Scouting The Belk Bowl
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect-primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game.
If you watched North Carolina at all during the regular season, you probably came away a little dizzy. The Tar Heels were maddeningly inconsistent, able to play Miami and Duke close but getting blown out at home by East Carolina.
What made it all so befuddling is that the Carolina roster is loaded. There are a half-dozen prospects who could be drafted in the first four rounds, a claim only a handful of teams can make.
Cincinnati, by comparison, has only a couple of mid-to-late-round prospects on its roster, only one of whom will compete in the Belk Bowl; guard Austen Bujnoch is out with a fractured ankle.
Eric Ebron, TE
In a draft loaded with big wide receiver prospects, Ebron (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) is one of the best -- and he's a tight end. He led the Tar Heels in receptions (55) and receiving yards (895), and he averaged a hefty 16.3 yards per catch. It seemed Ebron was in full-stride on every catch he made. He can line up anywhere and have a matchup advantage regardless of who is covering him. He has a quick release and runs smooth routes, and he's difficult to bring down in the open field after the catch. He's not nearly the blocker that Austin Seferian-Jenkins is. But as a one-dimensional receiving tight end, his one dimension is pretty dynamic. If he's not the first tight end taken, he'll still be off the board by the end of the first round.
Kareem Martin, DE
Martin took the step scouts hoped he would during his senior season. He became an even more disruptive force for the Tar Heels, registering 11 sacks, 20 TFL and 14 hurries, finished third on the team with 78 tackles, forced a team-high three fumbles and recovered a team-high two fumbles. His prototype size (6-6, 265) and outstanding play against the run (both in terms of lane discipline and tackling technique) project Martin to be a natural left defensive end for a 4-3 team, one likely to be selected early on Day Two.
James Hurst, T
Hurst opened the season under the microscope -- he drew the unenviable opening day assignment of facing Jadeveon Clowney. Hurst acquitted himself nicely, in part because he had help with Clowney and in part because Clowney came into the game with some conditioning issues. Still, Hurst is a steady, sound tackle with the size (6-7, 305) NFL scouts are looking for. He's a bit slow-footed and therefore vulnerable against the elite speed rushers he'll face at the next level, so it's not out of the question that Hurst -- a strong, technically sound run blocker -- winds up as an NFL right tackle.
Russell Bodine, C
Either North Carolina's stat crew is particularly liberal with its definition of "knockdown block" or Bodine is a wrecking ball of an interior lineman. He was credited with 16 knockdowns against South Carolina, 15 against Virginia Tech, 12 against Pitt and 10 against Middle Tennessee State and Old Dominion. Granted, a knockdown isn't necessarily a pancake block, but defenders seem to wind up on the turf regularly after Bodine's gotten his hands on them. He's primarily a center but has played left guard as well, and while he can't compare athletically to former Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Bodine's power and versatility will attract attention, perhaps as early as the third round.
Tre Boston, FS
A converted cornerback, Boston is still developing as a safety. He displayed improved ball skills this season, leading the Tar Heels with four interceptions. And he remains a productive tackler (team-leading 85 tackles), though no one will mistake him for a hammer-dropping strong safety. He might lack the speed required to play free safety and the strength to play strong safety. He's probably a fourth-round prospect who will provide depth to an NFL secondary as he continues to grow and find the position he's best suited to play.
Tim Jackson, DE
While Martin seems a better fit in a 4-3, Jackson would be ideally suited to play end in a 3-4. He has the size (6-5, 285) to play there at the next level, and he lacks the pass rush skills that are required to play end in a 4-3 scheme.
Greg Blair, ILB
There are a handful of classic thumpers among the inside linebacker prospects available in 2014. Max Bullough, Chris Borland, Lamin Barrow, Andrew Jackson and Blair, who will be a big, physical presence in the middle of someone's 4-3 defense. He's listed at 6-2, 252 headed into the Belk Bowl, though Blair has played at over 260. He's a good form tackler who also knocks back ballcarriers when he unloads on them, but he does lack the speed to chase them down once they get wide or downfield.