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May 12, 2014
How will UNC players fare in NFL?
It was a big weekend for the UNC football program and their entrants in the 2014 NFL Draft.
In a year where arguably the most prestigious program in the history of college football, the Texas Longhorns, didn't have a single player selected in the draft, the Tar Heels continued to show that they are capable of producing professional level talent in Chapel Hill.
No team has produced more first round talent over the last six years in the ACC than the Tar Heels and they added to that total when Eric Ebron was selected tenth by the Detroit Lions Thursday night. Ebron was joined by teammates Kareem Martin, Russell Bodine, Tre Boston and Jabari Price in the later rounds.
All of the former Heels are going to situations where it's not quite clear just how much they'll contribute right away. Even in the case of Ebron, where a first round talent is usually expected to be inserted into the starting line-up, it's uncertain where the Lions plan on placing him schematically in an offense loaded with guys that can catch the ball.
Let's take a look at the draftees and what can be expected of them when they step on the
field for their first season in the NFL.
Ebron will never hail from the Mike Ditka school of tight ending, one where the ability to block and catch is created in equal volumes. Instead, Ebron has been described most commonly as a glorified wide receiver.
He adds yet another large target to Matthew Stafford's growing stable of freakish pass catchers and with Megatron Calvin Johnson on the field, Ebron should dominate the one-on-one match-ups he'll see virtually every snap he's on the field.
Ebron might start right away but it's more likely that Detroit will put Ebron, Johnson and incumbent tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the field together along with Reggie Bush and free agent acquisition Golden Tate to create mismatch nightmares from sideline to sideline for opposing defenses.
It would have made more sense for Detroit to focus on their defense but it appears they've decided that the path of least resistance to getting better will be to become exceptional, perhaps even prolific, on offense and win every shootout they can going against the likes of
Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.
Ebron was able to dominate in college because of his size and that size will still be above average on the professional level but he'll have to get better at running clean routes to make sure he fully achieves his potential. Detroit's new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi took four-year basketball player and one-year football player in college Jimmy Graham and turned him into the best tight end in football with his limited experience.
Ebron has far more experience than Graham and the same type of freakish athleticism. He won't have to learn the same fundamental base that Graham did and has a better supporting cast around him than Graham has in New Orleans, which is saying something because the Saints' offense is nothing to sneeze at.
Look for Ebron to have an immediate impact and a decent chance to win a couple of Rookie of the Week awards in 2014.
Kareem Martin went through a lot during his turbulent time on Chapel Hill's campus. Along with his fellow classmates, Martin saw maybe the most difficult period in UNC football history and lived to tell about it.
Martin's character can't be questioned as he was constantly lauded for his leadership during that ordeal and emerged as one of the key figures during UNC's resurgent turnaround last year after beginning the 2013 year 1-5. Larry Fedora made it a weekly habit to mention Martin's abilities during his Tuesday radio shows and when Martin got a chance to audition for the NFL scouts, they also sang his praises heading into the draft.
Martin, according to ESPN's draft experts, got an "exceptional" ranking, the highest they give out, in four categories: Production, Height-Weight-Speed, Durability and Intangibles.
While Martin won't be a perfect fit in Arizona's 3-4 defensive scheme, he can provide production in pass rushing situations and has the size to play the end spot in the three man front when starters Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell need a breather. Dockett and Campbell are set to become free agents in 2016 and 2017 respectively, which gives Martin the requisite time to develop his NFL skillset and become a fulltime starter.
Martin will need to work on his explosiveness and getting off the line faster when the ball is snapped. He's got the physique that coaches can work with and with dedication in the weight room and offseason skill sharpening sessions, he could develop into a player of note in a defensive centric NFC West division.
Martin's grades suggest that he has the ability to overcome his shortcomings and his ceiling is still high and with ground to be gained. Nothing about Martin's UNC career suggests that if he doesn't succeed at the NFL level it will be because of his effort.
It's uncertain that Arizona, given their scheme, is the right opportunity for Martin off the bat. It might be more likely that should he move on to a second team that better suits his skills, he'll find more success.
Regardless, Arizona saw enough in Martin to make him their third round pick and a top-100 pick in the NFL Draft. He shouldn't struggle to find snaps in the regular season since most team's keep a steady rotation of defensive linemen going at all times.
It was a shock to some that Russell Bodine decided to declare for the draft early and elected to skip his final year of eligibility. Most could project the departure of Ebron but many thought Bodine would give it one more go in Chapel Hill.
Bodine's departure opens the door for Lucas Crowley to take over at center while Bodine will see his next football snap in the Queen City of Cincinnati with the Bengals. He will be reunited with former Tar Heel running back Giovanni Bernard in Cincy's offense.
Bodine, like most lineman, will create chances for himself by proving himself as a versatile interior lineman. While he made his mark at center in college, Cincinnati added Bodine to give them a nasty player that can play either center or guard when the time calls for it.
Cincinnati was solid on the offensive line last year but could have done better. The tackle position is their strength and getting better up the middle is a need for a team that wants to get more physical when the weather gets colder.
If nothing else, Cincinnati knows that Bernard is comfortable running behind the lanes created by Bodine and chemistry between running backs and offensive lines is one of the more underrated aspects of football. It's hard to replicate it and if you can get a player with a nasty streak like Bodine's it adds character to any unit.
It's probably unfair to compare Tre Boston to another college player that made his mark in the state of North Carolina only to later get drafted by the Carolina Panthers, but it might be hard not to at least mention them in the same breathe further down the road if Carolina's fourth round pick doesn't pan out.
Carolina drafted Boston, along with defensive pass rusher Kony Ealy and fellow defensive back Bene Benwikere, despite serious needs along the offensive line, specifically at tackle. Many local fans have called into the radio shows to voice their displeasure that this glaring need was ignored while the Panthers selected players to reinforce a defense that was a strength in 2013.
Carolina moved up in the draft and traded away valuable assets to select Armanti Edwards once upon a time and that move was ultimately proven to be a colossal mistake.
Edwards was moving from quarterback to wide receiver and the Panthers didn't have to give up anything to get Boston, but the idea that the Panther didn't address a hole in their team in favor of a guy that locals already have a good read on and can easily pick apart if things go wrong sounds a like a familiar story.
There are always two schools of thought during the NFL Draft. One school suggests you have to address your needs while the other one suggests you should take the best available player on the board thus you're less likely to reach for a player because you feel you need that position covered.
The Panthers like Boston because he has the ability to play in the box and adds to their physical mantra on defense. He hasn't always shown the best instincts in coverage although he's gotten a lot better in that area over the years. He's not a physical specimen although he makes up for it with his hustle and playmaking abilities.
If Boston lights the world on fire during training camp and the preseason he could compete for a starting job in Week One. Carolina has done some reshuffling in their defensive secondary but it's more likely that Boston's greatest contributions during his first year in Charlotte will be as a special teams player, hard practice player and in spot duty if anybody gets hurt.
The positive angle is that cornerback Jabari Price will get to work with one of the best defensive minds in the game when he suits up for Minnesota Vikings' Head Coach Mike Zimmer. The negative sad reality is that Price will have to make a big impression if he wants to make a lasting impact this season.
Price joins a team that has to cover the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey. Those gigantic receivers will make life miserable for a guy like Price who tops out just below six feet tall. Price also isn't a world class athlete although he makes good plays on the ball, especially in zone coverage where he can lock eyes with the quarterback and read him.
But Price is a seventh round pick and the reality is that not everybody can make a 53 man roster. Price will have to impress in a hurry if he wants to survive the brutal knocks of the infamous NFL "Turks" that haunt the hallways of preseason activities.