Name: Eric Ebron
School: University of North Carolina
Size: 6'4, 245 lbs
Expected Round: 1st, end of the round
Strengths: Viable option all across the offense, inside, slot, and outside. Willing blocker, primarily used on the second level for seal blocks. Moonlighted as an option fullback. Knows how to sit down in the zone defense and find open pockets in the seam. Great first step for potential YAC off the snap on drag routes. Sells great head fakes to make defenders jump. Faced constant brackets and double teams to open up coverage for others. Catches with his hands and will high point the ball. Durable.
Weaknesses: Undersized to be an inline blocker, only an average blocker when asked to face defensive ends. Rounds off his routes, which could lead to undercuts. Can sometimes pull a Brandon Lloyd/Kenbrell Thompkins and jump for a routine reception, which could lead to unnecessary contact, missed plays. Can lose his concentration if he's expecting contact and will drop an easy throw. Always asked to cut inside on his routes and will have to develop an outside game to make it to the next level.
What is their role? Ebron steps on as the new Aaron Hernandez and is a day one starter as a versatile weapon. He can chip in as a second blocker (will never be a true inline tight end, unless he changes his game), as a slot receiver, a fullback, and a weapon up the seam. He should also contribute on special teams, likely as a blocker on kick returns and on punt returns.
Will it change from year 1 to year 2? Ebron should be able to develop his blocking ability and his route running to become a more complete tight end. Year 1 Ebron is primarily a receiver, while Year 2 Ebron can take over an offense.
How many downs can he play? Ebron is a three down player, with four down potential. He can block on running downs and catch on passing downs. He should be able to contribute on special teams.
Which current player will he beat out? Matthew Mulligan, Michael Hoomanawanui, and James Develin. All three players are extremely expendable. He also can make players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola slightly more expendable as both of those players took over the vacated Hernandez role. Shane Vereen is a similar jack knife, but they'd be used in different manners.
What’s his ST value? He'd be a blocker on special teams, but likely wouldn't be asked to tackle and would only be a two-unit special teams player.
Does he have positional versatility? Inline tight end, setback tight end, slot receiver, fullback, wide receiver. Absolutely. Same versatility as Hernandez, but is a bigger player, slightly less shifty.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots are always looking for advantages on offense and Ebron will let any offense create mismatches. He can flex all over the team and, alongside Vereen, the two of them would make it near impossible for opponents to win match-ups. Heavy set? Flex Vereen and Ebron out. Light coverage? Slide Ebron to fullback and have Vereen run the ball. Ebron takes this offense back up a notch and also provides a top level tight end prospect to hedge against any future injuries to Rob Gronkowski.
Why not the Patriots? Ebron is definitely going in the first round and the Patriots might have other needs to fill instead of spending on a luxury. The elite defensive linemen will be gone after the first round and the Patriots really can't afford to push that need off any further, unless they truly believe they have an in-house solution. Ebron's versatility is also in the spotlight and there will be many other teams vying for his skill set, which could further inflate his value.
Verdict: If Ebron is available at the end of the first, I'd value you him similar to DeAndre Hopkins in last year's draft. He's an elite prospect who can start on Day 1. But does he take away the opportunity to improve positions of greater need- or can we actually start escalating the tight end position and its importance to the functioning offense to "dire need" and consider Ebron actually filling a need? I would. If there are no elite DTs on the board and Ebron is available, I wouldn't hesitate to take him. He's a perfect chess piece for the Patriots offense and I believe that the tight end is too important to leave in the hands of one oft-injured player. While Ebron plays a different role than Gronk, he would be able to fill some of the void by providing a seam stretching target for Tom Brady.