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Confident (and confusing) Eric Ebron believes he's a game-changer at tight end

Eric Ebron 2014 NFL draft: 'I play the tight end role like no one else,' North Carolina's Eric Ebron said Thursday. 'I play the tight end role like no one else,' North Carolina's Eric Ebron said Thursday. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The last tight end drafted with a top-10 pick? Vernon Davis, in 2006. North Carolina product Eric Ebron believes he should be the next.

Or, at least, that's one of the conclusions that could be drawn from a combine media session with Ebron that landed somewhere on the scale between Muhammed Ali boastfulness and Yogi Berra-isms.

"In my mind, am I the top tight end? I don't know," Ebron said. "But should the draft play out that way, in my mind? Yeah, it should."

Amid all the talk about quarterbacks and elite wide receivers in this draft class, the tight end position has established itself as one of the deepest of all. Ebron, who checked in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds on Thursday, appears to be leading the charge for now, off a 62-catch season with the Tar Heels.

In one breath during his eight minutes or so on the podium Thursday, Ebron compared himself to Davis -- "Similarities: speed, powerful, very strong at the line of scrimmage." In the next, he argued that he was a singular tight end talent.

"I'm very fast and very different. I play the tight end role like no one else," he said with a confident (or is it cocky) half-smile on his face. "I just do different things than other tight ends do. If you watch film, you'll probably say the same thing."

MORE: 2014 NFL Mock Draft | 2014 NFL Draft Big Board | Burning questions for combine

That argument may be debatable. This one is not: Ebron fits the emerging mold of his position, which increasingly walks the line between tight end and wide receiver. Two potential free agents there this offseason, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, are primed to argue should they be hit with the franchise tag that they actually fall into the WR category on account of how their teams employ them within their respective offenses.

Ebron should bring a similar skillset to the next level. Even though he scored just three times in 2013 and eight times total in his North Carolina career, he'll be viewed as a legitimate red-zone threat. He also can stretch the seam from the slot position, catch and run on short passes and simply create mismatches throughout the line of scrimmage.

Oh, and he also claimed that he'll top the 40-yard dash time posted last season by his fellow teammate, Gio Bernard. The current Bengals running back ripped off that distance in 4.53 seconds.

"I'm gonna run a faster 40 than he did," Ebron proclaimed.

So, you're going to run under 4.5?

"Yep."

Only one tight end (Arkansas Chris Gragg, who hit 4.5 on the nose) even so much as threatened to get into the 4.4s at last year's combine. The next fastest from the position in 2013 was Matt Furstenburg at 4.62.

The thought of unleashing wide receiver-level speed from the tight end position -- whatever that designation means in the modern-day NFL -- is one that has coaches and GMs tracking Ebron with intense attention as the draft draws nearer. Ebron was quick to point out some other talented members of this TE class: Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, C.J. Fiedorowicz. He also said that he has ample work to do to become an elite player in the NFL, starting with improving his blocking.

True to form in his never-dull presser, though, he countered those statements by reminding NFL teams what they'll be missing if they choose someone else in Round 1.

"There's a lot of great tight ends. What makes me different is just who I am -- my play, my style of play," Ebron said. "But there's a lot of other great tight ends."

Ebron's size and speed combination created headaches for college defenses throughout his final two seasons at North Carolina. They utilized any number of approaches to try to slow him down, but few attempted to play Ebron physically at the line.

He had an explanation for that, too.

"I think why teams don't press me in because they can't," Ebron said. "I will not be pressed at the line of scrimmage. They'd be best if they play a couple yards off."

How high can Ebron climb come May? Starting with an Atlanta team at No. 6 that must replace Tony Gonzalez, pretty much every subsequent team aside from the Saints and Vernon Davis-stocked 49ers could be in the market for a game-changing, pass-catching tight end.

Ebron is not sure that he can step in and dominate NFL defenses from Day 1. Except that he is sure he can step in and dominate NFL defenses from Day 1. Wait ...

"Right away, who knows?" he said. "Do I think so, in my mind? I can do anything in my mind."
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