CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It truly is becoming the year of the tight end.
The VTO Sports Elite 100 combine featured three elite performers at that position as Drew Owens (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell), Eric MacLain (Fayetteville, N.C./Jack Britt) and North Carolina commit Eric Ebron (Greensboro, N.C./Ben Smith) showed that they were among the best prospects in the country at the annual event, which was held at Mallard Creek High.
The trio's strong showings prove the depth and talent in the 2011 tight end crop. Three weeks ago, three Florida tight ends -- Florida commit A.C. Leonard (Interlachen, Fla./Interlachen), Nick O'Leary (Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer) and Brandon Fulse (Fort Meade, Fla./Fort Meade) -- were a major storyline at the Badger Sports Elite 7-on-7 in Tampa.
"This is the best group of tight ends that I have ever seen," Owens said. "Between us three, we have to be the three best tight ends in our state and maybe in the country."
MacLain was perhaps the surprise of the event. He measured in 15 pounds lighter (246) than he did at the National Under Armour Combine on Jan. 1 and has grown an inch to 6-foot-5. MacLain also reminded us of O'Leary during one-on-one drills -- he caught everything.
MacLain, who originally committed to Tennessee when Phillip Fulmer was the coach, is heading to Virginia Tech, Clemson and to Knoxville this coming week during his spring break. Duke and the Tigers appear to be the front-runners after he de-committed from the Vols following the coaching change from Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley.
Owens measured in at 6-6, 227 pounds. He posted a 31-inch vertical leap in testing, but that's not where he showed what he was made of. During one-on-ones and position drills, Owens showed he was a smooth athlete who was capable of running routes and catching the football on a consistent basis. South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina and others are in the mix to land Owens, who says he will make a decision before his senior year. He will head to Clemson this Saturday to take in the Tigers' spring game.
"I was focused today on what needed to be done," Owens said. "I've been throwing around with the quarterbacks at my school, running my routes, so I am getting more focused on that type of stuff."
Ebron recently committed to North Carolina and is a player that our scouts at ESPN Recruiting like on film. Saturday, he did not disappoint in person. After a few early drops, he made tough catches with defenders hanging on him. The 6-foot-4, 216-pounder ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and earned co-MVP honors at the tight end position with MacLain. The thing that stands out the most about Ebron, beyond his athletic ability, is that he is enthusiastic and passionate about competing.
Quarterback Christian LeMay (Butler, N.C./Matthews) continued to show that he isn't afraid to come out and compete at events like this. The 6-foot-3, 188-pounder was outstanding throwing the ball, hitting most of the receivers in the hands during one-on-one drills. LeMay has a lot of poise and leadership abilities, along with having a great understanding of the game and a great deal of maturity. On the recruiting front, LeMay remains wide open.
Marquise Williams (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) has a cannon for an arm. The 6-3, 215-pounder has a dozen scholarship offers, but there isn't one program that jumps out when you look at his recruitment as a team to beat. With that, whatever school lands Williams is going to get a player with a lot of upside. Like LeMay, Williams is poised and mature and showed a good understanding of the game Saturday.
Vad Lee (Durham, N.C./Hillside) is listed most places as an athlete and several schools want him as a receiver. At quarterback, however, a couple of programs (namely North Carolina and Georgia Tech) have taken notice and want him at that position. Saturday, he threw the ball well and posted good testing numbers, including a 4.44 second short shuttle. The 6-2, 193-pound Lee has offers from Duke, Maryland, South Carolina and North Carolina State, in addition to the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets. Still, he is likely to end up in Atlanta or Chapel Hill when all is said and done.
Running back Rashad Hall (Forest, Va./Jefferson Forest) says he's in the process of transferring to Oak Ridge Military Academy in North Carolina and they are getting a good one. The 6-foot, 192-pounder ran a 4.28 shuttle and could not be covered by the linebackers during the one-on-one drills.
Justus Pickett (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell) again showed why he's one of the most explosive prospects in the Charlotte area for the 2011 class. He ran a 4.56 40 and a 4.24 shuttle and showed elusiveness and explosiveness during all drills.
Scoot Simmons (Charlotte, N.C./West Charlotte) took home MVP honors at the position.
Class of 2012 talent Jody Fuller (Monroe, N.C./Sun Valley) is a versatile prospect who could play running back or safety, in addition to receiver, in college. He stood out during position drills and one-on-ones and posted a respectable 35-inch vertical leap during testing.
Fuller, who already holds a verbal offer from South Carolina, has excellent hands and explosiveness. He is definitely one to watch for the next recruiting cycle.
Devin Flowers (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) has great feet and was outstanding during one-on-one drills. The 6-3, 287-pounder should jump on the radar of several colleges in the near future, given how difficult it is to find athletic offensive linemen. Flowers took home MVP honors at this position.
Fireplug Shaun Underwood (Fuquay-Varina, N.C./Fuquay-Varina) is a 6-1, 323-pounder who is quick and athletic for a player his size. He was solid during one-on-ones and showed good feet and change-of-direction during position drills. Underwood has eight scholarship offers, but appears to be leaning toward staying at home and playing for N.C. State or North Carolina.
Defensive end Roderick Byers is a prospect our scouts like on film, and he backed that up Saturday in person. The 6-3, 262-pounder showed quick hands in position drills and got the best of several of the offensive linemen he faced in one-on-ones. Byers recently picked up an offer from Wake Forest. South Carolina and others also have offered him and the Gamecocks appear to be the team to beat.
Terrell Stanley (Southport, N.C./South Brunswick) is the second straight prospect to come out of Brunswick County, N.C., joining Alabama signee Alfy Hill from the 2010 class. The 6-1, 261-pounder probably will end up playing defensive tackle in college, but he has the size and skill to play end for right now. Arkansas, Duke and East Carolina have offered Stanley, and he is planning to visit Fayetteville unofficially this spring.
Defensive end Desmond Floyd (Union, S.C./Union County) showed good outside pass-rushing technique during one-on-one drills. The 6-5, 229-pounder put up good numbers in testing with a 4.9-second 40 and a 4.5-second shuttle. Floyd has offers from Duke, Kentucky and South Carolina. The Blue Devils have the edge right now; Floyd is high on the academic reputation of the school.
Surprising Logan Daughtry (Fort Mill, S.C./Nations Ford) took home MVP honors on the defensive line. The 6-4, 231-pounder could be a big end in a 3-4 scheme or grow into a defensive tackle at the next level. Clemson has shown light interest, but he's truly under-the-radar right now.
Safety Patrick Martin (Greenville, S.C./J.L. Mann) is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country (LSU and Mississippi State offered last week). The 6-foot, 207-pounder ran a respectable 4.6 40 and one of the top shuttle times at the event at 4.22. Martin also was outstanding in coverage the entire day. He's physical with receivers off the line, but has the straight line speed and catch-up ability to cover players deep. Martin should continue to pick up offers and end up being one of the better big safety prospects in the Southeast for 2011.
Despite competing with a hard cast on his hand, Austin Stewart (Charlotte, N.C./East Mecklenburg) had back-to-back interceptions during one-on-one drills and was a tough out for the receivers at the event for most of the day. The 6-foot, 193-pounder could project as a big cornerback or a safety in college.
Tyler Threatt (Mooresville, N.C./Mooresville) was named the MVP at defensive back by the coaches.
Trevon Pendleton (Portsmouth, Ohio/West) took home MVP honors for the linebackers. The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder ran a blistering 4.10 shuttle.
Carson Smith (Mauldin, S.C./Mauldin) also had some impressive moments during one-on-one drills. The 6-2, 211-pounder ran a 4.22 shuttle and had a 35-inch vertical leap. Smith should emerge and get some ACC/SEC type offers provided he has a big senior year. He had more than 100 tackles last season and his coaches at Mauldin rave about his abilities.
J.C. Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.