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May 13, 2014

Final Thoughts: NFL Draft

Five Tar Heels heard their name called in this past week's NFL Draft---including the school's seventh first round selection in the past seven Drafts---while a few more were picked up as undrafted free agents. Tar Heel Illustrated takes a final look back at the UNC players that were selected and how they can help the teams that they'll now be playing for.

Eric Ebron - Round 1 - Detroit Lions - Pick 10(10)

Ebron was the first off the board for the Tar Heels, as he was selected by the Detroit Lions within the first ten picks. He's the highest-selected tight end since former Maryland star Vernon Davis was also taken in the top ten by the San Francisco 49ers back in 2006. Ebron was a unique choice for the Lions, as he will be working over the middle and could find several opportunities with Matthew Stafford throwing him the ball and Calvin Johnson the subject of some of the more elaborate and focused coverage schemes from opposing secondaries in the entire NFL.

"What Ebron is is a glorified wide receiver at 6-4 1/2, 250 pounds. Talk about a great athlete with tremendous speed. He can stretch that deep middle area. He can make some tremendous circus catches," said ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper. "He will not block. He's not going to assist your running game, but as an impactful pass catching glorified wide receiver, that's what Eric Ebron is."

Kareem Martin - Round 3 - Arizona Cardinals - Pick 20(84)

This is the second straight year that the Cardinals have taken a Tar Heel, with Jonathan Cooper being selected in the first round last season. Martin will be looking to help a defense that was ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and 14th in passing.

"He (Martin) wins with length," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "I think he's a starting base end in the NFL."

Last season, Martin earned first team All-ACC honors at defensive end, as he finished the season with 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He started 41 games, including 38 consecutive over his last three seasons.

Russell Bodine - Round 4 - Cincinnati Bengals - Pick 11(111)

Bodine is yet another Tar Heel that will be reuniting with another former UNC teammate, as Bodine will be working closely with running back Giovani Bernard, who was selected by the Bengals last year in the second round.

Bodine had a great combine and stood out especially with his strength as he had the most bench reps out of all the centers that participated (42 reps). Bodine may not be an immediate starter but could work his way into the rotation early on. One of the advantages of a player like Bodine is that he also has experience as a guard, and could potentially assist the Bengals snapping or not snapping.

Clearly the Bengals must have seen something in Bodine that made them trade with the Seattle Seahawks (traded a sixth round pick to jump 12 spots) and get him in the fourth round.

Tre Boston - Round 4 - Carolina Panthers - Pick 28(128)

Boston will get to stay in North Carolina and he couldn't be more excited to travel the short distance to Charlotte and get to work. The Panthers were one of the top defenses in the NFL last year, making it to the playoffs before falling to San Francisco.

Boston struggled early on at times but became a true leader on the defensive side of the ball his senior year. The Panthers brought in two veterans in Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud and Boston is excited to learn from them.

"I know they brought in two veterans in Roman Harper and (Thomas) DeCoud," Boston told the Charlotte Observer, "and to be behind those guys, just talking about it, I'm getting chills because I know there's so much I can learn from those guys."

Boston led the Tar Heels in tackles last season with 94.

Jabari Price - Round 7 - Minnesota Vikings - Pick 10(225)

Price was the final Tar Heel selected in the draft this past weekend, with his name being called in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. Price had a very good career with the Tar Heels, earning the unique distinction of being a four-year starter. He tallied 80 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and one forced fumble in his final year.

According to the Vikings, they like his speed and acceleration, along with his aggressive nature and his productivity as a tackler. They can see him being a nice piece in special teams early on (has worked as a gunner on special teams). He will have some work to do though to see the field at cornerback.


Bryn Renner - Denver Broncos

Renner could have been the big winner when talking about undrafted free agents, as he signed with the Denver Broncos not long after the draft ended. Renner had a great career in Chapel Hill, but his career ended in difficult fashion when he hurt his shoulder in the victory over N.C. State in Raleigh last fall.

Renner still threw for 1,765 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior year, as he and Marquise Williams split time at the quarterback position. Renner was projected as a quarterback that could be drafted on day two coming into the season, but his stock fell after the shoulder setback.

But now he will be heading to Denver to learn from one of the best ever in Peyton Manning, who won't be playing forever. The Broncos don't have a clear-cut heir apparent to Manning, so this could potentially be a situation where Renner could bide his time for a few years while Manning plays out his Hall of Fame career, and then be in position to take the reigns similar to how Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers, of course, was a first round pick, so it's hard to make that comparison neatly without saying that Renner will have to work his tail off to earn his keep with the Broncos while waiting his turn to possibly replace Manning. But in Denver he's going to have every opportunity to be first in line someday to take over if he does what he has to do.

Days before the draft, ESPN Anaylst Bill Polian called Renner the "quarterback sleeper" this year.

"He's got good arm strength,'' Polian said of Renner. "He's got good release. He's got good poise. He's got some escapability. Not great, but some. I like his field generalship. He can make all the throws, and I think that had he had a complete senior year and not had this unfortunate injury get in the way, you'd be talking a lot more about Bryn Renner than we are in the media right now.''

A.J. Blue - Washington Redskins

Blue gets to reunite in the nation's capital with former UNC running backs coach Randy Jordan, and no doubt Jordan had some input in this post-Draft signing by the Redskins. Blue showed throughout a five-year Tar Heel career several things that should be aid him at the professional level. Last season, Blue had 74 rushing attempts for 298 yards and a touchdown while also having 18 receptions out of the backfield for 140 yards.

He fought through multiple types of adversity to get to this point, including a devastating knee injury that kept him off the field for a calendar year, as well as significant academic challenges in high school that forced him to take a post-grad year at Hargrave Military Academy before his arrival in Chapel Hill. Through it all Blue was a steady and mature presence for the Tar Heels, and it was clear that the younger UNC running backs looked up to Blue. In Washington he and late draftee Lache Seastrunk will have a chance to prove themselves as a potential contributor behind Alfred Morris and others.

James Hurst - Baltimore Ravens

Hurst broke his left fibula in the Belk Bowl and was unable to participate in the work outs at the NFL scouting combine. Furthermore, he wasn't 100 percent at his Pro Day in Chapel Hill, and wasn't able to put up the numbers he wanted in front of the collection of pro scouts.

Yet, the Ravens really liked what they saw from Hurst over the years in Chapel Hill, as he was known for his aggressiveness and ability to finish blocks. The Ravens didn't select an offensive lineman until the fifth round, when they took John Urschel from Penn State, so Hurst won't have the problem that a lot of UFAs have in that they're competing with multiple drafted players at their position who the team has a financial obligation to.

In five years some may call Hurst the biggest steal of all in this draft. He was projected anywhere from the late first round to the third or fourth round before his injury, and there's little doubt that if his leg can get back to where it was, he'll be in position to be a rock along the Ravens offensive line, as he was for four years at North Carolina.

Of course, it's a big 'if' at this point as to whether Hurst will get back the full use of the injured leg, but it's only been four and a half months. The Ravens are the big winners here in that they can bring him in and see this summer if he's got the goods without having had to invest a draft pick in him. And if Hurst succeeds, the money will definitely come, either in Baltimore or elsewhere. But for now, Hurst's biggest aim is to continue healing up and conditioning his leg so he'll be ready to go in late July for training camp.

Tim Jackson

Jackson reported on Twitter that he will be going to "try out" in Chicago. Since he had a sports hernia in April, they apparently needed to know if he was healthy.

At defensive tackle, Jackson was a key part on defense for the Tar Heels as he finished the season with 25 tackles and starting all 12 games at defensive tackle. Jackson played right off the bat when coming to Chapel Hill, as he started in five games as a freshman and his role continued to grow from there.

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