UNC's Eric Ebron to enter draft

North Carolina junior tight end Eric Ebron will forgo his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2014 NFL draft following UNC's bowl game, the school announced Monday.

Ebron, who leads the Tar Heels with 50 receptions for 774 yards and has three touchdowns, is ranked as the No. 12 overall player on ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper's Big Board. He is ranked No. 14 by ESPN's Todd McShay. Both analysts consider him the top tight end in the country.

"I've had a great time in Chapel Hill and I appreciate everything Coach [Larry] Fedora and the coaching staff has done for me," Ebron said in a prepared statement. "Coming to Carolina allowed me to develop as both a person and a football player. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I look forward to finishing the season with my teammates and then moving on to the next level."

Kiper, who calls Ebron "a QB's best friend" in his Big Board, describes the tight end as having "the size to overwhelm cornerbacks and most safeties, but shows off a good burst and above-average straight-line speed. He can go up and get the ball, and does a good job of catching it with his hands away from his body. Great body control allows him to haul in errant throws."

Ebron is a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, which is presented to the nation's top tight end. He had his best game of the season in a loss to Miami, when he posted career highs in catches (eight) and yards (199). He set a school record for receiving yards by a tight end in the game.

Ebron holds UNC season and career records for catches and receiving yards by a tight end. Entering Saturday's regular-season finale against Duke, he has 100 career catches for 1,606 yards.

"I'm proud of what Eric has accomplished and how he as represented the University of North Carolina," Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said in a statement. "We are excited for him and his future. This is a good decision by him and his family and I fully support him.

"I think part of [announcing this now] is he knows this is going to be his last home game [Saturday vs. No. 24 Duke] and he would like to go through the process that the seniors do where we acknowledge the seniors for their last home game. I'd love for him and his family to be a part of that."