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Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Midseason Grades

The Tar Heels have hit their bye week in the 2021 season and, boy, is it sorely needed for a team that is struggling the way that this team is to this point of the season. Currently, the team is struggling to find much consistency from week to week and it has led to a disappointing 4-3 start to this season that carried such lofty expectations for the program. With the team now seven games into the season, it is the perfect time for us to hand out our midseason grades for each position group for this current Tar Heel team.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Quarterbacks: B+

# 7 Sam Howell (Jr.): 489 snaps, 129-211, 1851 yds, 18-6 TD-INT, 96 rush, 494 yds, 5 TD

# 6 Jacolby Criswell (So.): 11 snaps, 2-2, 54 yds, 1-0 TD-INT, 2 rush, 2 yds

#10 Drake Maye (Fr.): 5 snaps, 0-0, 0 yds, 0-0 TD-INT

#14 Jefferson Boaz (RFr.): DNP

#16 Russell Tabor (Fr.): DNP

As it has been for the last few seasons, this is really just a grade on Sam Howell’s first half of the season. Howell was on the Heisman short list entering the season, but turnover issues in two of the three losses has likely taken him out of that conversation for this season. While he will probably fall short of bringing home the sport’s most prestigious individual trophy, he has still had a pretty good start to the season overall and has been tremendous on the ground. His will and tenacity are one of the main reasons that fans can still be optimistic for the second half of the season. The Tar Heels struggles haven’t presented many opportunities for the backups, but both Criswell and Maye have gotten on the field this season to preview what may be a battle this offseason to replace Howell.

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Running Backs: C+

#19 Ty Chandler (Sr.): 286 snaps, 106 rush, 588 yds, 7 TD, 7 rec, 140 yds, TD

#26 D.J. Jones (So.): 150 snaps, 38 rush, 167 yds, 8 rec, 20 yds

# 4 Caleb Hood (Fr.): 44 snaps, 14 rush, 82 yds, TD

#21 Elijah Green (RFr.): 9 snaps, 8 rush, 30 yds

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

#24 British Brooks (Sr.): 8 snaps, 4 rush, 10 yds, TD

#33 Kamarro Edmonds (Fr.): DNP

The running back group as a whole has been up and down all season long, but part of the blame has to go on the struggles of the offensive line. Still, this is a unit that the Tar Heels would like to see more consistent production from. Chandler has had two big games so far this season, which shows that he is capable of being a major contributor for this team, but he just hasn’t been able to settle into any sort of groove this season. The hope is that he can carry over the momentum he gained in that second half against Miami and become another consistently productive piece for a team that needs their skill positions to step up down the stretch. D.J. Jones has shown flashes of being a solid No. 2 option, but he too has struggled with consistency from game to game. Caleb Hood played a really nice game against Virginia but hasn’t been active since he suffered an upper-body injury against Georgia Tech. If he could get back on the field at any point this season, that could give the offense three solid options at running back, which was the goal before the season. The other three running backs to see action have taken limited snaps, but all three have looked pretty solid in the reps that they have seen.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Wide Receivers: C-

#11 Josh Downs (So.): 457 snaps, 60 rec, 837 yds, 8 TD

# 3 Antoine Green (Sr.): 408 snaps, 11 rec, 253 yds, TD

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

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

#83 Justin Olson (So.): 116 snaps, 1 rec, 10 yds

#12 Stephen Gosnell (So.): 16 snaps, 1 rec, 8 yds

# 5 J.J. Jones (Fr.): 10 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#13 Tylee Craft (So.): 9 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

#15 Beau Corrales (Sr.): DNP

#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

The only reason that this unit’s grade is as high as it is here is because of how special of a season Josh Downs is having. Downs currently leads all Power 5 receivers in receiving and caught at least eight passes and one touchdown in every game this season. If he continues on this trajectory, he should have a legitimate chance to earn first team All-American honors and could be a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Outside of him, though, this group of receivers has been a major letdown. Green and Simmons were guys that the staff really thought were going to be able to take major steps forward a season and at least hold their own as starters, but neither guy is averaging even two catches per game despite playing major snaps in every game this season. Brown is in the transfer portal now after some struggling to catch the football despite being able to create the most separation of anyone besides Downs. Olson has started to see more reps as the season has gone along, but he too has struggled to get open, limiting his targets. The rest of the group that has played have played mostly garbage time snaps, but deserve the opportunity to see some reps down the stretch to figure out if this unit needs to pursue someone in the transfer portal this offseason. Beau Corrales’ return late in the year could also be a big boost for them, although that seems unlikely.

Brett Davis- USA Today Sports

Tight Ends: B-

#84 Garrett Walston (Sr.): 292 snaps, 11 rec, 89 yds, TD

#88 Kamari Morales (So.): 214 snaps, 16 rec, 146 yds, 4 TD

#81 John Copenhaver (RFr.): 21 snaps, 2 rec, 9 yds, TD

#18 Bryson Nesbit (Fr.): 18 snaps, 2 rec, 75 yds, TD

#80 Will Crowley (So.): DNP

#82 Kendall Karr (RFr.): DNP

The tight end position has been rather productive when they have been used, but they simply haven’t been used enough in the first half of the season. Morales has developed into a nice redzone threat and has been arguably the most consistent pass catching threat outside of Josh Downs for the team so far this year. Walston has continued to play a role as a run blocker and has contributed a little more in the passing game, despite battling Morales for reps. Both Copenhaver and Nesbit scored their first career touchdowns in the first half of the season and provide some nice depth at the position and some promise for the future.

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Offensive Line: D-

#73 Marcus McKethan (Sr.): 486 snaps, 83.2 PFF pass block, 68.6 PFF run block, 72.6 PFF overall

#72 Asim Richards (Jr.): 402 snaps, 68.3 PFF pass block, 48.3 PFF run block, 55.2 PFF overall

#74 Jordan Tucker (Sr.): 382 snaps, 74.6 PFF pass block, 66.3 PFF run block, 70.8 PFF overall

#69 Quiron Johnson (Sr.): 350 snaps, 39.2 PFF pass block, 61.4 PFF run block, 53.3 PFF overall

#75 Joshua Ezeudu (Jr.): 346 snaps, 71.2 PFF pass block, 77.2 PFF run block, 74.3 PFF overall

#63 Ed Montilus (Jr.): 221 snaps, 54.5 PFF pass block, 69.2 PFF run block, 65.1 PFF overall

#68 Brian Anderson (Sr.): 155 snaps, 43.5 PFF pass block, 38.8 PFF run block, 35.6 PFF overall

#76 William Barnes (Jr.): 126 snaps, 51.8 PFF pass block, 63.9 PFF run block, 55.7 PFF overall

#57 Cayden Baker (So.): 30 snaps, 39.4 PFF pass block, 62.1 PFF run block, 70.9 PFF overall

#52 Jonathan Adorno (So.): 16 snaps, 72.4 PFF pass block, 45.4 PFF run block, 45.9 PFF overall

#64 Malik McGowan (RFr.): 6 snaps, 66.5 PFF pass block, 57.8 PFF run block, 58.1 PFF overall

#67 Trey Zimmerman (RFr.): 3 snaps, 74.8 PFF pass block, 0.0 PFF run block, 60.0 PFF overall

#54 Chance Carroll (RF.r): 3 snaps, 0.0 PFF pass block, 59.4 PFF run block, 59.9 PFF overall

#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

The only reason that this isn’t an F is because of the performance against Virginia for a unit that has been otherwise terrible. It has all started in the middle at center, where both Johnson and Anderson have dealt with injuries and haven’t been very good when they have been on the field either. The PFF grades may tell you differently, but the starting tackles, Tucker and Richards, haven’t been all that great either especially in run blocking and have had their struggles protecting Howell at times this season, as well. The guards have been the most consistent part of this offensive line, but Ezeudu and McKethan just haven’t been able to get those around them to step it up. Both Montilus and Barnes have been serviceable rotational options, but have had their incostiencies at times as well. Baker got a start at center against Duke in sort of a trial by fire moment and held his own and may be the future for this team at center right now. The rest of the players who have seen snaps have seen them in garbage time, something that is a bit shocking for Adorno who played more last year as a freshman. This is the unit that needs to show the most overall improvement down the stretch of the season here.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Defensive Line: C

#12 Tomon Fox (Sr.): 357 snaps, 14 ttkl, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 scks,

#51 Raymond Vohasek (Sr.): 280 snaps, 21 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 PD

# 8 Myles Murphy (So.): 253 snaps, 20 ttkl, 8.5 TFL, 4.0 scks

#25 Kaimon Rucker (So.): 248 snaps, 19 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 scks, FF

#56 Tomari Fox (Jr.): 171 snaps, 14 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck

#10 Desmond Evans (So.): 154 snaps, 10 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

# 5 Jahvaree Ritzie (Fr.): 149 snaps, 12 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks

#17 Chris Collins (Jr.): 139 snaps, 14 ttkl, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sck, FF

#98 Kevin Hester Jr. (So.): 119 snaps, 9 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, FF

#52 Jahlil Taylor (Jr.): 60 snaps, 1 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.): 8 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 6 Keeshawn Silver (Fr.): 5 snaps, 1 ttkl, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#97 Alex Nobles (Jr.): 3 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#19 Ethan West (RFr.): DNP

#26 Trevion Stevenson (Fr.): DNP

#87 Colby Doreen (RFr.): DNP

This group has been marred all season by inconsistency and that has seemed to rub off on the defense as a whole. Veterans like Tomon Fox and Vohasek have played the most snaps for the team amongst the front line, but neither has really been as effective as they need to be this season. Murphy and Rucker have flashed at times this year, but they haven’t been able to string together the consistency that is needed for them to become leaders of this unit. Ritzie has looked good in the reps that he has seen and provides a bright future on the defensive line, but he does have the moments where he looks like a freshman. Guys like Tomari Fox, Evans and Collins haven’t been anywhere near as effective as the Tar Heels needed them to be and they need to step up down the stretch of the season. There has definitely been more rotation here than in years past and Hester Jr. has emerged as a solid rotational option that the team should continue to utilize more often moving forward. The depth of this unit is strong, but they did lose one of those options when Pinder announced that he was entering the transfer portal earlier this week.

Bob Donnan-USA Today Sports

Linebackers: C+

#44 Jeremiah Gemmel (Sr.): 469 snaps, 37 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 PD

#33 Cedric Gray (So.): 277 snaps, 35 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 INT, 2 PD

# 7 Eugene Asante (Jr.): 169 snaps, 20 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, PD

#11 RaRa Dillworth (Fr.): 25 snaps, 5 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#23 Power Echols (Fr.): 23 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, INT

#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

Very similar to the rest of this defense, this group has had their ebbs and flows this season, but they have found a breakout player that could be a key part of this defense for years to come. Gray is having a strong season, especially with the fact that Gray did not start the first two games of the season and the fact that he almost single-handedly won the game defensively against Miami. Gemmel hasn’t been able to thrive the way that many thought he could as the clear leader of the group after Chazz Surratt’s departure, but he is starting to play a little bit better as the season goes along. Asante was a disappointment out of the gate resulting in his starting job being taken over by Gray and he has been a little better out of the rotational role, but still hasn’t been nearly as effective as we thought he would be in an expanded role. Echols and Dillworth have only seen garbage time reps, but they have shown a lot of potential in the limited action.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

Defensive Backs: C

#20 Tony Grimes (So.): 454 snaps, 21 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 6 PD

# 4 Trey Morrison (Sr.): 401 snaps, 29 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, FR, PD, TD

# 1 Kyler McMichael (Jr.): 364 snaps, 11 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (So.): 353 snaps, 38 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FR, 2 INT

# 2 Don Chapman (Jr.): 304 snaps, 25 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 PD

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly (Jr.): 222 snaps, 29 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 INT, PD

#27 Giovanni Biggers (Jr.), 198 snaps, 17 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 PD

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

#29 Storm Duck (So.): 26 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#24 DeAndre Boykins (Fr.): 20 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#13 Obi Egbuna (Jr.): 18 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

# 3 Cameron Roseman-Sinclair (RFr.): 10 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#14 Dontae Balfour (Fr.): 5 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#21 Dontavius Nash (Fr.): 5 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#28 Tymir Brown (Fr.): 1 snap, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks

#18 Christopher Holliday (RFr.): DNP

#38 Val Edwards (Jr.): DNP

This secondary hasn’t been able to take the step that we thought they could this season and is still struggling to find some steady reps from the safety spot. Conley has probably been the team’s best defensive player so far this season, but like everyone else, he has had some ups-and-downs tackling in space. Morrison has been rather average this season and as the leader of the secondary, the lack of communication has been a major issue and that is a reflection on him. Kelly and Biggers have both had some nice moments in run defense, but haven’t been nearly as good in coverage this season. At corner, Grimes has been solid but not quite as dominant as he was last, but the other corner spot has been an issue. McMichael and Chapman have been splitting time there for a while now and both have struggled tackling in open space and haven’t been able to defend 50/50 all that well either. Duck and Hollins injury issues have really hurt the team at corner because there is no real depth at the position now, as it appears that the staff is not ready to trust Egbuna, Balfour or Brown out there yet. Roseman-Sinclair hasn’t seen many defensive reps outside of garbage time, but he has been one of the leaders of the special teams coverage units this season.

Peyton Williams- Getty Images

Special Teams: C+

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (So.): 1 KR, 32.0 avg

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

# 4 Caleb Hood (Fr.): 2 KR, 20.5 avg

#11 Josh Downs (So.): 11 PR, 10.4 avg

#17 Grayson Atkins (Sr.): 41 snaps, 31-31 XP, 6-10 FG, Long of 51

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

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

#61 Drew Little (Jr.): 65 snaps

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

#91 Ben Kiernan (Jr.): 23 snaps, 23 punts, 45.1 avg

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

#95 Jonathan Kim (Jr.): 44 KO, 63.3 avg, 39 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

There have been some real positives to take away from this unit’s performance, but it’s hard to ignore the big issue that remains at kicker. Atkins has been inconsistent once again after struggling with that problem last season, as well. Kim hasn’t been nearly as dominant on kickoffs as he was a year ago as he sits more towards the middle of the country on average kickoffs. Ben Kiernan has had another solid season for the team as their punter and Downs has shown promise as the punt returner. A kick returner, the team has tried several different options, but Ja’Qurious Conley looked good in his first return opportunity against Miami.


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