspired some introspection.
Ebrons longtime dream of reaching the NFL is expected to become reality Thursday night during the first round of the draft. He is projected to be selected early (early to mid-teens), though how high is unclear.
Whats more certain: Theres no shortage of teams interested in Ebrons size and speed. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Ebron possesses the prototypical frame of the more athletic tight ends who have helped revolutionize NFL passing offenses. Hes fast, too, and adept at shedding defenders.
Ebron, who gave up his final season of college eligibility to enter the draft, isnt shy about talking about these things. Asked after UNCs pro day what kind of feedback he has received from NFL scouts and personnel directors, Ebron said this:
That they havent really seen talent such as mine, and theyre high upon me and the things that Im able to do. And its nothing been negative. Everythings been positive with every scout.
That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Ebron set several school receiving records for a tight end and last season, as the centerpiece of the Tar Heels up-tempo spread offense, he caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns.
That was good and Ebron seemed pleased by his production, but he fell well short of the 12 touchdown receptions coach Larry Fedora had said was Ebrons goal. Ebron also dropped some passes, and sometimes he seemed more likely to make the spectacular catch instead of the routine one.
There are holes in his game, NFL draft analyst Todd McShay recently said of Ebron, according to ESPN.com. He drops too many passes for how highly hes going to be drafted.
Ebron, in fact, dropped a couple during his pro day, though he didnt seem too concerned.
Everything went great, Ebron said. Two drops. No biggie. It happens. You know, Jerry Rice even drops passes. No, Im just kidding.
And there was that smile again. During his years at UNC, Ebron was known for his affable nature. He was, in some ways, a big kid always smiling and joking and Fedora and his staff rode Ebron hard.
Some of it likely was because they wanted Ebron to toughen up. Other times, Ebrons coaches wanted him to maximize his potential.
Ebron will enter the NFL during a golden age for tight ends. Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans Saints tight end, led the league last season in touchdown receptions, with 16. Vernon Davis, the San Francisco 49ers tight end, caught 13 touchdown passes, and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos caught 12.
Athletic tight ends with an ability to line up wide and run longer routes have seemingly never been more valued in the NFL. And Ebrons best quality is his athleticism, and his ability to play his position with the skill and agility of a wide receiver.
Hes a pretty exciting player, Fedora said in what seemed like an understatement. He can make every play there is. Hes got unbelievable hands. He can catch the ball like a wideout, runs great routes, knows how to use his body.
I mean, hes got great body control in the air. All those things.
Ebron said at his pro day during March that he had no idea where he might wind up. During a recent mock draft on ESPN.com, McShay sent Ebron to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 15th pick. Mel Kiper Jr., another ESPN draft expert, consistently has projected Ebron as the New York Giants selection with the 12th pick.
Scouts also have questioned Ebrons blocking ability. McShay, the ESPN analyst, has described Ebron as a buffet blocker meaning he picks and chooses when he blocks.
Ebron, who wasnt used much as a blocking tight end at UNC, disagrees.
I definitely know I wowed them with my blocking, Ebron said at his pro day. Because most people say I cant block, but I dont think theyre watching the right tape.
Regardless of where he winds up, at some point Thursday night the moment Ebron has been waiting for finally will arrive. After his pro day, Ebron thought about the first thing hed do when he hears his named called.
Ill jump up out the chair, he said, fix my tie, and walk to that stage. And put on my hat. Thats the first thing Im going to do. Aint no crying, aint no nothing.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter