Tag Archive: Eric Ebron


Hey all,

I’m back, I bet y’all thought I forgot I had a NFL Draft Blog.

First of all, thanks for putting up with me not posting any of my scouting reports on here this year. I meant to get some additional ones up that I didn’t cover in my NFL Draft guide, but I’ve been so busy with work it just didn’t happen. If you haven’t picked up a draft guide yet they only cost $5 and I’d say they’re worth well more than that given all the work that went into them. There’s plenty of great stuff left on non 1st round draft prospects, so pick one up now here.

Now onto the NFL Draft pick recaps:

#1 Overall- Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina- This is a fantastic pick, I’d give it an A. This is the perfect place for Clowney to go because if you have any questions about his work ethic or motor those should be eased knowing that JJ Watt will be working closely with him to help him maximize his potential in the offseason and during the season. I seriously don’t know how offenses are going to account for both of them once Clowney starts to really fill out his game from a technical standpoint. Those two are going to terrorize offensive backfields for years to come, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

#2 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn- I’m giving this pick an A as well, Robinson is one of the most talented offensive linemen that has come around in a long time, and he has franchise tackle upside. He is the rare offensive tackle that can be a dominant force as a pass blocker and as a run blocker, and that makes him worth the pick here even if he is still a bit raw. He’s an immediate upgrade in both phases of the offense regardless of where the Rams play him.

#3 Overall- Jacksonville Jaguars- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF- This is harsh, but I’m giving this pick a D. I don’t hate Bortles, in fact I had a late 1st-Early 2nd round grade on him, but #3 is way too high for him in my opinion. I don’t think he’s a franchise caliber player, and I don’t think he’s going to live up to the pressure that this high of a selection puts on him. He’s not as NFL ready as other QB’s in this class in my estimation, and still needs time to develop and season, but I’m not sure he’ll get a lot of that in Jacksonville particularly now that he was picked this high. I’ll own up to this if I’m wrong, but I think the Jaguars made a mistake selecting him this high.

#4 Overall- Buffalo Bills- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson- I’m giving this pick a B- even though I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan, and here’s why: Watkins is a top talent, and I had him as my #1 WR in this class for a reason, but I’m still not sold on him as a top 5 pick and I don’t think he’s going to be an elite WR in the NFL. He’s a playmaker without a doubt, and he’s going to be fun to watch in the NFL, but giving up a 2015 1st and a 4th round pick to move up for Watkins in a draft that is overflowing with talent at the receiver position is baffling to me. I like that they want to surround EJ Manuel with talent, but this isn’t the right way to go about it in my opinion.

#5 Overall- Oakland Raiders- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo- The Raiders got it right this year picking a very talented player in Khalil Mack who is going to be a very good defender for them for a long time. It was a predictable pick, but it was the right pick, and I give it an A. The Raiders needed a hit on this pick, and I think they got a very good player here even if it wasn’t as flashy as a player like Sammy Watkins or a quarterback.

#6 Overall- Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M- This isn’t what I was hoping for at #6 for Atlanta, but it’s a smart pick even if it isn’t the pass rusher that I really wanted. Sam Baker is not the long term answer for the Falcons at left tackle in Atlanta, and they needed a dependable player that would be able to start there for the next decade and they got that in Jake Matthews. He doesn’t have the insane ceiling that Greg Robinson has, but he’s going to be a good tackle for a long time and solidifying that position is the correct move in this situation. It’s not sexy, but it’s absolutely what had to happen given the way the draft board broke. I give this an A-. It could have been better, but with Mack off the board this was the right pick.

#7 Overall- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M- This pick gives the Bucs a very intriguing combination of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Evans, and that’s going to be hard for any team outside of the Seahawks to neutralize. I didn’t think Evans was a top 10 pick, but he’s got a lot of upside and with a guy like Jackson to learn from it should speed up his learning curve significantly. He’s a match-up nightmare because of his size, athleticism, and leaping ability, and if he can polish his game he and Jackson will be able to terrorize defensive backfields with their size and ability to win jump balls downfield.

#8 Overall- Cleveland Browns- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State- I’m not a big Gilbert fan, but I’m giving this pick a B for one reason: Joe Haden. I think Haden is the kind of player that will mentor Gilbert, help speed up the learning curve that all rookie CB’s have to endure (namely, getting burned once they get on the field) and a guy with Gilbert’s athleticism and ball skills has to be intriguing. I’m still not a huge fan of him in coverage and he’s not physical, but if Haden can help Gilbert reach his ceiling as a corner then they will have a very dangerous duo in Cleveland for a long time, plus Gilbert is an impact return man.

#9 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA- I am not a big Barr fan, but his athleticism is undeniable. One of the reasons I didn’t want him in Atlanta is because he is so raw and I’m not confident in their ability to develop him and turn him into a dominant force off the edge. With Mike Zimmer in Minnesota I don’t have that same concern, and I really think this is a good fit for him from that standpoint. If you want him to make an immediate impact you are going to be disappointed outside of situational pass rushing, but he’s got a very high ceiling if he can improve his technique and round out his game, and I think Zimmer and that staff have a good chance to do that. I’m giving this pick a B+, but if they can coach Barr up he could end up being one of the top 5 players in this class.

#10 Overall- Detroit Lions- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina- This pick is a B for me. It’s not a bad pick by any means, but I don’t like the value for Ebron here. I know he probably wouldn’t be available later, but despite his combination of size and athleticism his drops still give me pause and I consider him Jermichael Finley but with better blocking, and I say that as a UNC fan who has watched Ebron since he was a freshman. He gives the Lions a legit weapon other than Calvin Johnson and they will be able to pick up a receiver any time on Day 2 or 3 and get production because of how deep this class is, but if I’m picking a TE top 10 I want him to be an impact player with great hands, and while Ebron can be an impact player who makes great catches he still has issues with concentration drops.

#11 Overall- Tennessee Titans- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan- Lewan isn’t squeaky clean off the field, but you can’t question his toughness and ability on it. If you need to infuse attitude and toughness up front then Lewan is your guy, and that’s why I give this pick a B. He’s going to be a good tackle for a long time whether he’s on the left or right side, and he’s going to give you a toughness and an edge up front that every offensive line needs.

#12 Overall- New York Giants- Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU- I have been an OBJ fan since he was a freshman, and watching everyone catch on to how talented he was over the past couple years has been a real treat. He’s going to be really fun to watch playing opposite Victor Cruz, and he’s going to be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver and as a return man. I give this pick an A-.

#13 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh- A+. Slam Dunk. I am a huge Aaron Donald fan, and oh my god is the Rams front horrifying now. They already had a terrific front, but plugging Donald into the middle of that is going to make it even more fierce. How do you block all that talent up front? I seriously have no idea, and I don’t think there’s an offensive line that matches up with their pass rush talent across the board. Donald is going to have it easy going against one on ones on this unit, and that’s why it’s the top grade I’ve given so far. It doesn’t get any better than this.

#14 Overall- Chicago Bears- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech- I’m giving this a B+ because it’s earlier than I expected him to go, but he’s a good football player. He’s got injury concerns and I’m worried that he will have trouble shaking those nagging injuries which is why I didn’t think he’d go this high, but he’s as well rounded of a corner as there is in this draft, and he’s going to be ready to play DAY ONE whether it’s outside or in the nickel, and you don’t have to worry about this guy filling or tackling. He’s a complete corner, and those are tough to find, but the injury concerns scare me as big a fan of his game as I am.

#15 Overall- Pittsburgh Steelers- Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State- Shazier is such a fantastic athlete and he plays with such great instincts I think he is a great fit for the Steelers as an inside linebacker. Keep him clean and let him make plays by flying to the football. I give this pick an A-.

#16 Overall- Dallas Cowboys- Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame- Many thought Martin could stick at LT, and he made me believe that he had a chance to do so after the Senior Bowl, but playing inside at guard will likely be best for him, and the Cowboys made a wise investment filling a need up front again this year. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin up front they have turned a weakness into a potential strength. I give this an A- since it’s earlier than I thought he’d go, but it’s still a very good pick even if it isn’t flashy.

#17 Overall- Baltimore Ravens- CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama- This is such a Baltimore Ravens pick. I give this an A because Mosley is the kind of leader they needed inside after losing Ray Lewis, and he gives them two very talented inside linebackers between him and Arthur Brown who they got at the end of the 2nd round last year. They’ll be young in the middle of that linebacking corp, but Mosley is a talented player even if he can’t catch to save his life.

#18 Overall- New York Jets- Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville- I’m giving this a C+ because I have never been a huge Pryor fan. I love watching him deliver big hits and he’s a good tackler, but I’m still not sold on him holding up on the back end despite solid range. I may be proven wrong here, but I don’t think he’s going to be a really good coverage safety in the NFL, and as fun as big hits are they just aren’t as valuable as coverage is in the modern day NFL.

#19 Overall- Miami Dolphins- Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee- James is a solid player who I seriously think could have played left tackle for a lot of college football teams, but if they slot him at right tackle he will be good there as well. He wasn’t widely regarded during the season because of his teammate Antonio Richardson, but he’s a good player in his own right. I’ll give this a B because it’s earlier than I expected for him, but he’s a nice player.

#20 Overall- New Orleans Saints- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State- I’m giving this a A because this a perfect fit for the kind of player Cooks is. They’ll get him the ball in creative ways and let him make plays in space, and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to do so in addition to returning. They needed a guy that could get a lot of YAC now that Sproles moved on and Cooks fills that need perfectly.

#21 Overall- Green Bay Packers- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama- This grade should be an A just because HaSean has had my favorite college football name for a long time now, but the Packers badly needed an upgrade at safety and they got a rangy, talented, ball-hawk in Clinton-Dix. He’s exactly what they needed, and while they haven’t had much luck at safety since Nick Collins got hurt (Morgan Burnett hasn’t lived up to expectations in my opinion) I think Clinton-Dix will be a quality starter for them particularly in coverage.

#22 Overall- Cleveland Browns (via PHI)- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M- Mr. Football himself! I give this pick an A because there was a chance, however remote, that Manziel could have gone top 5 and they got him much later at #22 overall and they got to get another talented player earlier in the round as well. Manziel is going to be electrifying if nothing else, and he won’t be forced into the starting role immediately either which is perfect for him in my opinion. It remains to be seen if Manziel will quench the thirst of Cleveland Browns fans for a good quarterback, but I think he’s the best chance they’ve had at having an impact player at that position in a very long time. If Shanahan will mold his offense to Manziel instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole then I think the Browns can definitely be successful with him long term. I’ve long maintained that he elevates the play of those around him, and I still feel that way. I think he can be a good NFL starting quarterback as long as he’s willing to work at it, and I think he is, so I say this is a good pick. Only time will tell if Manziel’s magic will translate.

#23 Overall- Kansas City Chiefs- Dee Ford, DE, Auburn- I didn’t like this pick much initially, but it gives them a good player to develop so that Tamba Hali becomes expendable next offseason if he pans out (which would save them $9 million if I remember correctly). Ford has a great motor and should be able to contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher, and while his lack of size hurts him in a 4-3 I think he will be a good fit in the 3-4 defense the Chiefs employ. I give it a B.

#24 Overall- Cincinnati Bengals- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State- I give this pick a B+. The Bengals have invested a LOT of resources in corners lately, but Dennard is a very talented player who fits their style of defense well, or at least he would have fit in well under Zimmer. He’s big, long and physical, and if they don’t have a lot of faith in Dre Kirkpatrick this pick makes a lot of sense.

#25 Overall- San Diego Chargers- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU- This pick is an A for me. All that Verrett is lacking is height, the rest of his game is terrific, and he has a fantastic vertical to make up for what he lacks in height. He won’t match up with Calvin Johnson well, but he’s going to be a very good corner for a long time. The Chargers got a good one here.

#26 Overall- Philadelphia Eagles- Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville- I didn’t have a 1st round grade on Smith, but he is a good fit for the Eagles defense that clearly places a premium on athleticism. He’s got significant pass rushing upside, but he still has room for improvement. I wouldn’t have picked him this high, but I’ll give it a B- because it’s a good scheme fit.

#27 Overall- Arizona Cardinals- Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State- I’m giving this grade a C- because I think this is way too early for Bucannon, and it feels like a reach in a fairly thin safety class. I don’t think he’s as good in coverage as his interception numbers might lead you to believe, and even though he is a fierce hitter I don’t place a premium on that from my safeties. This is one I could end up wrong on because I’m being harsh, but I never thought Bucannon would go this high.

#28 Overall- Carolina Panthers- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State- Wow did this pick surprise me, I thought this would definitely be Marqise Lee, but instead they drafted a match-up nightmare with drop issues. He’s a raw player that still has a lot of room to grow, but rolling the dice on a receiver with one year of production in the 1st round is never a good idea, and I think this pick could very likely end up being a bust in a couple years. I’m giving it a C- because I get what they were trying to do, but this is early for Benjamin in my opinion and there were better options at receiver available.

#29 Overall- New England Patriots- Dominique Easley, DT, Florida- This pick gets an A+ from me because Easley is a top 10-15 talent that slipped because of his two ACL injuries, and while it’s a risk because of those injuries I love the dice roll here. He has impact player potential and I think this is a great fit for him as well.

#30 Overall- San Francisco 49ers- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois- This pick is an A in my opinion because Ward is a very talented and versatile player. He’s got good range, ball skills, and he can play free safety or drop down and play in the slot. The 49ers have three capable safeties now in Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea and Jimmy Ward, and that gives them a lot of flexibility on defense, and it gives them a long term secondary of Reid and Ward which could very well develop into one of the better tandems in the NFL.

#31 Overall- Denver Broncos- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State- I’ll give this pick a B because I think Roby is a very talented player, but I’m not sure this is the best locker room (or State… think about it) for him to be going to. Von Miller hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble, and I have to say I’m a little worried Roby will get into a little trouble on this team. From a talent standpoint it makes sense particularly because he’s such a good athlete, but I have my reservations.

#32 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville- A+++. Bridgewater is my #1 QB and I never wavered on that despite all the ridiculous things people decided to knock him for, and he’s still a very good quarterback prospect. I never claimed he was an elite or “franchise QB” but I think he can be a good or very good NFL starter, and the Vikings desperately need a player who can be a quality starter at that position. The fact that he went 29 picks after Blake Bortles is an absolute joke in my opinion, but the Vikings did a great job not only to end up with Bridgewater, but to get him at the very end of the 1st round so they have the option to control his rights for five years versus only four years had they picked him in the 2nd round.

 

And that concludes my 1st round recap… It’s good to be back, and hopefully next year I won’t get swamped with work during 70 hour work weeks during the time that I’m trying to finish all of my scouting reports.

Don’t forget to check out the draft guide and follow me on Twitter for more NFL Draft insight!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels program has been under fire for what feels like an eternity to me (but I am a Tar Heels fan) and rumors continue to swirl around the program. Hopefully there aren’t extremely severe sanctions levied against the program, but that is all up in the air. All we can do is focus on football, and that’s what Larry Fedora and his team plan to do. I’ve been impressed with how Fedora has been handling this team, because Butch Davis was labeled a “player’s coach” but really was letting the inmates run the asylum, and while there were plenty of talented inmates he never coached them up or got the most out of them. He simply got what they were willing to give at any given time, but that was usually enough to win 8 games and be competitive. Fedora doesn’t share that same view, and in his first meetings even with returning starters and seniors he told them he expects them to drop weight, come back in better shape and improve before the season starts. Fedora seems to command respect, and Sylvester Williams noted that even though his Southern Miss team knew he was leaving after the bowl game they still played hard for him and won that game. Williams even said that played a role in him coming back for his second season with the team after transferring in from junior college. Fedora’s attitude appears to be contagious, as multiple players, most notably Williams and offensive guard Travis Bond, are supposedly in much better shape this summer and I am excited to see how that manifests itself on the field. The offense should be good even if it takes a bit to adjust to the new scheme, but Bryn Renner, Giovani Bernard, Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd and Eric Ebron are ready to make plays and the offensive line returns three seniors and a junior, and is one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference if not the entire country. And with Fedora pushing them to get in better shape and work hard to improve, I have no doubt the offense is going to be good for some big plays.

The defense has always been filled to the brim with talent, but for reasons I mentioned previously this unit never seemed to live up to it’s billing on paper. The Tar Heels defense has been churning out defensive prospects since Davis stepped on campus, and this year will be no different even with a new coaching staff in place. Kareem Martin, Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick continue the time-honored UNC tradition of generating quality defensive prospects, but there is more young talent there obviously. They are running a 4-2-5 this season, and while I prefer a 4-3 or a 3-4 I am willing to wait and see how this defense works. The Tar Heels have the talent to run it, so I’ll trust the coaching staff for now until I have reason to do otherwise. This team isn’t eligible to win the conference or play in the postseason this year, but that shouldn’t stop them from getting 8-10 wins this season. They have a very favorable schedule, with Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami, NC State and Georgia Tech as their toughest tests in my opinion. With that, we move on to the prospects to keep an eye on:

Renner has enough tools to be considered a NFL prospect, but I want to see improved decision making and efficiency from him in his second season as a starter. With the great OL and bountiful weapons around him, he’s in line for a big season.

Bryn Renner, QB*- Renner has been competing for the starting job since he was a freshman when he was TJ Yates’ primary back-up, and I was actually hoping he would start that season because I was not a big Yates fan. Regardless, he got his shot last season as a sophomore and had a very good first season. He passed for 3,086 yards, completed 68.3% of his passes and passed for 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s got solid size for a quarterback at 6’3”, 215 pounds and has some athleticism to extend the play, but he is a pocket passer first and foremost. He has some arm strength, and he flashes accuracy, but I was a little concerned with some of his decision making last season. I am hoping to see him improve in that department as well as the rest of his game, but he could cut down on his interception total pretty easily by throwing the ball away and not forcing passes into coverage. I think that’s a step he’s capable of taking this year, and with plenty of weapons at disposal and an offensive line that returns three seniors and a junior left tackle in James Hurst I think he has a chance at 3,500+ yards and 30+ touchdowns this season. I’m still not sure he’s more than a mid-round guy as a NFL prospect at this point, but I look forward to seeing him grow over the next two seasons because he definitely has a lot of potential. He’s still pretty new to the position having only played two years of quarterback in high school, so he should improve considerably over the next two seasons at UNC.

Giovani Bernard, RB**- Bernard emerged as the top back the Tar Heels had last season, playing in 13 games and starting 11 of them and earning the ACC Rookie Player of the Year award as he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns (5.2 ypc) as well as catching 45 passes for 362 more yards and a touchdown. He has been through a lot in his life whether it was losing his mother at 10 years old, having to watch much of his family attempt to survive the disaster in Haiti, or sustaining season ending injuries as a senior in high school and as a true freshman at North Carolina, Bernard has been through plenty. He finally got on the field last season as a redshirt freshman and he obviously didn’t disappoint, becoming just the 14th UNC running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in the program’s history and the first since 1997. He provided a running game that the Tar Heels haven’t had since I started watching football attentively, and my god was that fun to see. He dealt with a hip injury in the middle of the season, but still managed to be productive and help carry the offense. Bernard is coming off of his worst performance of the season against Missouri in UNC’s bowl game, rushing 13 times for 31 yards and no touchdowns against the Tigers. I’m sure he will be focusing on never letting that happen again, and I feel bad for Elon’s team because he is going to take that pent up frustration out on them in week 1. Bernard has NFL back written all over him thanks to his compact frame (5’10”, 210 pounds), impressive speed, burst, vision and hands out of the backfield. He’s very close to becoming a complete back despite only being a sophomore, and that should really excite Tar Heels fans. Hopefully Rynner and Bernard will both be back for 2013, because they could be an even more special combo than they will be this season. Rumor has it Bernard will even be the team’s punt returner this year thanks to injuries at that spot, so keep an eye on him on offense and special teams.

I’ve had my eye on Highsmith for a long time, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him as a Tar Heel over the last four years. Hopefully his senior season is the best of them all.

Erik Highsmith, WR- Highsmith is a kid I have been keeping an eye on since he was a freshman, because it was then that he first flashed upside, catching 37 passes for 425 yards and 2 touchdowns that year despite being rated as a three star wide receiver prospect if I remember correctly. The 6’3”, 190 pound receiver has never slowed down, catching 25 balls for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns as a sophomore and grabbing 51 receptions for 726 yards and 5 touchdowns as a junior. Dwight Jones has moved on (though to what, we’re not really sure) and Highsmith should be a breath of fresh air for NFL talent evaluators who saw Jones’ skill set but clearly questioned his dedication and determination which led to him being undrafted. It seems they were right to doubt him, as he quit shortly after signing with the Texans. Still, Highsmith has always been the overachieving type of player and truthfully I never expected to be writing about him as a legitimate NFL prospect when I watched him as a freshman. He’s got the size, long arms and soft hands that NFL teams will love in a receiver, and his work ethic and determination to improve is obvious because of his vast starting experience dating back to his freshman year, as he returns for his senior season with 30 career starts. He projects as more of a possession receiver at the next level, and I’d like to see him continue to improve his route running, but he’s better after the catch than you might expect and should prove to be the superior prospect to his teammate Jones who always got all the attention while at Chapel Hill. Highsmith is an easy kid to root for and I’m excited to see him this season.

Jheranie Boyd, WR- Boyd is another senior receiver but he is not nearly as polished or consistent as Highsmith. Boyd is a 6’2”, 190 pound speedster with an estimated 40 time in the 4.4’s who has been primarily a vertical threat for UNC for the past couple of years. Last season he led the team with a 20.9 average yards per catch despite only catching 14 balls for 292 yards and 5 touchdowns. He gives the Tar Heels a quick strike element to the team, slightly reminiscent of what Brandon Tate did for them a few years ago before his devastating injury. Boyd doesn’t have great hands at this point, and he could be a lot better than he currently is, but I’m hoping he can put it all together as a senior and really show what he can do. Teams will love his combination of size, speed and potential, but his inconsistency and lack of production will keep him as a mid-late round prospect until he really steps up his game. Hopefully that happens as a senior, because he has a lot of untapped upside.

TJ Thorpe, WR**- TJ Thorpe is another speedster that should provide the Tar Heels with a vertical threat, and despite only being a true sophomore with 2 receptions and 70 yards to his name I had to mention him because of his upside as a receiver as well as his already impressive production as a kick returner. As a true freshman Thorpe returned 36 kick-offs for 960 yards (26.7 avg) and 1 touchdown, and figures to continue to return kicks and hopefully punts as a true sophomore. He’s listed at 6’0”, 190 pounds but also has 4.4 speed and if his 35 yard average per reception last season is any indication he is going to threaten defenses vertically for the Tar Heels if he can stay healthy. Right now, unfortunately, that health is in question as he suffered a “serious” foot injury in early August and it is not known how much time he will miss. Hopefully it’s not much, because he has a lot of upside as a playmaker for the Tar Heels on offense and on special teams.

Eric Ebron, TE**- Ebron is another true sophomore that I had to include because he is penciled in as the starting tight end and he could be in for a big season. Ebron is listed at 6’4”, 230 pounds and while he only had 10 receptions last year he made the most of them, totaling 207 yards (20.7 ypc average, 2nd on the team only to Boyd) and 1 touchdown. A reliable tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, and if Ebron is ready to step up (which I really think he is) then he could have a huge season this year. He is said to have 4.5 speed, plenty of strength and that makes me think he’s ready to surpass his freshman totals easily. He should be played in-line and also split out in the slot which will cause a lot of match-up problems for opposing defenses. He’s got all the ability, but as long as he keeps himself on the right path off the field (he missed the Missouri bowl game because his grades weren’t up to par) he should catch a lot of eyes this season for the Tar Heels. Fedora’s offense and staff has a history of sending quality tight end prospects to the NFL, and Ebron is going to be the next in line in my opinion.

James Hurst, OT*- Hurst was a top recruit out of high school and chose to come to North Carolina where he made an immediate impact. He started 12 games at left tackle as a true freshman and started 13 more at left tackle as a sophomore. He should have 12 more starts at left tackle by the end of his junior year, and he will have a tough decision about whether or not he should come back for his senior season or enter the draft. At 6’7”, 310 pounds he has ideal left tackle size, arm length and still has the frame to add strength. He’s athletic for his size and while he isn’t a top 5 pick right now, he has that kind of upside. It will be interesting to see how much he has progressed over the summer, because if he starts matching up with some of the pass rush talent in the ACC (most notably that of Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech) he could vault himself into 1st round consideration easily. His match-up on October 6th against James Gayle and J.R. Collins of Virginia Tech is one everyone needs to watch.

Brennan Williams, OT- Williams plays on the right side and is obviously not the same prospect that Hurst is. He has similar size, being listed at 6’7”, 315 pounds, but isn’t the same athlete. He returns for his senior season with 14 career starts, and figures to continue to make his mark in the run game, as he totaled 30 knock downs last season. The true test for Williams will be how well he can show up in pass protection. Last year was his first full season as a starter, so it’s tough to project him right now. He’s probably in the mid-late round range right now, but could improve that easily with a good season.

Jonathan Cooper, OG- Right now Cooper is the best NFL Draft prospect on the team, though Hurst could pass him with a good or great season this year. Cooper has a whopping 35 career starts entering his senior season and all but one of them has been at left guard (one was at Center as a sophomore). The 6’3”, 305 pound guard isn’t the definition of a road grader, but he moves extremely well for an offensive lineman and should be an ideal pulling guard at the next level. I think he might be a great fit for a zone blocking scheme because of his quickness, change of direction speed and ability to get to the second level pretty much effortlessly. I’m not sure what I think of him in a power scheme, and he could stand to get stronger, but he still has a great shot at being a top 40 pick without much improvement as a senior.

Travis Bond, OG- Bond is the “other” guard on the Tar Heels who is very much overshadowed by Cooper. Bond is a massive player as he is listed at 6’7”, 345 pounds and was always the antithesis of Cooper and not moving very well. He supposedly ballooned up to 372 pounds after the bowl game against Missouri and Larry Fedora and his new coaching staff simply told him he couldn’t play in this offense at that weight. Bond heard the message loud and clear and through a lot of careful eating, cardio and even some sand pit work with defensive backs Bond dropped about 45 pounds and now weighs under 330, the lowest I’ve seen him listed at since he has been a Tar Heel. He claims he is moving much better and feels lighter on his feet, and has even been running with the second team at right tackle in practice. Bond may be completely under the radar right now, but look out for him at right guard this year now that he is in much better shape and if Williams goes down at right tackle it sounds like Bond would be the player the coaching staff would slide outside.

Kareem Martin, DE*- Martin has NFL size at 6’6”, 260 pounds and despite entering his sophomore season with only 3 career starts he outworked Donte Paige-Moss and took his starting job at defensive end, leading to an incredibly disappointing season for Paige-Moss that ended with a poorly thought out criticism of his coaches via Twitter as well as a serious knee injury. Martin enters his junior season with 16 career starts and had 40 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 sacks and 6 pass deflections last season. He has a large frame, long arms and plenty of athleticism. He is still developing as a prospect, but as he improves his technique and hand usage Martin will be getting a LOT of attention from NFL scouts. 6’6”, 260 pound defensive ends don’t grow on trees, and Martin has top 50 pick upside.

Williams had an instant impact after transferring from JUCO last year despite his lack of football experience, but now that he has slimmed down and improved his conditioning he’s ready to live up to his 1st round upside.

Sylvester Williams, DT- I’m a big fan of Williams and while he will be playing the 3 technique tackle position again in UNC’s new 4-2-5 defense. That is going to put new pressure on the front four to stop the run, because the 5th defensive back is likely going to be Gene Robinson, a 5’11”, 190 pound in the box type safety. That means Williams is going to have to step up and defend the run better, as he had a problem with this at times last season, particularly against Missouri. He was driven off the ball by double teams in that game and thanks to Tydreke Powell’s problems in that game as well it led to huge running lanes for the Tigers. Williams has all the size, athleticism and potential you could want at 6’3”, 315 pounds and he has the burst and speed to penetrate and make plays in the backfield as evidenced by his 54 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He is still learning the position and barely played football in high school and transferred from Junior College to the Tar Heels last year and made an immediate impact. He may not be polished and refined even after this season, but his upside is undeniable. He is supposedly down to about 300 pounds this season after Larry Fedora motivated him to lose weight and come into camp in better shape, much like he did with Travis Bond and other Tar Heels. He has said that he feels much lighter, quicker but just as strong. Hopefully that helps him defend the run better, and I think it will help him boost the Tar Heels’ pass rush. He has plenty of strength, has flashed violent hands and with this added burst he could shock people with his season this year. I’m excited to see Williams as a senior because I think he has 1st round upside, and with Fedora and his quality coaching staff pushing him I think he can reach it.

Kevin Reddick, MLB- Reddick feels like he has been on the Tar Heels for an eternity to me, and he has 31 career starts entering his senior season with the team. Reddick is going to be one of the key cogs in the new 4-2-5 defense and I am hoping that the 6’3”, 240 pound linebacker won’t play as soft as past senior defensive prospects have on the Tar Heels, most notably Zach Brown who many nicknamed “Pillow Hands” because of how much he seemed to despise contact. Reddick is the leading returning tackler for the Tar Heels, and he had 71 last year as well as 5 TFL, 1 sack and 4 pass break-ups as a junior. He is a good tackler though he attempts more arm tackles and tackles high more than I would like, but hopefully he can improve his tackling technique a bit as a senior. He is expected to be one of the leaders of the defense and I can’t wait to see how he does in this new scheme.

Tim Scott, CB**- Scott started 8 games last season as a true freshman corner and certainly did not disappoint. The 5’11”, 180 pound corner with plenty of speed had 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 pass break-ups and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He may only be a true sophomore, but he has a lot of potential and if the Tar Heels defensive line can apply consistent pressure I think you will see Scott break out this season. Keep an eye on him.

Tre Boston, S*- Boston returns for his junior season with 14 career starts and is coming off of a season where he totaled 70 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. He’s listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds and while I’m not that familiar with his game I am excited to see how he plays this year. He’s the most experienced starter in the Tar Heel secondary and will be relied upon while the rest of the defense adjusts to the new defense.

Casey Barth, K- Barth is a very experienced kicker and is the next in line of talented Barth kickers who have played at North Carolina. His older brother, Connor, is a talented kicker who went undrafted but is now a very reliable kicker on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey is just as talented in my opinion, and has 63 career field goal attempts. He was 10/15 with a long of 42 as a true freshman, 21/25 with a long of 42 as a sophomore, 19/22 with a long of 49 as a junior, and then missed last season after making 11 extra points and 1 46 yard field goal last season before a groin injury sidelined him for all but 3 games. He’s back for his 5th year with the Tar Heels now, and should provide a very reliable kicking leg for the new coaching staff if he can stay healthy. I’m not sure he will be drafted, but I think he will be one of the better kickers in the conference.