Kiper releases first mock draft, projects Ravens will take tight end Ebron

Mock draft season has officially arrived, even as football continues to be played and a champion has yet to be determined.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. unveiled his initial 2014 first-round projection on Wednesday, and he has the Ravens taking North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron with the 16th overall pick.

Ebron, listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 lbs., was ranked seventh on ESPN's latest big board, but Kiper sees him slipping to Baltimore.

As for why Kiper sees the Ravens taking a tight end:

"The Ravens desperately need a matchup problem for Joe Flacco, and tight end is a position of uncertainty headed into 2014 as both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are at the end of their contracts," Kiper wrote. "Ebron has the size, speed, hands and catch radius you want out of a new-breed tight end who can be split out, but he also has the frame to add some size and not get totally pushed around as an inline blocker. I have him rated higher than this slot on my Big Board."

Ebron, 20, led the Tar Heels with 62 catches for 973 yards while adding three touchdown receptions this season. Here's Kiper's scouting report on Ebron from his latest big board:

"Ebron is an early pick to be the first tight end taken, with the skills to put him into the range more typical of the first wide receiver taken. He has the length and flexibility to haul in anything you throw his way, is often split out and can make plays after the catch. He has the size to overwhelm cornerbacks and most safeties, 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. An adequate blocker, he could add size and improve there, but he'll make his name as a difficult matchup."

Sounds a lot like Pitta, doesn't he? Maybe the Ravens want two pass-catchers of that ilk, if they can re-sign Pitta that is. We'll find out by early next season (or so) whether that's the type of receiver general manager Ozzie Newsome has in mind for next year's team.

Also Wednesday, the Ravens officially announced that they have signed former Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood, who spent parts of this season with the Patriots and Texans. He appeared in three games for Houston, running three times for nine yards before being cut in October. He was then cut by New England in December.

The Ravens had originally signed Wood to a reserve-futures contract earlier this month, but it was nullified because he wasn't credited for his rookie season.