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Heel Tough Blog: 2020 Final Grades

One of the best Tar Heel seasons in recent memory is in the book as of Saturday and it’s time for one of our favorite features of the season. After a season that resulted in the team’s first appearance in a major bowl game in 71 years, we hand out the grades for each position group on this team based on their performance for the entire season.

Andy Mead- ISI Photos

Quarterback: A-

# 7 Sam Howell (So.): 819 snaps, 237-348, 3586 yds, 30-7 TD-INT, 92 rush, 146 yds, 5 TD, 1 rec, 1 yd, TD

# 6 Jacolby Criswell (Fr.): 44 snaps, 3-4, 16 yds, 0-1 TD-INT, 9 rush, 26 yds

#10 Jace Ruder (So.): 16 snaps, 2-3, 11 yds, 0-0 TD-INT, 4 rush, -3 yds

#14 Jefferson Boaz (Fr.): 6 snaps, 1-1, 3 yds, 0-0 TD-INT

Howell had a tough task following his tremendous true freshman season, but he put together another season that ranks as one of the best in program history. He dominated some of the bigger games of the season for the Tar Heels, including one of the greatest single game performances that the ACC has ever seen in the win over Wake Forest. He’ll head into 2021 as one of the favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy and for good reason. Criswell got a few chances to step in for mop-up and had his up-and-downs, likely opening the door for a competition with early enrollee Drake Maye for the backup role this offseason. Ruder and Boaz also took snaps in a couple of blowouts, but mostly were just facilitators for the run game to bleed clock late in games.

Andy Mead- ISI Photos

Running Backs: A+

#25 Javonte Williams (Jr.): 425 snaps, 157 rush, 1140 yds, 19 TD, 25 rec, 305 yds, 3 TD

# 8 Michael Carter (Sr.): 353 snaps, 156 rush, 1245 yds, 9 TD, 25 rec, 267 yds, 2 TD

#34 British Brooks (Jr.): 44 snaps, 24 rush, 99 yds

#23 Josh Henderson (So.): 41 snaps, 18 rush, 61 yds, 3 rec, 10 yds

#26 D.J. Jones (Fr.): 20 snaps, 11 rush, 65 yds, TD

#21 Elijah Green (Fr.): 14 snaps, 10 rush, 55 yds

The 2020 backfield for the Tar Heels is easily one of the best in program history. Carter ranked first in the ACC and top five in the nation in rushing yards, yards per carry and scrimmage yards. He also finished top five in the ACC in rush attempts, rushing touchdowns and scrimmage touchdowns in what was a career year for him. He was joined in the backfield by the dynamic Williams, who also had a career year, finishing third in the country in both rushing and scrimmage touchdowns, while ranking top five in the ACC in every other major rushing and scrimmage category. Brooks only saw garbage time reps until the Orange Bowl, but the junior wall-on started and had a solid night, showing he’ll be competitive in the offseason battle at the position. Henderson held a similar role to Brooks, seeing his most action in the Orange Bowl, but wasn’t nearly as successful as Brooks was. Both Jones and Green saw limited garbage time reps, but shined in those limited reps and should have a good chance to earn snaps next season.

Andy Mead- ISI Photos

Wide Receivers: A-

# 2 Dyami Brown (Jr.): 699 snaps, 55 rec, 1099 yds, 8 TD

# 5 Dazz Newsome (Sr.): 685 snaps, 54 rec, 684 yds, 6 TD, 2 rush, 21 yds, TD

# 1 Khafre Brown (RFr.): 303 snaps, 15 rec, 337 yds, 2 TD

# 0 Emery Simmons (So.): 299 snaps, 15 rec, 201 yds, TD

#15 Beau Corrales (Sr.): 181 snaps, 13 rec, 238 yds, TD

# 3 Antoine Green (Jr.): 134 snaps, 4 rec, 38 yds, TD

# 4 Rontavius Groves (Sr.): 82 snaps, 4 rec, 41 yds

#11 Josh Downs (Fr.): 74 snaps, 7 rec, 119 yds, 3 TD, 1 rush, -3 yds

#83 Justin Olson (RFr.): 68 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#13 Tylee Craft (Fr.): 20 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#12 Stephen Gosnell (Fr.): 10 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#19 Austyn Chestnut (Jr.): 7 snaps, 1 rec, 3 yds

#35 Carson Burgess (So.): 6 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#89 Gray Goodwyn (So.): 6 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#28 Austin Chrismon (Jr.): 5 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#85 Landon Stevens (Fr.): 4 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#32 Mason Laurence (Jr.): 3 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

# 9 Ray Rose (Fr.): 2 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#29 Jeffrey Saturday (RFr.): DNP

It was a slow start to the season overall for this group, but they recovered nicely to once again finish as one of the team’s most successful units. Brown had another big season, leading the team in most major receiving categories and was one of the top receivers in the country in 2020. Dyami Brown finished top five in the ACC in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards per receptions, leading the conference in the first category. Newsome started the season a bit quiet, but roared to life down the stretch to finish the season strong. Corrales was looking as if he was setting up for another solid season before injury shut his season down after his career beat performance against Florida State. Khafre Brown, Simmons and Downs all showed promise in the reps they saw this season as they are set to battle for starting jobs in the offseason. Both Green and Groves saw a decrease in their roles this season, each registering just four receptions each. Olson got the majority of his run in the Orange Bowl and looks like he may be more of a factor in the battle for reps than we may have imagined. All but one of the remaining receivers on the roster saw at least one snap this season, most complete in garbage time in blowout wins.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Tight Ends: B

#84 Garrett Walston (Sr.): 691 snaps, 19 rec, 255 yds, 2 TD

#88 Kamari Morales (RFr.): 187 snaps, 2 rec, 16 yds, TD

#82 Kendall Karr (Fr.): 30 snaps, 1 rec, 3 yds

#81 John Copenhaver (Fr.): 19 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#80 Will Crowley (RFr.): 4 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

After a really tough first season under Mack Brown, the Tar Heels’ tight end unit took a nice step forward in 2020 under John Lilly. Walston had a career year while handling a majority of the snaps for the unit, becoming a trusted safety valve for Howell as the season went along and seeing plenty of success as a run blocker. Morales showed some promise when he got his opportunities as he looks to continue to develop into the type of tight end that fits this offense. Karr and Copenhaver saw limited reps in their true freshman seasons, playing most run blocking snaps in garbage time. Crowley also took the first snaps of his career this season.

Doug Murray- Getty Images

Offensive Line: C+

#73 Marcus McKethan (Jr.): 808 snaps, 76.2 PFF pass block, 65.1 PFF run block, 69.0 PFF overall

#68 Brian Anderson (Jr.): 772 snaps, 42.4 PFF pass block, 51.6 PFF run block, 48.9 PFF overall

#72 Asim Richards (So.): 730 snaps, 42.8 PFF pass block, 53.9 PFF run block, 49.6 PFF overall

#74 Jordan Tucker (Jr.): 700 snaps, 51.7 PFF pass block, 69.2 PFF run block, 64.1 PFF overall

#75 Joshua Ezeudu (So.): 654 snaps, 76.2 PFF pass block, 65.1 PFF run block, 69.0 PFF overall

#63 Ed Montilus (So.): 371 snaps, 43.0 PFF pass block, 58.9 PFF run block, 56.5 PFF overall

#69 Quiron Johnson (Jr.): 268 snaps, 81.6 PFF pass block, 53.7 PFF run block, 58.6 PFF overall

#76 William Barnes (So.): 55 snaps, 77.0 PFF pass block, 66.1 PFF run block, 59.0 PFF overall

#52 Jonathan Adorno (Fr.): 46 snaps, 75.4 PFF pass block, 58.9 PFF run block, 55.4 PFF overall

#57 Cayden Baker (Fr.): 31 snaps, 73.4 PFF pass block, 66.9 PFF run block, 69.2 PFF overall

#64 Malik McGowan (Fr.): 14 snaps, 72.9 PFF pass block, 71.5 PFF run block, 72.2 PFF overall

#51 Wyatt Tunall (RFr.): 11 snaps, 67.3 PFF pass block, 46.2 PFF run block, 46.8 PFF overall

#54 Chance Carroll (Fr.): 10 snaps, 71.6 PFF pass block, 57.9 PFF run block, 58.6 PFF overall

#66 Tobechi Nwokeji (Jr.): 6 snaps, 67.4 PFF pass block, 42.1 PFF run block, 46.3 PFF overall

#65 Nick Mackovic (So.): 3 snaps, 66.0 PFF run block, 65.9 PFF overall

#79 Hunter Shope (RFr.): 3 snaps, 57.8 PFF run block, 57.9 PFF overall

#70 Noland Brown (RFr.): 2 snaps, 57.5 PFF run block, 60.0 PFF overall

#55 Ty Murray (RFr.): DNP (Injury)

#67 Trey Zimmerman (Fr.): DNP

#71 Triston Miller (RFr.): DNP (Opt-Out)

#77 Wisdom Asaboro (RFr.): DNP

The Tar Heels offensive line had their ups-and-downs all season, but do deserve some credit for helping this offense become one of the best in program history. McKethan and Ezeudu were steady forces on the interior, especially in run blocking situations, standing out in some of the most important games of the season. They were also two of the team’s better pass protectors this season, an area where the Tar Heels had their struggles, most notably in their loss. Tucker had another solid season at right tackle for the team, shining in run blocking situations, as well, while struggling in losses to Virginia and Notre Dame. Anderson’s Pro Football Focus score wouldn’t suggest that he had a solid season, but the eye test showed that he had a much better season in both aspects than the grades tell. Richards had some early struggles, but found his groove as the season went along to have a solid sophomore season. Montilus started early in the season and really struggled in pass protection, but was a valuable rotational option once Ezeudu returned prior to going down with an injury late in the season. Johnson’s story is a great one, as he was forced into major action a couple of times and thrived in those situations, especially as a pass protector. All of the other offensive linemen played almost exclusively in garbage time, but some of the young guys, like Baker and Adorno were able to gain a little bit of valuable experience. The good news for this unit is that everyone is expected to return next season, which should allow them to take another step forward as a unit, something that may be necessary out of the gate next season with all that needs to be replaced.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Defensive Line/Pass Rushers: C+

#12 Tomon Fox (Sr.): 687 snaps, 36 ttkl, 10.5 TFL, 7.0 scks, FF

#42 Tyrone Hopper (Sr.): 621 snaps, 27 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 scks, 2 PD

#56 Tomari Fox (So.): 598 snaps, 46 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 4.0 scks

#51 Raymond Vohasek (Jr.): 437 snaps, 29 ttkl, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 scks, 3 PD

#52 Jahlil Taylor (So.): 283 snaps, 18 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 0.0 scks

#17 Chris Collins (So.): 239 snaps, 13 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 scks, PD

#25 Kaimon Rucker (Fr.): 193 snaps, 21 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#88 Myles Murphy (Fr.): 187 snaps, 8 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck

#10 Desmond Evans (Fr.): 170 snaps, 10 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, FR

#98 Kevin Hester Jr. (RFr.): 126 snaps, 10 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, FR

#55 Clyde Pinder Jr. (Fr.): 67 snaps, 6 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck

#90 Xach Gill (Jr.): 34 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#93 Kristian Varner (RFr.): 10 snaps, 1 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#58 Lancine Turay (So.): 5 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#97 Alex Nobles (So.): 5 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#36 Jalen Brooks (Fr.): 3 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#40 William Robertson (RFr.): 2 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#41 Kedrick Bingley-Jones (Fr.): DNP (Injury)

#54 A.J. Beatty (Fr.): DNP

#87 Colby Doreen (Fr.): DNP

It might seem a little strange to say that a team that finished top five in the country in sacks is a one of the lowest ranking units on the team, but here we are. Although the numbers were there, a lot of the production came in spurts and showed a lack of consistency from the unit as a whole. The Fox brothers both were the most productive members of the unit and had solid seasons in the pass rushing aspects of their game, but both got worn down as the season went along and had their inconsistencies in run defense. Vohasek had some nice flashes, especially early in the season, but just lacked consistency, especially after he was banged up early in the season. Hopper played a lot for the Tar Heels and had a solid season, but continues his struggles to maintain the edge in run defense. Late in the season, the group started seeing more rotation and that provided some better results, especially on the interior. Rucker and Murphy were the standouts amongst the group, with Rucker being arguably the biggest surprise on the entire team in 2020. Collins and Evans were able to steal some reps late in the season on the edges and showed some promise, but weren't able to do enough to get a grip on the bulk of the snaps. Pinder Jr. also broke into the rotation late in the season and will be an interesting player to watch over the offseason to see if he can become a part of the rotation for next season. The return of Bingley-Jones who missed the entire season with an injury will also be a factor on the interior. Everyone else who saw snaps took the majority of those in garbage time.

Michael Reaves- Getty Images

Linebackers: C+

#44 Jeremiah Gemmel (Jr.): 794 snaps, 78 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 scks, 2 INT, 4 PD

#21 Chazz Surrartt (Sr.): 732 snaps, 91 ttkl, 7.5 TFL, 6.0 scks, FF, FR, INT, 3 PD

# 7 Eugene Asante (So.): 156 snaps, 24 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 8 Khadry Jackson (So.): 67 snaps, 7 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF

#33 Cedric Gray (Fr.): 6 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#26 Jake Harkleroad (RFr.): 5 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#24 Ethan West (Fr.): DNP (Injury)

#43 Braden Hunter (Fr.): DNP

#48 Dilan Gonzalez (So.): DNP

#49 Parks Cochrane (RFr.): DNP

This unit was nearly as successful as it was a year ago, but it still wasn’t a bad season for them. Both Surratt and Gemmel had productive seasons, but missed a few more tackles than they probably would have liked. When the Tar Heels needed both players to step up and play well, though, they did, especially Surratt, who continued his dominance of in-state opponents, leading the team in tackles in the games against NC State and Duke and failing to miss a tackle in either of those games. He also stepped up big time in the regular season finale against Miami, making a couple of huge plays for this Tar Heel defense. Gemmel was picked on in pass coverage, an area that he will hopefully be used a little less in next season with better coverage linebackers that will have a chance to be on the field. Asante continued to shine in the limited reps that he got and his start in the Orange Bowl left many questioning why he hasn’t seen more action so far in his Tar Heel career. Jackson didn’t see many significant reps, but once again shined in coverage, which could allow him to earn a role in this defense this offseason. Gray and Harkleroad both took their snaps in garbage time, but Gray did serve a significant role on special teams.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Defensive Backs: B

# 4 Trey Morrison (Jr.): 764 snaps, 39 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, INT, 3 PD

# 2 Don Chapman (So.): 648 snaps, 46 ttkl, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 scks, 2 FF, INT, PD

# 1 Kyler McMichael (So.): 515 snaps, 26 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 6 PD

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly (So.): 471 snaps, 55 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, 3 PD

# 5 Patrice Rene (Sr.): 375 snaps, 28 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, 4 PD

#20 Tony Grimes (Fr.): 317 snaps, 14 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sck, INT, 3 PD

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (Fr.): 292 snaps, 34 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, PD

#15 Dae Dae Hollins (So.): 273 snaps, 13 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT, 2 PD

#29 Storm Duck (So.): 133 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 PD

#13 Obi Egbuna (So.): 96 snaps, 8 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 PD

#27 Giovanni Biggers (So.): 84 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT

#11 Myles Wolfolk (Sr.): 61 snaps, 5 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

#14 Welton Spottsville (So.): 43 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 3 Cameron Roseman-Sinclair (Fr.): 11 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT

#18 Christopher Holliday (Fr.): 5 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#38 Val Edwards (RFr.): 5 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 2 Bryce Watts (Jr.): DNP (Opt-Out)

#16 D.J. Ford (Sr.): DNP (Opt-Out) #23 Javon Terry (So.): DNP (Opt-Out)

This unit would have finished with a much higher grade had it just been the corners, but the struggles of the safeties really dragged the unit's grade down. The trio of Morrison, Chapman and Kelly all started multiple games on the back end of the defense and all three had their issues, especially in run defense, throughout the season. Biggers attempted to provide some help in the bowl game, but still has some developing to do as a run defender before he can become a big factor. Having Wolfolk would have been a big help, especially after his strong start to the season in the opener against Syracuse. This is an area that the Tar Heels must address in the offseason and may even need to seek outside help to do so. The cornerbacks were a much different story, however. Duck was set for another big season prior to the injury he suffered late against Boston College and there was a bit of worry initially following his injury. McMichael had a nice season, though, when he was on the field and the quick development of Grimes into a lockdown corner late in the season was a nice surprise. Rene was able to help the team navigate a sizable amount of injuries at the position with another strong season, his final one with the team, while Hollins and Egbuna also did a good job of holding up when they were forced into action, as well. In the nickel, Conley grew into a star late in the season after his early start was ruined by injury, allowing Morrison to attempt to provide some help at safety. Every other defensive back on the roster, besides those who opted out of the season, took snaps, most of which were in blowout wins.

Doug Murray- Getty Images

Special Teams: C

#95 Jonathan Kim (So.): 89 KO, 64.5 avg, 76 TB, 11 retd, 21.5 avg

#60 Trevor Collins (Sr.): 82 snaps

#96 Cooper Graham (Jr.): 82 snaps

#17 Grayson Atkins (Sr.): 81 snaps, 63-63 XP, 12-18 FG, Long of 51

#91 Ben Kiernan (So.): 34 snaps, 34 punts, 43.7 avg, 16 in 20

#61 Drew Little (So.): 34 snaps

# 5 Dazz Newsome (Sr.): 17 PR, 9.9 avg, 1 KR, 19.0 avg

# 8 Michael Carter (Sr.): 8 KR, 19.5 avg

# 4 Rontavius Groves (Jr.): 1 KR, 21.0 avg, 1 PR, -1.0 avg

#26 D.J. Jones (Fr.): 1 KR, 18.0 avg

#97 Noah Ruggles (Jr.): 1 snap, 1-1 XP, 0-0 FG

#94 Adam Buck (So.): DNP

#98 Noah Burnette (Fr.): DNP

This unit may have been the most improved unit for the team in the second half of the season after a simply abysmal start to the year. Kim and Kiernan both were steady forces throughout the season, having tremendous success from start to finish. After some early struggles, both Atkins and Newsome rounded into form to finish the season with some solid numbers. Both snappers and the holder Graham had a strong season, as well. Carter was never really able to break anything big off in the kick return game and the other attempts to find some juice here were unsuccessful. Groves lost any chance of significant reps as a returner following the fumble against Virginia that played a big role in why the team lost that one.


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