Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Final Grades

It’s no secret that the Tar Heels 2021 season did not go anywhere near the way it was supposed to go. After starting out the season as the No. 9 team in the country, they would quickly drop out of the rankings after a season-opening loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies on the road. They would bounce back with back-to-back home wins, including their first win over the Virginia Cavaliers in four years. At that point in the season, it felt like they had turned things around, but that was quickly wiped away with a loss to lowly Georgia Tech that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the season. The team bounced back with a beat down of rival Duke, but suffered their only home loss a week later to a Florida State team that entered that game limping through their season. They would close out the first half of the season by holding off a late charge from Miami before entering the most difficult stretch of their season. They would pick up their biggest win of the season over No. 9 Wake Forest during that stretch but fell in hard-fought games to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh before closing out their home schedule with an expected win over Wofford where they got a peek into the future. However, the team finished on a sour note, losing a heartbreaker to rival NC State and getting bludgeoned in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl by South Carolina. With this season now thankfully in the books, it’s time to hand our final grades for each position group.


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Quarterbacks: B+

# 7 Sam Howell (Jr.): 840 snaps, 217-347, 3056 yds, 24-9 TD-INT, 183 rush, 828 yds, 11 TD

# 6 Jacolby Criswell (So.): 50 snaps, 13-21, 179 yds, 1-0 TD-INT, 7 rush, 68 yds, TD

#10 Drake Maye (Fr.): 41 snaps, 7-10, 89 yds, 0-0 TD-INT, 6 rush, 62 yds

#14 Jefferson Boaz (RFr.): DNP

#16 Russell Tabor (Fr.): DNP

Once again, this grade is heavily based on the performance of Howell, who wasn’t nearly as dominant through the air as he was in his first two seasons but still had another outstanding season. He was still the driving force behind an offense that was still one of college football’s best, even with all that they lost from that historic 2020 unit. The change that he made to his game to become as complete of a running quarterback as he did in season is something that should be revered and talked about for a while as well, as he finished with the most yards of total offense that he has had in a single season of his career this year. Both Criswell and Maye saw extensive action in Howell only missed the start of his career against Wofford and both had nice showings, setting up a race at quarterback this offseason. Maye should head into that battle with the early advantage based off of that game.


Jim Dedmon- USA Today Sports

Running Backs: B-

#19 Ty Chandler (Sr.): 508 snaps, 182 rush, 1092 yds, 13 TD, 15 rec, 216 yds, TD

#26 D.J. Jones (So.): 242 snaps, 60 rush, 253 yds, 12 rec, 55 yds

#24 British Brooks (Sr.): 98 snaps, 31 rush, 295 yds, 4 TD

# 4 Caleb Hood (Fr.): 64 snaps, 22 rush, 97 yds, TD

#21 Elijah Green (RFr.): 12 snaps, 11 rush, 39 yds

#23 Josh Henderson (Jr.): 8 snaps, 5 rush, 21 yds

#33 Kamarro Edmonds (Fr.): DNP

There is no denying that the Tar Heels missed the production that Javonte Williams and Michael Carter brought the team at the position a year ago, but you have to commend the unit for the success that they were able to have behind a bad offensive line. Chandler had a nice season, especially in the second half of the year, despite not getting consistent blocking in front of him. His season isn’t quite as memorable as Williams or Carter’s from a year ago, but he became just the 14th running back in school history to finish a season with 1,000 or more rushing yards and 10 or more rushing touchdowns. Brooks had a great finish to the season, running for at least 70 yards in each of his final three games and he has emerged as an important piece for the team heading into next year. Jones and Hood showed some nice flashes this season, but injuries kept them from having a consistent impact this season. Green only played garbage time snaps this season and Henderson did the same until he entered the transfer portal midseason.


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Wide Receivers: C+

#11 Josh Downs (So.): 845 snaps, 101 rec, 1335 yds, 8 TD

# 3 Antoine Green (Sr.): 795 snaps, 31 rec, 612 yds, 5 TD

#83 Justin Olson (So.): 491 snaps, 8 rec, 133 yds, TD

# 0 Emery Simmons (Jr.): 324 snaps, 11 rec, 243 yds, TD

# 1 Khafre Brown (So.): 125 snaps, 1 rec, 75 yds, TD

# 5 J.J. Jones (Fr.): 63 snaps, 4 rec, 67 yds

#12 Stephen Gosnell (So.): 32 snaps, 2 rec, 11 yds

#13 Tylee Craft (So.): 16 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#15 Beau Corrales (Sr.): 5 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

# 2 Gavin Blackwell (Fr.): 3 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

# 8 Kobe Paysour (Fr.): 3 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#89 Gray Goodwyn (Jr.): 3 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#20 Brooks Miller (Fr. ): DNP

#28 Cyrus Rogers (Fr.): DNP

#29 Jeffrey Saturday (So.): DNP

#35 Carson Burgess (Jr.): DNP

#85 Landon Stevens (RFr.): DNP

#86 Thomas Flynn (Fr.): DNP

This is the offensive position group that showed the most improvement in the second half of the season and it is almost solely based on the performance of Green. He nearly doubled his production from the first half of the season in the second half and has established himself as an option for next season. He will pair with Josh Downs who simply had an outstanding season out of the slot and had the numbers to be in the conversation for the Biletnikoff Award. Olsen took over the bulk of the snaps after the departure of Simmons and Brown to the transfer portal but wasn’t much of a threat on the outside other than a couple of small flashes. Jones got more snaps as the season progressed and is a name to keep an eye on despite not making a huge impact in those snaps that he saw. Gosnell saw some rotational reps late in the yea, but he entered the transfer portal late last week leaving the door open for some others on the depth chart. All of the other receivers played the bulk of their reps in garbage time.


Brett Davis- USA Today Sports

Tight Ends: C

#84 Garrett Walston (Sr.): 466 snaps, 18 rec, 184 yds, 2 TD

#88 Kamari Morales (So.): 412 snaps, 24 rec, 220 yds, 5 TD

#18 Bryson Nesbit (Fr.): 89 snaps, 7 rec, 154 yds, TD

#81 John Copenhaver (RFr.): 47 snaps, 2 rec, 9 yds, TD

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

#82 Kendall Karr (RFr.): DNP

The tight end group had a strong start to the season but weren’t nearly as impactful in the second half of the year. Walston had a solid final season but wasn’t able to build off of the strong finish to last season. That was in large part due to the breakout of Morales who became a nice safety value and red zone threat but he disappeared a little bit down the stretch of the season. Nesbit really flashed in his time on the field, especially in the games against Notre Dame and South Carolina and with Walston now departing he should be able to take on a more expansive role. Copenhaver didn’t play a lot, however, he did look solid and showed progression when he was in there. Crowley saw a few garbage time snaps in the game against the Wofford at the end of the season.


Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Offensive Line: D-

#73 Marcus McKethan (Sr.): 884 snaps, 86.3 PFF pass block, 71.8 PFF run block, 76.1 PFF overall, 2 sacks allowed, 1 QB hit allowed, 7 QB hurries allowed, 10 pressures allowed

#75 Joshua Ezeudu (Jr.): 734 snaps, 76.8 PFF pass block, 83.0 PFF run block, 77.8 PFF overall, 2 sacks allowed, 2 QB hit allowed, 12 QB hurries allowed, 16 pressures allowed

#74 Jordan Tucker (Sr.): 706 snaps, 75.5 PFF pass block, 70.6 PFF run block, 72.4 PFF overall, 4 sacks allowed, 1 QB hit allowed, 7 QB hurries allowed, 12 pressures allowed

#72 Asim Richards (Jr.): 695 snaps, 68.0 PFF pass block, 49.9 PFF run block, 57.4 PFF overall, 5 sacks allowed, 3 QB hit allowed, 11 QB hurries allowed, 19 pressures allowed

#69 Quiron Johnson (Sr.): 648 snaps, 51.1 PFF pass block, 63.9 PFF run block, 58.5 PFF overall, 1 sacks allowed, 3 QB hit allowed, 13 QB hurries allowed, 17 pressures allowed

#63 Ed Montilus (Jr.): 380 snaps, 63.0 PFF pass block, 69.4 PFF run block, 67.8 PFF overall, 1 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 6 QB hurries allowed, 7 pressures allowed

#68 Brian Anderson (Sr.): 283 snaps, 56.2 PFF pass block, 40.3 PFF run block, 40.8 PFF overall, 4 sacks allowed, 2 QB hit allowed, 2 QB hurries allowed, 8 pressures allowed

#76 William Barnes (Jr.): 228 snaps, 51.4 PFF pass block, 64.4 PFF run block, 57.9 PFF overall, 2 sacks allowed, 1 QB hit allowed, 7 QB hurries allowed, 10 pressures allowed

#52 Jonathan Adorno (So.): 44 snaps, 80.3 PFF pass block, 59.2 PFF run block, 61.3 PFF overall, 0 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 0 QB hurries allowed, 0 pressures allowed

#57 Cayden Baker (So.): 30 snaps, 39.4 PFF pass block, 62.1 PFF run block, 70.9 PFF overall, 0 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 0 QB hurries allowed, 0 pressures allowed

#64 Malik McGowan (RFr.): 18 snaps, 73.2 PFF pass block, 66.5 PFF run block, 67.5 PFF overall, 0 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 0 QB hurries allowed, 0 pressures allowed

#67 Trey Zimmerman (RFr.): 3 snaps, 74.8 PFF pass block, 0.0 PFF run block, 60.0 PFF overall, 0 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 0 QB hurries allowed, 0 pressures allowed

#54 Chance Carroll (RF.r): 3 snaps, 0.0 PFF pass block, 59.4 PFF run block, 59.9 PFF overall, 0 sacks allowed, 0 QB hit allowed, 0 QB hurries allowed, 0 pressures allowed

#51 Wyatt Tunall (So.): DNP

#60 Carter Kulka (Fr.): DNP

#61 Diego Pounds (Fr.): DNP

#65 Nick Mackovic (Jr.): DNP

#66 Eli Sutton (Fr.): DNP

#70 Noland Brown (So.): DNP

#77 Wisdom Asaboro (So.): DNP

#79 Hunter Shope (So.): DNP

Just like with the midseason grades, the strong performances against Virginia and Wake Forest are the only reasons why this isn’t an F in what was simply a horrible season. McKethan and Ezeudu graded out as the best of a bad unit as they were both the best run blockers and pass protectors but still struggled and allowed a lot of pressure on Howell. Both Tucker and Richards had their fits in pass protection all season long and never were really able to get it on track leading to them being replaced on the field in certain games because of their struggles. Johnson and Anderson both split time at center while dealing with injuries throughout most of the season and had major issues in both elements of the game. Montilus played a good amount of reps once again as a rotational option at left guard and like the rest of the unit, he had issues in pass protection. Barnes was the rotational option at right tackle behind Tucker and he struggled as well in the reps that he saw throughout the season. Adorno, Baker and McGowan played the bulk of their snaps in blowout games, but Baker did get a start at center for the game against Duke and all three looked solid in limited reps. Zimmerman and Carroll both got their reps in the blowout of the Blue Devils.


Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Defensive Line: C-

#12 Tomon Fox (Sr.): 704 snaps, 33 ttkl, 10.5 TFL, 9.0 scks,

#51 Raymond Vohasek (Sr.): 550 snaps, 38 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 scks, 3 PD

# 8 Myles Murphy (So.): 511 snaps, 38 ttkl, 9.0 TFL, 4.0 scks, 3 PD

#25 Kaimon Rucker (So.): 419 snaps, 30 ttkl, 5.5 TFL, 4.0 scks, FF

#10 Desmond Evans (So.): 319 snaps, 18 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

#17 Chris Collins (Jr.): 312 snaps, 29 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sck, FF

#56 Tomari Fox (Jr.): 302 snaps, 24 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck

# 5 Jahvaree Ritzie (Fr.): 296 snaps, 25 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sck

#98 Kevin Hester Jr. (So.): 241 snaps, 20 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sck, FF, PD

#52 Jahlil Taylor (Jr.): 98 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#93 Kristian Varner (So.): 41 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#42 Tyrone Hopper (Sr.): 40 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#55 Clyde Pinder Jr. (So.): 28 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#41 Kedrick Bingley-Jones (RFr.): 17 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#97 Alex Nobles (Jr.): 11 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 6 Keeshawn Silver (Fr.): 11 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#87 Colby Doreen (RFr.): 2 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#19 Ethan West (RFr.): DNP

The Tar Heels brought a ton of talent here along the defensive line and while they had a lot of guys show flashes, no one was really able to sustain it to provide consistent push. Tomon Fox’s numbers were the best of his career, but once again they came in bunches like they have throughout his entire career. Vohasek had some nice moments, especially in the second half of the season but he was pushed around a lot this season, as well. Murphy had a great start to the season, but was nearly silent in the final six games of the season, having just 0.5 a tackle for loss after the midseason bye. Rucker was another guy who had some nice flashes again this season, but just couldn’t provide consistent push up front and disappeared at times. Evans and Collins split the reps at the edge rusher spot and neither was able to provide much consistency throughout the season. Tomari Fox, Ritzie and Hester Jr. all played major rotational reps this season and were solid but not game changers by any stretch. Taylor was once again a depth option at nose tackle and failed to provide much production as did Varner and Pinder Jr. before their transfers. Hopper was expected to be a big part of the rotation on the edge but was lost early in the season due to a knee injury and has since announced he is transferring. All of the rest of the players who saw snaps took them in garbage time. West missed the entire season with an undisclosed injury.


Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Linebackers: C

#44 Jeremiah Gemmel (Sr.): 768 snaps, 73 ttkl, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 scks, FF, INT, 3 PD

#33 Cedric Gray (So.): 676 snaps, 99 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 scks, FR, 2 INT, 3 PD

# 7 Eugene Asante (Jr.): 193 snaps, 23 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

#23 Power Echols (Fr.): 155 snaps, 25 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT

#11 RaRa Dillworth (Fr.): 33 snaps, 6 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#26 Trevion Stevenson (Fr.): 2 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#43 Braden Hunter (RFr.): 1 snap, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#45 Jake Harkleroad (So.): 1 snap, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#34 Gabe Stephens (Fr.): DNP #36 Jalen Brooks (RFr.): DNP

#53 Gibson Macrae (Fr.): DNP

This is a unit that had a lot of responsibility on it’s plate sandwiched in between two units that had their struggles, but they were far from perfect either, especially when it came to getting off of blocks. Gemmel had a solid finish to his Tar Heel career, but wasn’t nearly as productive as he needed to be in the middle of this defense. Gray had a lot of tackles for a guy who didn’t start the first two games of the season, however, he still had a lot of missed tackles that will have to be cleaned up moving forward. Asante started the season as the starter next to Gemmel but struggled mightily and was never able to find his footing, losing more and more reps as the weeks went along eventually leading to him transferring. Echols got some significant reps as the season progressed and looked promising, but had some trouble with missed tackles as well. Dillworth saw some garbage time reps, but showed some positive signs in those snaps that he did see. The others who saw snaps all took them in blowouts. Stephens was sidelined the entire season with an injury suffered in the spring.


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Defensive Backs: D+

#20 Tony Grimes (So.): 813 snaps, 47 ttkl,2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 9 PD

# 4 Trey Morrison (Sr.): 721 snaps, 47 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, FR, 4 PD, TD

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly (Jr.): 560 snaps, 68 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 4 INT, 3 PD

#27 Giovanni Biggers (Jr.): 533 snaps, 48 ttkl, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sck, 4 PD

# 1 Kyler McMichael (Jr.): 502 snaps, 18 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT, PD

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (So.): 495 snaps, 46 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FR, 2 INT

# 2 Don Chapman (Jr.): 376 snaps, 28 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 3 PD

#29 Storm Duck (So.): 303 snaps, 16 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

#15 Ladaeson DeAndre Hollins (Jr.): 40 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#24 DeAndre Boykins (Fr.): 40 snaps, 5 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#13 Obi Egbuna (Jr.): 24 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 3 Cameron Roseman-Sinclair (RFr.): 18 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#14 Dontae Balfour (Fr.): 13 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#21 Dontavius Nash (Fr.): 13 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#28 Tymir Brown (Fr.): 3 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#18 Christopher Holliday (RFr.): 0 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#38 Val Edwards (Jr.): DNP

The offensive line unit was clearly the worst unit on this team this season, but the defensive backfield wasn’t far behind them. Grimes came off of an extremely successful second half of the 2020 season with high expectations, but took a major step backwards this season that he will have to recover from. Morrison, Kelly and Biggers all played major reps this season and all three had major inconsistencies, especially in coverage, that will need to be addressed this offseason. Conley had a solid sophomore campaign that ended early due to injury, but he bounced back and forth between nickel and safety, never allowing him to fully get into a rhythm. McMichael was beaten way too often and struggled to tackle in space leading to him losing reps. Chapman had another up and down season, but his versatility was important for the unit which went through injury issues again. Duck was a welcome sight back on the field but like everyone else he had his ups and downs and has to get back to form next season. Hollins looked ready to play a significant role for the team prior to his injury that cost him the season, something that really hurt this team more than some may realize. Everyone else really took the majority of the snaps in garbage time, but with the struggles of some of the veterans they may have a chance to step up this offseason.


Matt Cashore- USA Today Sports

Special Teams: C

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (So.): 9 KR, 21.9 avg

# 3 Antoine Green (Sr.): 1 KR, 0.0 avg

# 4 Caleb Hood (Fr.): 3 KR, 19.0 avg

#11 Josh Downs (So.): 15 PR, 9.9 avg

#17 Grayson Atkins (Sr.): 75 snaps, 52-52 XP, 19-23 FG, Long of 51

#19 Ty Chandler (Sr.): 3 KR, 23.3 avg

#21 Elijah Green (RFr.): 1 KR, 12.0 avg

#26 D.J. Jones (So.): 1 KR, 17.0 avg

#61 Drew Little (Jr.): 120 snaps

#84 Garrett Walston (Sr.): 1 KR, 8.0 avg

#91 Ben Kiernan (Jr.): 45 snaps, 45 punts, 43.7 avg

#92 Cole Maynard (Fr.): 1 snap, 1 punt, 46.0 avg

#95 Jonathan Kim (Jr.): 84 KO, 62.9 avg, 65 TB, 1-1 XP, 0-0 FG

#62 Spencer Triplett (RFr.): DNP

#90 Todd Pledger (Fr.): DNP

#94 Adam Buck (Jr.): DNP

#96 Teagen Lenderink (Fr.): DNP

#98 Noah Burnette (RFr.): DNP

This unit had shown some progress heading into the final weekend off the regular season where the unit fell apart, getting two punts blocked and failing to recover an onside kick leading to one of the worst losses in program history. Kicker Grayson Atkins was the strength of this unit this season, especially in the second half of the year where he connected on all 13 of his field goal attempts and finished the season 17-18 inside of 50 yards. Ben Kiernan had a nice start to the season, but did not have a great second half to season, although the punt protection unit didn’t do him many favors. The returners didn’t have much more this season than the group from a year ago did, but Downs provides some nice hope for the future at punt returner. Kim dropped off from a year ago on his kickoff number, but still had a solid year. This is still a unit that Mack Brown says he wants to see more improvement from, though, next year under new special teams coordinator Larry Porter.

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