Steve Smith's status has prospect puzzled

North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, like many that follow the Carolina Panthers, is perplexed the organization hasn't committed to wide receiver Steve Smith for next season.

"Steve Smith is one of the most feisty, most courageous receivers out there," Ebron told ESPN.com. "I would love to play with a guy of his caliber, with his attitude. That's what you want on the football field.

"You don't have to talk. You just play with emotion and passion. That's what Steve does. I respect everything he's done at Carolina and has brought to the table."

The Panthers met with Ebron, who grew up in Greensboro, N.C. -- about 90 miles from Carolina's Bank of America Stadium -- recently at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

But unless they trade up from the 28th pick, into the top 15 and possibly the top 10, they won't have a chance at what is considered the best tight end prospect for the May draft.

Not that tight end is among Carolina's top priorities with needs at wide receiver and offensive tackle. Plus, they already have a star tight end in Greg Olsen, who led the team in receptions this past season.

But imagine if quarterback Cam Newton had Ebron, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound target who considers himself a game-changer in the mode of San Francisco's Vernon Davis, along with Olsen in a two-tight end set. Imagine if the Panthers had a second tight end who was almost as good at blocking as he is at receiving.

It has worked out pretty well for the New England Patriots.

"I would definitely like to stay at home,'' Ebron said during a phone interview as part of the Gillette "Pressure Point'' campaign. "I don't see any flaws in anything Carolina does. I love their head coach. They have a great general manager.

"I would love to stay home even though they have a great tight end.''

Ebron also would love to play with Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver. But general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera have been vague on Smith's role in 2014, or if he will have a role.

It is a situation that has Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who will turn 35 before this season, miffed.

It's a situation that Ebron has followed from a distance.

"Hopefully, he stays at Carolina,'' Ebron said. "I wouldn't see why he wouldn't.''

The Panthers seem to have much more urgent needs than tight end. But a player such as Ebron would be almost like adding another wide receiver as Davis is for the 49ers.

Ebron ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds at the combine despite a tweaked hamstring. He has the ability to draw coverage from the secondary that would take the pressure off lesser players at wide receiver.

He had 62 catches for 973 yards, surpassing Davis' Atlantic Coast Conference record for most yards by a tight end, this past season as a junior. He's impressive enough that he expects the Panthers to follow up their interview at the combine with a personal visit once he's had his pro day.

"I doubt I'll be there for them at 28,'' Ebron said confidently. "I highly doubt that. But if they are willing to trade up, they know exactly where I will be.''