It's well established that North Carolina's Eric Ebron, considered the top tight end in this year's draft, isn't short on confidence. So, it wasn't a surprise to see him say he's "not afraid" of a chance to replace surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Asked about the possibility of succeeding Gonzalez in Atlanta, Ebron told SportingNews.com "I wouldn't be mad. I've been there a few times; it's a great place. I would love to play for the Falcons. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan -- I would love to play with those guys. Those are big shoes to fill, which I'm not afraid of. I can't walk into the league expecting to be Tony G. I'm just going to compete as hard as I can as myself."
The bigger surprise would be if the Falcons decided to give him that opportunity when they're on the clock with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Mock drafts from NFL Media analysts have Atlanta filling a need at offensive tackle with pick No. 6 and Ebron coming off the board as early as No. 9 to the Bills and as late as No. 20 to the Cardinals.
The Falcons do have a hole to fill at tight end following Gonzalez's retirement, and Ebron is a rare talent. But it's going to be difficult to utilize their weapons in the passing game to the fullest if the protection for Ryan doesn't improve -- he was sacked a career-high 44 times last season (third-most in the league). Atlanta's run blocking will have to be a lot better, as well, after the rushing offense ranked last in the league in 2013. Put the two together, and it's easy to see why offensive tackle is considered a higher priority than tight end for Atlanta.
If Ebron is picked by Atlanta or another team drafting in the top 10, he would be first tight end to go that early since Vernon Davis was picked sixth overall in 2006. Interestingly enough, Davis is the tight end Ebron compares himself to most frequently. He was asked about that, too, in his interivew with SportingNews.com.
I appreciate the attention he gets," Ebron said of Davis. "For offenses to succeed in the NFL, you have to spread the field and throw the ball. Vernon, he's so fast, you have to account for him, and he opens it up for all the other receivers. If you're not covering him the way you're supposed to, he creates a mismatch that's an easy completion."
Ebron, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound playmaker who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine last month (second-fastest time among tight ends), should be creating plenty of mismatches at the next level. Just don't bank on him creating them next season as a member of the Falcons.