Heel Tough Blog: 2022 Breakout Candidates
We are now within a week of the kickoff of the Tar Heels’ 2022 season against Florida A&M in Kenan Stadium. We continue to get you ready for this vital season today with a look at the guys that our staff thinks could break out this year. Here is a look at the five guys that Anthony and Josh believe will become household names for Tar Heel fans this season.
Evans was a guy that many, including myself, thought was going to break out last season after a promising offseason, but struggled to produce again in a role that didn’t fit him well. This season, with the new staff in place, the junior pass rusher will finally have a chance to play a role that fits his skill set of getting after the quarterback. He is being raved about once again this offseason, but something feels different and the hope is that it can finally carry on to the field for a Tar Heel defensive front that needs an edge rusher that can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. I expect him to be able to do that this season.
Echols shined when he got his opportunities to play last season and with Jeremiah Gemmel gone, it is now his time to shine. He plays with that physical, downhill nature that Chizik wants in his linebackers and that this defense has frankly lacked over the last few seasons. He has some of the best pure talent that the Tar Heels have seen at the linebacker spot since Butch Davis departed, another element that this linebacking corps has simply lacked in the past few years. If Echols can turn those flashes into consistent production, he is more than capable of earning All-ACC honors at season’s end.
Speaking of players who flashed last year, Nesbit made a nice impression in the limited reps that he got a year ago. He has the receiving skillset that we haven’t really seen at Carolina since Eric Ebron departed campus and could provide a reliable target in red zone and third down situations, something that this team is in need of with Antoine Green’s injury. Green’s injury also means the team could use more two tight end sets and more of Nesbit at wide receiver, meaning he will have a chance to play a big role for this team early on.
Andre Greene Jr.
The true freshman was one of the standouts early in fall camp and is a guy that can go up and get the 50/50 balls, something the team didn’t do enough of a year ago. He also has the capability of being a red zone threat for this team as a jump ball receiver, another thing that this team was lacking last season. It may take him some time to work himself into the starting lineup, but there is a reason that Mack Brown called this guy “a potential superstar” in his press conference on Monday.
Hampton is another true freshman that has had a big fall camp as a summer enrollee and he will have even more of a role out of the gate than Greene will at receiver. With British Brooks out for the season, reps are up for grabs and he is in prime position to take advantage of that. There is a reason that he has already drawn comparisons to Javonte Williams with the combination of speed and power that he runs with. If he can prove himself capable early on, don’t be surprised if this is a guy that quickly becomes one of the workhorses of this Tar Heel backfield group.
There are many things needed for the Tar Heels defense to take a step forward this season, and one of those elements is more consistent play from the linebacker position. In Jay Bateman’s scheme, we saw guys like Chazz Surrat and Cedric Gray really break out and become enforcers, but it was more of a one-man show, as opposed to the entire unit being solid. That should change this season with Power Echols set to stat alongside the aforementioned, Gray. Echols brings a level of physicality desperately needed on the defensive side of the football, and his ability to get sideline to sideline will draw comparisons to the days when Bruce Carter was leading the linebacking crew. Being named to an All-ACC team isn’t out of the question for Echols this season.
This one becomes more complicated as Nesbit wasn’t listed as a starter on the initial depth chart Mack Brown released earlier this week. Nonetheless, Nesbit is far too gifted and versatile not to factor into the offense this season. You’re talking about a guy that can lineup all over the field, and cause mismatches for the opposing defense. Add in the fact that Carolina is set to break in an inexperienced QB, you’d imagine a lot of pass plays designed to go to the tight end, as a safety valve option. This year, Phil Longo’s offense needs to evolve and become more diverse, expect Nesbit to be a part of the offense finding another gear this season.
Now that Maye is the starting QB for UNC, the sky is the limit for the legacy player. Mack Brown said yesterday that Maye has earned the right to start for UNC, and expect him to prove why starting on Saturday. His deep ball isn’t as good as Sam Howell’s but you could make the argument that his intermediate passing is better than when Sam was starting for Carolina as a true freshman. Add in his mobility, he’s going to be able to make plays when the pocket collapses. There will be growing pains with Maye, but make no mistake, he’s destined to do big-time things this season, and beyond in Chapel Hill.
It’s a make-or-break year for Evans, as the once borderline 5✮ prospect has yet to produce anything of substance on the football field. You can attest that to him not being used in the right way in Jay Bateman’s scheme, and that is a fair assessment, but the fact remains he’s got far too talented to have produced so little in his Tar Heel career. Add in Gene Chizik, who will know how to best use Evans, and he could be the face of a revamped defense this season. He has all the makings in the world of being a guy that can reach double-digit sacks, and live in opponents' backfield all game long. If Evans doesn’t put it all together this season, it’s highly unlikely he ever will.
This might be my boldest prediction so far, but I can’t get the visions of Rara Dillworth and Power Echols playing side by side out of my head. RaRa has seen little to no action so far during his time at UNC, but that will change this season as Gene Chizik is very big on rotating players in and out, to keep them fresh during the season. I compared Power Echols to Bruce Carter, now I’m going to compare RaRa to Quan Sturdivant who played alongside Carter, back when the defense was the Tar Heels' calling card. It’s going to take time, but don’t be surprised if, by season’s end, you see a lot of Echols and Dillworth on the field together by design.