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Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Class Recap

The Tar Heels closed down their 2021 recruiting class on Wednesday during National Signing with a final addition to the class. Here is a look at the Tar Heels complete 19 person class that they signed in the 2021 cycle.

Class Rankings

247Sports- Overall: No. 14 | ACC: No. 3

Rivals- Overall: No. 15 | ACC: No. 3

ESPN- Overall: No. 12 | ACC: No. 3

5SDE Keeshawn Silver- Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount, NC)

247Sports: No. 27 overall, No. 4 SDE

Rivals: No. 87 overall, No. 7 SDE

ESPN: No. 8 overall, No. 3 DE

Composite: No. 30 overall, No. 4 SDE

With Tony Grimes’ reclassification, Silver has taken over as the Tar Heels top signee in the class and there is a reason to be excited about what he brings to the table right away. He is about as athletic as anyone in this class, especially for a defensive end, and his speed will cause problems for tackles and guards for years to come. He has a physical edge, though, which he combines with the speed and his able to knockdown passes at the line of scrimmage to make him a complete defensive end. With him early enrolling, don’t be shocked if he makes an immediate impact next year.

4PRO Drake Maye- Myers Park (Charlotte, NC)

247Sports: No. 23 overall, No. 2 PRO

Rivals: No. 146 overall, No. 8 PRO

ESPN: No. 47 overall, No. 8 QB-PP

Composite: No. 55 overall , No. 6 PRO

Maye was a huge flip for this staff back in March and he will have a great shot to replace Sam Howell after next season if Howell departs for the NFL. He may not possess quite the arm strength that Howell does, but he can still make throws down the field. The intermediate passing game is where he thrives the most, though, and will be the way he will pick apart defenses in Phil Longo’s offense. With him arriving early, he’ll get the chance to compete for the backup job this season and, based on pure talent, there is definitely a chance that he can win the competition.

4OLB Raneiria Dillworth- Glenn (Kernersville, NC)

247Sports: No. 158 overall, No. 10 OLB

Rivals: No. 99 overall, No. 8 OLB

ESPN: No. 87 overall, No. 10 OLB

Composite: No. 103 overall, No. 6 OLB

Dilworth is one of the most exciting overall prospects in this Tar Heel class in large part because of just how well his skill set fits this defense. He has drawn lofty comparisons to former Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons with his phenomenal short area quickness, sideline-to-sideline ability and his pass coverage potential. While he has some polishing of his game to do if he wants to be what Simmons eventually became, the skill set is there and at least, one would expect him to play a big role for this Tar Heel defense beginning as soon as next year.

4ILB Power Echols- Vance (Charlotte, NC)

247Sports: No. 160 overall, No. 8 ILB

Rivals: No. 155 overall, No. 11 ILB

ESPN: No. 155 overall, No. 2 ILB

Composite: No. 128 overall, No. 7 ILB

Echols will combine with Dillworth as the future of this Tar Heel linebacking corps. He also possesses the ability to cover sideline-to-sideline with his short area quickness that allows him to cover a lot of space in a short amount of time. He combines that with a physical tackling and passing rushing nature and solid coverage technique to make him an intriguing fit as Chazz Surratt’s replacement. There is some work that he’ll likel;y have to do in the weight room, but with him enrolling early, he’ll definitely get a chance to earn some early playing time.

4SDE Jahvaree Ritzie- Glenn (Kernersville, NC)

247Sports: No. 70 overall, No. 5 SDE

Rivals: No. 139 overall, No. 10 SDE

ESPN: No. 295 overall, No. 32 DE

Composite: No. 133 overall, No. 11 SDE

Ritzie’s ESPN ranking is frankly embarrassing because there is so much to like about his ability as a 4i-tech defensive end. The physical nature to his game will work wonders for him against interior offensive linemen and he is as strong a run defender as any defensive lineman that the Tar Heels have signed in the past two classes. The comparison to current Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons should excite everyone about his future, but he has the talent to help this team early on if needed.

4ATH DeAndre Boykins- Central Cabarrus (Concord, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 36 ATH

Rivals: No. 74 overall, No. 3 ATH

ESPN: No. 228 overall, No. 12 S

Composite: No. 178 overall, No. 6 ATH

Boykins is one of two true athletes in this 2021 class and has skill sets that could allow him to thrive on either side of the football. The expectation is that Boykins will be a part of the defensive backfield, most likely as a nickelback, where he will be able to help in run defense, a strength of his game. He isn’t a player that thrives that much in one-on-one coverage, but he is not a complete liability and definitely has the pure talent to be able to improve that part of his game. If he was to go over to the offensive side of the football, he has a nice blend of quickness and power that would allow him to succeed at running back.

4WR Gavin Blackwell- Sun Valley (Monroe, NC)

247Sports: No. 225 overall, No. 31 WR

Rivals: No. 244 overall, No. 42 WR

ESPN: No. 165 overall, No. 28 WR

Composite: No. 204 overall, No. 35 WR

Blackwell will reunite with his former high school teammate in Sam Howell, but he will likely only get one year with him before he departs for the pros. He will be a nice weapon in the slot, though, for whoever will take over for Howell. He has arguably the most reliable hands of the three receivers in this class and his route running is easily the most polished of the three. Playing in a complex scheme at the high school level will make the transition much smoother than for some and he does have some twitchiness that will allow him to make some plays after the catch. Playing time will be sparse once again in the receiving corps next year, even if Dyami Brown joins Dazz Newsome in departing, but Blackwell early enrolling will give him a shot to make an impression.

4ATH Gabe Stephens- Mountain Island Charter (Mount Holly, NC)

247Sports: No. 118 overall, No. 4 ATH

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 22 OLB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 21 S

Composite: No. 229 overall, No. 12 ATH

Stephens is the biggest mystery in this class in terms of where he will end up. He has played everywhere from cornerback to defensive end at the high school level and the flexibility makes him a nice tool to have because he can fill any hole you have in your defense. The problem for him is there isn’t one position that sticks out the most as the best fit for him. The most logical position would likely be at linebacker where he can shine as a run defender and showcase his promising coverage ability as well. Finding that fit will be the most important thing for the staff when he arrives, but there is still plenty to be encouraged about with Stephens.

4RB Kamarro Edmonds- Havelock (Havelock, NC)

247Sports: No. 140 overall, No. 8 RB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 25 ATH

ESPN: No. 220 overall, No. 10 S

Composite: No. 248 overall, No. 13 RB

Edmonds is listed at different position groups all over the place, but everything is saying that he is going to be a part of Robert Gillespie’s backfield for the next four years. Edmonds has the frame to be a physical runner, but he produces the bulk of his yards by putting his foot in the ground and making people miss in open space. The staff will probably treat him similar to Michael Carter and try to add an edge to his game, as well as a little more straight line speed, but there is reason to believe that Edmonds can make an impact and make it early at that.

4OT Eli Sutton- Brentwood Academy (Brentwood, TN)

247Sports: No. 229 overall, No. 24 OT

Rivals: No. 181 overall, No. 17 OT

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 31 OT

Composite: No. 253 overall, No. 19 OT

The Tar Heels are still in need of talent along the offensive line and this is a big addition for Stacy Searls’ group. Sutton’s ranking might not exactly tell you, but he is one of the more polished prospects in this class, especially as a run blocker. He is a nasty, athletic mauler as a run blocker and the athleticism pays off in pass protection, too, as do his powerful hands. With every starter from this season scheduled to return, it might be hard for Sutton to crack the rotation early, but whenever he is eventually called upon, there is a reason to be confident that he’ll be able to succeed.

4S Dontavius Nash- Hunter Huss (Gastonia, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 26 S

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 25 S

ESPN: No. 257 overall, No. 21 ATH

Composite: No. 277 overall, No. 19 S

Nash was the first commit in the class for the Tar Heels way back in June of 2019, so today has been a long time coming for him. When he arrives early in Chapel Hill, he will have a chance to make an early impact because of just how strong he is in 1-on-1 coverage, something the Tar Heels are needing at safety. If he is going to play safety at the college level, which seems like his most likely spot, he will have some work to do as a run defender, mainly when it comes to learning how to fill gaps. If that doesn’t pan out, though, he is good enough in coverage that he would be able to succeed at corner.

4TE Bryson Nesbit- South Mecklenburg (Charlotte, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 12 TE

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 18 TE

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 10 TE-Y

Composite: No. 338 overall, No. 13 TE

Nesbit is easily the rawest prospect the Tar Heels have signed to the 2021 class, as 2019 was his first season of high school football and the 2020 season was postponed to the spring. It’s unclear as to whether or not Nesbit will enroll early or stay in school, but he does have some growing to do on the field and in the weight room. His upside is exciting, though, especially with his ability to go up and get the football and his huge catch radius. While he will need to prove himself as a run blocker to see playing time in the offensive scheme, he was a major target for the staff for a reason and the fact that he’s raw will make him easier to mold than others.

3WR J.J. Jones- Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach, SC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 49 WR

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 62 WR

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 75 WR

Composite: No. 402 overall, No. 66 WR

Jones should excite Tar Heel fans because his skill set will fit this offense like a glove. He has the ability to take the top off of defenses with relative ease and he can also climb the ladder and get the football. He has a ridiculous catch radius, as witnessed by some of the amazing catches that he was able to haul in this season and he can create after the catch and pick up the all important yards after the catch. Right now, there is not a clear answer as to whether or not he will enroll early, but if he does, he might surprise some people and be able to make an impact sooner rather than later.

3CB Dontae Balfour- Bradford (Starke, FL)

247Sports: No. 233 overall, No. 17 CB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 42 CB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 27 CB

Composite: No. 441 overall, No. 33 CB

Balfour was the team’s lone regular season signing and it was a really solid one. The Tar Heels are still in search of defensive playmakers and that is exactly what Balfour is after he finished his prep career with 14 interceptions. He has the ability to thrive in multiple coverage situations and his quickness and long speed make him a very intriguing player. He is also a strong tackler, which could allow to play a big role on special teams his first couple of seasons on campus.

3WR Kobe Paysour- Gaffney (Gaffney, SC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 81 WR

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 64 WR

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 27 ATH

Composite: No. 445 overall, No. 68 WR

Paysour is the red zone threat of the three receivers in this class. A lot like Beau Corrales, he will be a possession receiver that will thrive on 50/50 balls and can also be a reliable target to help pick up first downs and move the ball. He’s not a guy that is going to wow anyone after the catch or even really pre-catch, but he is a perfect compliment to what the Tar Heels have in Blackwell and Jones.

3OT Diego Pounds- Millbrook (Raleigh, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 39 OT

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OT

ESPN: No. 260 overall, No. 23 OT

Composite: No. 476 overall, No. 41 OT

Pounds reminds us a lot of Joshua Ezeudu when he arrived at Carolina a few years ago. He has the size and is pretty technically sound up top to make an impact early, whether it’s at tackle or at guard. His hand placement is stellar and he has the physical nature and upper body strength to succeed just about anywhere along the offensive line. His footwork does need some work, but he is a versatile option that could contribute early in his career if needed.

3CB Tymir Brown- Jacksonville (Jacksonville, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 50 ATH

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA CB

ESPN: No. 203 overall, No. 13 CB

Composite: No. 482 overall, No. 30 ATH

Brown is listed as an athlete, but it seems highly unlikely that he will end up anywhere besides corner. He is a strong man-coverage corner on the outside, something the Tar Heels can never seem to have enough in recent years. He is a bit stiff in the hips, but he can simply fly in open space and has no problem closing and making plays on the football. The corner spots are pretty loaded for the next few years, so reps will be limited, but this is a guy who could make a big impact on special teams out of the gate.

3ATH Caleb Hood- Richmond (Rockingham, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 21 ATH

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA ATH

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 38 QB-PP

Composite: No. 696 overall, No. 50 ATH

Hood has played quarterback his entire high school career, but it appears a position change at the college level is a certainty. Running back looks like the spot he will move to following his senior season at Richmond High School and as he’s shown in his three years so far at quarterback, he has some strong running ability. He is elusive in the open field and has good acceleration and he has the size to run through defenders. There will be a learning curve for Hood for sure with the move to running back, but there is a lot of confidence that he will be able to contribute there at some point for the Tar Heels.

3WDE Trevion Stevenson- Phoebus (Hampton, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 126 WDE

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OLB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 50 DE

Composite: No. 1749 overall, No. 93 WDE

Stevenson feels a lot like Kaimon Rucker a year ago in that this is one that the staff was worried about the rankings with. He has the perfect mix of length and athleticism to succeed at the EDGE position in the Tar Heels defensive scheme and that is an area that the Tar Heels are in search of depth at. He will need to add some weight and will have some improvement to do as a run defender, but this is a developmental piece that the Tar Heel staff feels confident in.


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