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.

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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.

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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.

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

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,