Eric Ebron

John Mackey Award announces 33-member midseason Watch List

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The John Mackey Award released its 33-name midseason Watch List on Monday and, considering the state of the position in college football, this may very well be the only 33 names that meet its criteria.

We all remember the Jace Amaro fiasco last year, where the Texas Tech tight end was first deemed not eligible for the award, then granted eligibility, only to be snubbed from the finalist list despite ranking sixth nationally with 106 catches, while North Carolina’s Eric Ebron ranked second among tight ends at 62. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins took home the 2013 trophy.

Wake Forest’s Cam Serigne leads all tight ends with 29 catches for 282 yards and one touchdown. He ranks 78th nationally among all pass-catchers, and stands as the only tight end in the top 100.

Here is the full list, presented in alphabetical order:

– Rory Anderson – South Carolina
– Kennard Backman – UAB
– E.J. Bibbs – Iowa State
– Gerald Christian – Louisville
– Evan Engram – Ole Miss
– Billy Freeman – San Jose State
– David Grinnage – N.C. State
– Connor Hamlett – Oregon State
– Mitchell Henry – Western Kentucky
– Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State
– Bucky Hodges – Virginia Tech
– Austin Hooper – Stanford
– O.J. Howard – Alabama
– Jesse James – Penn State
– Malcolm Johnson – Missisippi State
– Ben Koyack – Notre Dame
– Tyler Kroft – Rutgers
– Jimmay Mundine – Kansas
– Nick O’Leary – Florida State
– Casey Pierce – Kent State
– Joel Ruiz – Georgia State
– Tyreese Russell – Eastern Michigan
– Wes Saxton – South Alabama
– Cam Serigne – Wake Forest
– Jean Sifrin – Massachusetts
– Justin Sinz – Purdue
– Jonnu Smith – Florida International
– Randall Telfer – USC
– Eric Tomlinson – UTEP
– C.J. Uzomah – Auburn
– Clive Walford – Miami (Fla.)
– Alex Welch – Miami (Ohio)
– Maxx Williams – Minnesota

Semifinalists will be announced Nov. 17, finalists a week after that, and the winner will be revealed at ESPN’s college football awards show on Dec. 11.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 23 North Carolina

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2013 record: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in ACC (5th in Coastal Division)
2013 postseason: Belk Bowl vs. Cincinnati (39-17 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Larry Fedora (49-29 overall; 15-10 in 2 years at UNC)
Co-Offensive coordinators: Gunter Brewer (3rd season at UNC); Chris Kapilovic (3rd season at UNC)
2013 offensive rankings: 85th rushing offense (148.31 ypg); 28th passing offense (277.4ypg); 49th total offense (425.7 ypg); 43rd scoring offense (32.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 9
Defensive coordinator: Dan Disch (3rd season at UNC)
2013 defensive rankings: 83rd rushing defense (182.38 ypg); 50th passing defense (220.7 ypg); 64th total defense (403.1 ypg); 43rd scoring defense (24.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium (63,000; natural grass)
Last conference title: 1980

THE GOOD
If you believe in ending one year on a high note having any impact on the following season, then consider UNC the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. The Tar Heels ended the 2013 season by winning five of their final six regular season games to become eligible for postseason play and then ran away from Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Few teams ended the year on a hotter streak than the Tar Heels, so the pressure will be on to not have to dig out of a hole in the early going this season. Fortunately, despite losing some key players on offense like tight end Eric Ebron, Fedora’s offense should be ready to get off to a quick start this season. Now in year three under Fedora, the offense and defense both seem to be progressing and are expected to continue that development this fall. The defense returns seven starters, which should help that cause early on.

THE BAD
North Carolina tends to play some undisciplined football, and that can come back to haunt a team at any given time. The Tar Heels were called for a penalty more than any other team in the ACC (96 penalties), besides Syracuse (99 penalties). No other school in the ACC had more than 81 penalties last season. Those penalties add up as well. The average penalty yardage per game against UNC was 63.9 ypg, the most in the ACC (831 yards in total). That is more yards than two teams rushed for all of last season (Purdue and Washington State). UNC has to kick this habit. The Tar Heels have been ranked 9th or lower in the ACC in penalty yardage each season since 2009.

THE UNKNOWN
North Carolina can be a pretty good team if everything is working in sync right from the start. That has been a problem for Fedora’s Tar Heels since he arrived in Chapel Hill. North Carolina can be a streaky team it seems, but in a division that could be wide open for the taking, a slow start or a lull somewhere in the middle of the year is not going to have a good result. When UNC is firing on all of Fedora’s Red Bull-fueled cylinders, they can be the class of the ACC Coastal. The schedule throws some challenges with road games at Clemson, Miami and Duke, but if UNC is at the top of its game then all three are games capable of being won. Does this team have the mentality to take charge as the top team in the Coastal? That remains to be seen.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Miami
There are a few games worth noting for North Carolina this season (at Clemson on September 27 and home against Virginia Tech on October 4 perhaps being equally as worthy), but the road game at Miami could be the game that swings the entire race in the ACC Coastal in favor of the Tar Heels. In what could easily be a wide-open division race with as many as four or five teams in the hunt into November, division games will be critical. Heading into a bye week with a win and some momentum could be huge for UNC as they finish up at home against Pittsburgh and NC State with a road game at Duke in-between.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Marquise Williams
There has been much to say about a quarterback competition in Chapel Hill heading into the 2014 season, but Williams may be the best option to go with after the way he helped spark the second half success last fall. Last fall Williams completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also ended the season as UNC’s leading rusher with 536 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. He gives opposing defenses something to think about when he is on the field, and he may give Fedora more wrinkles in the playbook.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

When they were recruits: 2014’s first-round draft picks

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Of the 32 players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, four were rated as five-star recruits out of high school — just one more than the total of players rated as two-star players taken among the first 32 picks Thursday night.

Being a freakishly good athlete out of high school often translates into success in college — like for Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2011 and the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft — but it hardly guarantees a player being a first-round draft pick. A look back at where this year’s first-rounders stood coming out of high school certainly proves that point:

1. Jadeveon Clowney: 5 stars, No. 1 overall player (2011)

2. Greg Robinson: 4 stars, No. 90 overall player (2011)

3. Blake Bortles: 3 stars, No. 44 quarterback (2010)

4. Sammy Watkins: 5 stars, No. 15 overall player (2011)

5. Khalil Mack: 2 stars, no national, positional or state ranking (2009)

6. Jake Matthews: 4 stars, No. 48 overall player (2010)

7. Mike Evans: 3 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2011)

8. Justin Gilbert: 4 stars, No. 26 cornerback (2010)

9. Anthony Barr: 4 stars, No. 50 overall player (2010)

10. Eric Ebron: 3 stars, No. 21 tight end (2011)

11. Taylor Lewan: 4 stars, No. 194 overall player (2009)

12. Odell Beckham Jr.: 4 stars, No. 43 overall player (2011)

13. Aaron Donald: 3 stars, No. 37 defensive tackle (2010)

14. Kyle Fuller: 3 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2010)

15. Ryan Shazier: 4 stars, No. 14 outside linebacker (2011)

16. Zack Martin: 4 stars, No. 22 offensive tackle (2009)

17. C.J. Mosley: 4 stars, No. 56 overall player (2010)

18. Calvin Pryor: 3 stars, No. 31 safety (2011)

19. Ja’Wuan James: 4 stars, No. 55 overall player (2010)

20. Brandin Cooks: 4 stars, No. 240 overall player (2011)

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: 5 stars, No. 7 overall player (2011)

22. Johnny Manziel: 3 stars, No. 14 dual-threat quarterback (2011)

23. Dee Ford: 3 stars, No. 62 outside linebacker (2009)

24. Darqueze Dennard: 2 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2010)

25. Jason Verrett: 3 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2011)

26. Marcus Smith: 3 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2010)

27. Deone Bucannon: 3 stars, No. 45 safety (2010)

28. Kelvin Benjamin: 4 stars, No. 60 overall player (2011)

29. Dominique Easley: 5 stars, No. 7 overall player (2010)

30. Jimmie Ward: 2 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2010)

31. Bradley Roby: 3 stars, no national, positional or state rankings (2010)

32. Teddy Bridgewater: 4 stars, No. 113 overall player (2011)

Five-star players: 4 (Jadeveon Clowney, Sammie Watkins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dominique Easley)

Four-star players: 13 (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Justin Gilbert, Anthony Barr, Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr., Ryan Shazier, Zack Martin, C.J. Mosley, Ja’Wuan James, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Teddy Bridgewater)

Three-star players: 12 (Blake Bortles, Mike Evans, Eric Ebron, Aaron Donald, Kyle Fuller, Calvin Pryor, Johnny Manziel, Dee Ford, Jason Verrett, Marcus Smith, Deone Bucannon, Bradley Roby)

Two-star players: 3 (Khalil Mack, Darqueze Dennard, Jimmie Ward)

NFL Draft: Four SEC players in top 10 and Manziel still on the board

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Three SEC players went in the top ten and for the second season in a row a player from the MAC was drafted in the top five. Here is a quick rundown of the top ten picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

Jadeveon Clowney was expected by many to be the first player drafted, and the Texans made him wait before the pick became official. Clowney is the fifth player from the SEC to be drafted number one overall since 2004.

2. St. Louis Rams: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

For the first time since 2010 the top two picks in the NFL Draft came form the same conference. In 2010 it was Oklahoma and Nebraska accounting for the top four picks. Robinson is the first Auburn offensive tackle to go in the first round since Victor Riley in 1998.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles, UCF

Jacksonville pulled off the first puzzling draft decision of the night by drafting Bortles with the third overall pick. Bortles is now the highest draft pick and just the second first round draft pick in school history. The last UCF player to go in the first round was quarterback Daunte Culpepper in 1999.

4. Buffalo Bills (from Cleveland Browns): WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

For the second straight season a Clemson wide receiver was drafted in the first round. The Bills traded up to get the player who may be the best receiver in the draft and we will finally get a chance to see CJ Spiller and Watkins on the field at the same time.

5. Oakland Raiders: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

The MAC defensive star that seemingly came out of nowhere is the second MAC player in two seasons to go in the first five picks of the NFL Draft.

6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

If you were curious why Johnny Manziel has been so effective for the Aggies, take a look at the draft. For the second straight season the Aggies sent an offensive linemen in the first ten picks of the draft (Luke Joeckel last year). Johnny Manziel sits waiting and sipping water in the back.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Tampa Bay picks up one of the top wide receivers by choosing the second straight player out of Texas A&M. Evans is the first wide receiver in school history to be drafted in the first round.

8. Cleveland Browns (from Minnesota Vikings): CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

This may be the strangest move of the draft. For some reason the Browns, having already traded down earlier, felt it necessary to move up one pick in order to draft a cornerback. Justin Gilbert is a good player, but there does not seem to have been any sort of demand to make this move for Cleveland, but they are the Cleveland Browns after all.

9. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo via Cleveland): LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

The Vikings passed on a chance to draft Manziel but do so by picking up a solid defensive addition in Barr. The Vikings could have used some help at quarterback, but adding Barr is not exactly a poor decision.

10. Detroit Lions: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

The Lions already have a franchise quarterback so there was no need to make a move for Manziel. Instead they add what could be the best tight end prospect in the draft and give Matt Stafford a nice target to compliment the wide receivers already on the field.

Players by Conference: SEC (4), ACC (2), AAC (1), Big 12 (1), MAC (1), Pac-12 (1)

 

Larry Fedora tabs Tabb as likely TE successor

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One of the big questions for North Carolina this spring is who will be filling in the shoes of tight end Eric Ebron? Head coach Larry Fedora knows he has some options to play with this spring as he tries to answer that question.

In an interview with ESPN.com, Fedora was asked about the tight end position. The third-year head coach of the Tar Heels hinted the likely successor for Ebron could be Jack Tabb, the only other tight end to record any stats in 2013 at North Carolina.

“Jack Tabb will most likely step into that role,” Fedora said. “We’ve got Brandon Fritts, an incoming freshman, that is here. We have Eric Albright there; Tyler Alberts is moved into that position. We’re going to have some good competition there this spring. We’re going to have a tight end on the field.”

Tabb caught seven passes last season for 119 yards and a touchdown. He also served a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules last season. As you can see, the rest of the tight end options are lacking in experience. Fritts was a three-star recruit out of Ohio in North Carolina’s Class of 2014. North Carolina also added three-star Avery Edwards, although he will not be on campus until the summer. Albright sat third on the depth chart at the end fo the 2013 season for UNC behind Ebron and Tabb. Alberts is moving over to offense after initially coming to North Carolina to play defensive end. For now, Tabb should be the most likely option coming out of the spring, and that seems to be just fine with Fedora.

“Jack has the opportunity to be just as productive as Ebron was, and this enables other receivers on the field to get more balls also,” Fedora said.

 

Ebron, a sure NFL talent led the Tar Heels with 973 yards in 2013, but he recorded just three touchdowns.