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2014 NFL Draft: TE Eric Ebron a developing but outstanding talent

The Steelers will select 15th overall in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron may not make it that far, but he's a tantalizing prospect, even if he may need a year to build strength and refine technique.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The best way to describe a great athlete is watching him/her move looks like they're not even trying. It's effortless. As fluid as water down a river.

The problem with that is it can trick a scout or evaluator into thinking their lack of effort is really just because they're uber-athletic.

North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron brings some of those questions upon reviewing his film, but it doesn't seem as much like a lack of effort as it does a lack of mental comfort with his assignments. Ebron came to North Carolina as a defensive end (a testament to his athleticism), and even played that position a few times in 2012.

Perhaps he hasn't quite mastered the whole route-running thing. One thing is clear, though, Ebron is a phenomenally gifted athlete. And with the rising importance and value of pass catching tight ends, he could be an outstanding developmental project to eventually join as well as replace Heath Miller in Pittsburgh.

Miller looks very similar to Ebron in a few ways. Both of them have a "Easy Like Sunday Afternoon" way of moving. No one would call Miller lazy; it's that same effortless motion.

A catch he made against Cincinnati in the Tar Heels' bowl game exemplifies that.

Ebon plucks a poorly thrown ball that's barely off the ground, but look at how easily he catches it, as well as how his legs are still moving forward in the same fluid manner they were before he had to jerk his body downward to catch it.

He secures the catch and his eyes are downfield while his legs continue driving forward. And on top of that, he still maintains the balance and agility necessary to put a spin move on the defender, and fall forward for a gain of a few more yards.

Ebron is an attractive option for the Steelers at 15 more as a guy who'd be a solid contributor by 2015 as opposed to his rookie year, but he already shows flashes of the kind of natural characteristics the Steelers are looking for in their receivers.

He knows how to work off-schedule.

In UNC's game against Duke, Ebron showed he has the willingness and the intelligence to work with his quarterback down the field. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best in the game off-schedule, and that's bolstered by the fact he's surrounded by receivers who "get" how to play with him. If their initial route breaks down, they know how to get a look at Roethlisberger, and know what to do depending on where he is on the field.

In this play, Ebron runs a standard 12-and-in route off the left side (he's lined up in the slot out of the picture at the snap). As he makes his break inside, he sees his quarterback rolling out of the pocket. Ebron recognizes it, and instead of running flat and horizontally toward the passer, he's angling down, coming back to the quarterback, recognizing he may need to get closer in case he's unable to make a long throw down the field.

But he recognizes the quarterback has room and sees Ebron and the tailing defender. The quarterback throws in front of Ebron, who flattens his route, ensuring the defender is seeing nothing but his back, giving him a huge window in which to make the catch, and get up field.

Ebron made a nice read of a blocker down the field, and nearly took it to the end zone.

It's an example of a great adjustment by Ebron on the move, and the kind of natural instinct for the position a great receiver will have - and one pretty much required to succeed with Ben Roethlisberger under center.

On the negative side, like many young tight ends, he's still a work-in-progress. He gets a little lazy catching with his hands and that led to a few drops this year. He also doesn't have the base strength yet he'll need to succeed as as pass blocker in the NFL. However, he's a versatile weapon that could be used for match-up advantages in the Steelers' posse packages right away, and to provide another element in bunch formations - they can run screens out of it as well as use both tight ends to push the seam.

When he grows into his frame and refines his blocking technique, he'll be an excellent all-around tight end. Until then, he may just be a great receiving option.

Tough to have too many of those.

GIFs created from videos posted on Draft Breakdown