The next position that we’ll hit one here in our 2020 Tar Heel Position Previews is a running back group that took a huge step forward in 2019, setting them up to be one of the top units in the ACC this season. Last year, as a unit, the Tar Heels ran for 2,456 yards, an average of 188.2 per game, and the team's top two running backs rushed for 900+ yards this past year, the first time since 1993 that two Tar Heel running backs have reached that number in the same season.
The leader of the two-headed monster is senior Michael Carter who returns after a big junior season. The dynamic back had a strong season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry on his way to becoming the first Tar Heel running back to reach the 1,000 yard rushing mark since Elijah Hood in 2015. As the season progressed, Carter found the consistency that his game lacked in his first two seasons on campus and if he could just find the endzone a few more times, he might be able to challenge for first team All-ACC honors in a conference that is home to some of the nations top running back talent.
He’ll combine with Javonte Williams, who returns for his junior season after jumping onto the scene last year as a sophomore. Williams was one of the nation's leaders in yards after contact a year ago and his hard-nosed downhill running style pairs perfectly with the shifty style that Carter brings to the table. If he doesn’t get injured late in the season against Pittsburgh, he would likely have led the team in rushing and coming into this season he and Carter are expected to battle throughout the season for the team lead once again. Williams combines his mix of speed and power with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield to make himself one of the most complete running backs in the conference. If both guys can manage to stay healthy, there is a good chance that both guys could find themselves hitting the 1,000 yard rushing mark this season.
The big battle for this position group will be the one to replace Antonio Williams, who came up big late last season after Javonte Williams injury issues. The favorite is sophomore Josh Henderson after he thrived in mop up duties a year ago, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in his limited reps. Henderson runs with a style that resembles that of Javonte Williams and will be a nice third option for the Tar Heels that won’t be a significant talent drop off from the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart if he can win the job.
He’ll have to hold off two talented true freshmen, though, to hold on to the job as the team heads into the season. Freshman D.J. Jones was an early enrollee back in January hoping to come in and make some noise, but now will have to wait until fall camp to show the staff what he brings to the table. Jones fits the change-of-pace montra a little bit more than Henderson, but doesn’t run with quite the edge that he does. His quick acceleration and strong ball carrier vision, though, gives him a fighting chance to earn reps if he can impress in fall camp.
Fellow freshman Elijah Green will also compete for reps in the backfield in the fall. Green is the definition of a speed back and could be a nice element in the backfield with his shiftiness when he gets in open space. Just like Jones, he’ll only have a short time to impress, but he has the talent to make an impact this season as a freshman.
Junior walk-on British Brooks is poised to hold down a similar role to the one that he has the last couple of years. Brooks has been a major part of the Tar Heels special teams unit in each of the last two seasons and he has seen some limited carries in garbage time over the past couple of years. He will once again be a nice depth back that will be able to contribute in mop up duties if needed.
Projected Depth Chart
# 8 Michael Carter, Sr.
#25 Javonte Williams, Jr.
#23 Josh Henderson, So.
#21 Elijah Green, Fr.
#26 D.J. Jones, Fr.
#34 British Brooks, Jr.