CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina junior tight end Eric Ebron said Monday he'll enter the NFL draft after the season.
Ebron has 50 catches for 774 yards and three touchdowns for the Tar Heels (6-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) heading into Saturday's home finale against No. 24 Duke. Ebron said Monday the move would benefit his family and he didn't want to linger on deciding after the regular season.
''There's no one that's ever said I should stay,'' Ebron said. ''I'm pretty sure there's a lot of people that want me to. I would love to. But it's just the best opportunity in the life I have right now to make a change for my family and myself. It's just a decision basically for my family.''
Ebron, a native of Greensboro, owns the school's single-season and career records for catches and yards receiving by a tight end. He was named Monday as one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, presented to the nation's top tight end.
Ebron's biggest performance came in a nationally televised Thursday night game against then-unbeaten Miami last month. He set career-highs with eight catches for 199 yards, including a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter of the 27-23 loss.
''I'm happy for him. but it's emotional for me because that's like my best friend - that's my brother,'' quarterback Marquise Williams said. ''I'm going to be sad when he leaves. He had to do what's best for him and I'm excited for him, but I'll probably get some tears later on.''
Ebron entered the year as the focal point of coach Larry Fedora's offense. With the strength to block up front and the speed to sprint by defenders, Fedora envisioned Ebron as an all-over-the-field threat and compared his talent to Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew - whom Fedora coached as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before his first head coaching stop at Southern Mississippi.
While Ebron fell short of Fedora's target of 12 touchdowns this season, he's been good enough to rank among the top NFL draft prospects at the position. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both rank Ebron as the nation's top tight end and among their top 15 prospects.
Ebron said he had been mulling the decision for a few weeks and decided Sunday, though he said his teammates were already expecting it.
''I'm pretty sure after the Miami game they knew - probably 95 percent of Carolina football knew,'' Ebron said with a laugh. ''They've been raving about it more than me so I'm pretty sure they already knew what was going to happen and they planned for it to happen.''
The Tar Heels have won five straight since a 1-5 start to become bowl eligible. The Blue Devils (9-2, 5-2) can clinch the league's Coastal Division championship and a trip to the ACC title game by winning at UNC's Kenan Stadium on Saturday.
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