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Heel Tough Blog: 2022 Final Grades

The 2022 Tar Heel football season was a tale of two teams. There is the team from the first ten games of the season that had some dreaming of the first ACC title in 42 years and a possible trip to New York with a Heisman Trophy finalist. Then there is the team that dropped four straight to close the year that has many wondering what the future holds for the program. It’s time for us to officially put a bow on this with our final grades for each position group.

Jim Dedmon- USA Today Sports

Quarterbacks: A

#10 Drake Maye (RFr.): 1048 snaps, 342-517, 4321 yds, 38-7 TD-INT, 184 rush, 698 yds, 7 TD

# 6 Jacolby Criswell (So.): 22 snaps, 2-6, 9 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT, 4 rush, 39 yds

#14 Jefferson Boaz (So.): DNP

#15 Conner Harrell (Fr.): DNP

#16 Russell Tabor (RFr.): DNP

As you would expect, this grade is really based on how well Maye played in the first half of the season. Maye was one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the country and looked destined to be in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race through those first ten games before he struggled behind a collapsing offensive line in the final four. The ACC Player of the Year still finished tops in the country in total yards from scrimmage, third in total touchdowns, fourth in passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns in a season that will go down as the best from a quarterback in program history. The hope is that he will be able to return to that early season form with some help from his teammates next season and be in the conversation for the Heisman again. Criswell played sparingly in garbage time and is now heading to Arkansas, leaving the team searching for their next backup this offseason.

Ken Ruinard- USA Today Sports

Running Backs: C+

#21 Elijah Green (So.): 446 snaps, 131 rush, 558 yds, 8 TD, 18 tar, 17 rec, 107 yds, TD

#28 Omarion Hampton (Fr.): 203 snaps, 88 rush, 401 yds, 6 TD, 6 tar, 6 rec, 40 yds, TD

#26 D.J. Jones (Jr.): 194 snaps, 26 rush, 124 yds, TD, 14 tar, 12 rec, 102 yds, TD

# 4 Caleb Hood (So.): 157 snaps, 43 rush, 250 yds, 0 TD, 13 tar, 13 rec, 119 yds, TD

#23 George Pettaway (Fr.): 74 snaps, 20 rush, 93 yds, 2 TD, 7 tar, 5 rec, 21 yds

#24 British Brooks (Sr.): DNP

After back-to-back seasons with at least one 1,000 yard rusher, this group struggled to find consistency in 2022. Hampton started the year with two 100-yard outings in the first three games, but never really had a major impact after that. Hood took over the starting role midseason and had back-to-back strong performances against Miami and Duke before he was lost for the season against Pittsburgh. Green supplanted Hood for the stretch run and finished the season with the most steady production of the season. Much like Brooks did a year ago, he probably did enough to secure himself a role in the backfield again next season. Jones was scheduled to be the starter early in the season, but he settled into the role as the team’s pass protecting running back as the season went along. Pettaway really didn’t establish much of a role out of the backfield this season, but he has the explosiveness to make more of an impact moving forward. With the return of Brooks for 2023, this room will have more tough decisions to make when it comes to the rotation again next year.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Wide Receivers: B+

# 5 J.J. Jones (So.): 802 snaps, 51 tar, 24 rec, 434 yds, 2 TD

#11 Josh Downs (Jr.): 754 snaps, 116 tar, 94 rec, 1029 yds, 11 TD

# 3 Antoine Green (Sr.): 541 snaps, 65 tar, 43 rec, 798 yds, 7 TD

# 2 Gavin Blackwell (RFr.): 430 snaps, 33 tar, 18 rec, 239 yds, TD

# 8 Kobe Paysour (RFr.): 317 snaps, 39 tar, 29 rec, 324 yds, 4 TD

# 1 Andre Greene Jr. (Fr.): 105 snaps, 4 tar, 3 rec, 26 yds, TD

#83 Justin Olson (Jr.): 29 snaps, 1 tar, 1 rec, 4 yds

# 0 Tychaun Chapman (Fr.): 15 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#29 Jeffrey Saturday (Jr.): 4 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#20 Brooks Miller (RFr.): 2 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#84 Cyrus Rogers (RFr.): 2 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#13 Tylee Craft (Jr.): DNP

#19 Grady Sherrill (Fr.): DNP

#25 Kellan Hood (Fr.): DNP

#27 Michael Hall (Fr.): DNP

#38 Aiden Cloninger (Fr.): DNP

#85 Landon Stevens (So.): DNP

#86 Thomas Flynn (RFr.): DNP

This unit had another strong season despite injury issues to their two most important players throughout the season. Downs earned first team All-ACC honors and second team All-American honors after a second straight season with 90+ catches and 1,000+ yards, something that had never been accomplished in program history before this season. Green had a spectacular run of success in the middle of the season, highlighted by his massive performance against Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, as has been the case for most of his career, he was sidelined for nearly half the season with injuries that prevented him from what likely would have been a 1,000-yard season. Paysour didn’t get nearly the opportunities that some of the other guys in the room did, but every time he did, he was one of the most productive players on the field and will help lead the unit next year with Downs and Green gone. Jones played the most of any of the receivers this season but was probably the most inconsistent posting the lowest catch percentage of anyone on the team that was targeted at least once this season. Blackwell had his ups and downs as well this season, but was more reliable than Jones when he was on the field. Greene Jr. shined in the bowl game, flashing his ability to win the jump ball on his touchdown grab and setting him up nicely for a bigger role next season. The others who saw action played sparingly, although Tychaun Chapman is a name worth watching in the battle for reps in the slot this offseason.

Orlando Ramirez- USA Today Sports

Tight Ends: A

#88 Kamari Morales (Jr.): 488 snaps, 44 snaps, 29 rec, 358 yds, 4 TD

#81 John Copenhaver (So.): 397 snaps, 21 tar, 15 rec, 222 yds

#18 Bryson Nesbit (So.): 361 snaps, 50 tar, 35 rec, 507 yds, 4 TD

#82 Kendall Karr (So.): 22 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#80 Will Crowley (Jr.): 6 snaps, 0 rec, 0 yds

#89 Jake Young (Fr.): DNP

When you talk about the coaches on this staff that deserves recognition for how well their units played this season, John Lilly should probably be atop the list. For the first time since Brown’s return to Chapel Hill, the tight ends were a big part of what the Tar Heel passing game did, led by an extremely productive season from Nesbit. He finished with the most receiving yards for a Tar Heel tight end since Eric Ebron in 2013 and could have been even more productive if he didn’t get banged up midseason. He also graded out as the team’s best run blocker by far, despite playing the fewest run blocking snaps of the tight ends. Kamari Morales was much more consistent this season and provided a nice safety valve at times throughout the season for Maye. Copenhaver wasn’t nearly as impactful as a pass catcher as the other two, but still made plays when the football was thrown his way and had a nice season for himself as a blocker, as well. Karr and Crowley saw all of their snaps in garbage time.

Jim Dedmon- USA Today Sports

Offensive Line: D+

#63 Ed Montilus (Sr.): 1054 snaps, 46.5 run block, 52.3 pass pro, 48.7 overall, 5.0 sacks allowed, 31 QB pressures allowed

#72 Asim Richards (Sr.): 1050 snaps, 53.1 run block, 75.5 pass pro, 64.4 overall, 3.0 sacks allowed, 20 QB pressures allowed

#65 Corey Gaynor (Sr.): 1050 snaps, 57.5 run block, 71.8 pass pro, 60.9 overall, 2.0 sacks allowed, 13 QB pressures allowed

#75 Spencer Rolland (Sr.): 979 snaps, 61.0 run block, 66.2 pass pro, 66.0 overall, 6.0 sacks allowed, 43 QB pressures allowed

#76 William Barnes (Sr.): 918 snaps, 55.0 run block, 57.2 pass pro, 58.1 overall, 2.0 sacks allowed, 27 QB pressures allowed

#52 Jonathan Adorno (Jr.): 215 snaps, 57.4 run block, 53.8 pass pro, 56.6 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 8 QB pressures allowed

#68 Brian Anderson (Sr.): 20 snaps, 62.2 run block, 74.5 pass pro, 64.1 overall, 0.0 sacks, 0 QB pressures allowed

#55 Zach Rice (Fr.) 16 snaps, 47.6 run block, 75.4 pass pro, 48.9 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#57 Cayden Baker (So.): 16 snaps, 54.4 run block, 37.8 pass pro, 54.0 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#61 Diego Pounds (RFr.): 16 snaps, 41.9 run block, 9.7 pass pro, 29.2 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 1 QB pressure allowed

#64 Malik McGowan (So.): 10 snaps, 55.2 run block, 55.4 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#78 Trevyon Green (Fr.): 6 snaps, 55.5 run block, 74.9 pass pro, 58.0 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#54 Chance Carroll (So.): DNP

#60 Carter Kulka (RFr.): DNP

#69 Jarvis Hicks (Fr.): DNP

#70 Noland Brown (Jr.): DNP

#73 Eli Sutton (RFr.): DNP

#74 Justin Kanyuk (Fr.): DNP

#79 Bo Burkes (Fr.): DNP

This is the unit that had the steepest drop off of any from their midseason grade and for good reason. This unit was a big part of the reason that the team allowed 32.0 tackles for loss, 14.0 sacks and 84 quarterback hurries in the final four games of the season which led to a complete collapse on the offensive side of the football. Richards was easily the unit’s best player for the majority of the season, but had some struggles of his own down the stretch that aligned with the decline of the unit. Gaynor had a very solid season in the middle of the unit for the team, providing some much needed stability at a position that simply lacked it in 2021 because of injuries. Rolland somehow graded out as the best overall offensive lineman despite allowing by far the most pressures and sacks of anyone on the team, leaving some to question if he should be a starter again next season. Barnes had a solid start to the season, but had his own issues in pass protection as the season wore on and he wore down. Montilus graded out as the team’s worst offensive lineman as he was picked on by opposing defensive lines at times this season and continued to show why he wasn’t a full time starter for the team prior to this season. Adorno was the unit’s most important rotational player this season, making two starts for the team due to injury. While he wasn’t good enough to supplant someone this season, he will certainly have a chance to earn a bigger role next season if he can build off of what he showed when he was in there. Outside of those six, no one else saw meaningful snaps this season, but keep an eye on Rice and Green to push hard for bigger roles in 2023.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Defensive Line: F

# 5 Jahvaree Ritzie (So.): 644 snaps, 48 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 25 QB hur

#25 Kaimon Rucker (Jr.): 626 snaps, 37 ttkl, 7.0 TFL, 3.5 scks, 26 QB hur, 2 FF, PD, 2 tar, 1 rec allowed, 6 yds allowed

# 8 Myles Murphy (Jr.): 532 snaps, 29 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 scks, 10 QB hur, PD, 1 tar, 1 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#98 Kevin Hester Jr. (Jr.): 516 snaps, 49 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 7 QB hur

# 7 Noah Taylor (Sr.): 446 snaps, 28 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 3.5 scks, 17 QB hur, 2 PD, 4 tar, 3 rec allowed, 6 yds allowed

#17 Chris Collins (Sr.): 392 snaps, 20 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 7 QB hur, 6 tar, 5 rec allowed, 76 yds allowed, TD allowed

#10 Des Evans (Jr.): 277 snaps, 25 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 5 QB hur

#93 Jacolbe Cowan (So.): 200 snaps, 6 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 5 QB hur

#51 Raymond Vohasek (Sr.): 173 snaps, 14 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 3 QB hur, 2 PD

# 4 Travis Shaw (Fr.): 156 snaps, 18 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 QB hur, 2 PD

#24 Malaki Hamrick (Fr.): 81 snaps, 9 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 3 QB hur, 6 tar, 5 rec, 60 yds allowed

#41 Kedrick Bingley-Jones (So.): 62 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#55 Keeshawn Silver (RFr.): 25 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#52 Jahlil Taylor (Sr.): 4 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#12 Beau Atkinson (Fr.): DNP

#19 Bryson Jennings (Fr.): DNP

#34 Gabe Stephens (RFr.): DNP

#56 Tomari Fox (Sr.): DNP

#87 Colby Doreen (So.): DNP

#88 Deems May II (Fr.): DNP

#92 Kody Kovacevic (Fr.): DNP

#96 Nic Harvey (Fr.): DNP

It’s hard to argue that this wasn’t the single most disappointing unit in the ACC this season considering the amount of talent that is in the room and the expectations that the team had heading in. The unit finished with just 21.0 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and 109 quarterback hurries in fourteen games, all of which ranked near the bottom of the country overall. Rucker was the unit’s best player the entire season, but still wasn’t able to provide the consistent pressure that this team badly needs. Ritzie became much more productive as the year went along, but still lacked the consistency that was needed in part because he was shuffled around the line throughout the season. Taylor had a strong start to the season at the JACK spot before he was lost for the season against Pittsburgh. Collins held down that spot for the remainder of the season and wasn’t able to make the same impact, which clearly affected this already struggling unit. Murphy was maybe the biggest disappointment on the entire team this season based on his preseason expectations and a career-worst performance when the team needed him to take the next step. Hester Jr. had a productive season overall, especially after entering the starting lineup for Vohasek when he was lost for the year, but he wasn’t able to create enough winning plays in the middle. Evans was another player that was expected to break out this season, but fell short of expectations yet again before he was lost for the season. Shaw showed some nice flashes when he saw action late in the season and could be ready for a big step forward next season when he will be in better shape. Cowan did a solid job for the team as a situational pass rusher late in the season, but he needs to be more consistent at getting pressure before he can earn a bigger role. Vohasek wasn’t nearly as impactful as he had been in years past in the middle as the team’s nose tackle before he suffered injury that ended his Tar Heel career early. Hamrick split his time between edge rusher and off ball linebacker and while he wasn’t overly effective, he gained some valuable experience. Bingley-Jones saw some depth snaps throughout the season, but still appears to have some work to do to earn a rotational role. Silver flashed in the depth snaps that he took for the team midseason against Virginia Tech and Miami, but didn’t take another snap the rest of the season before entering the transfer portal. Taylor was only able to play some garbage time reps late in the season because of the injury he suffered in the bowl game last season. 

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Linebackers: B

#33 Cedric Gray (Jr.): 985 snaps, 145 ttkl, 12.0 TFL, 4.0 scks, 15 QB hur, 3 FF, 2 FR, 68 tar, 48 rec allowed, 432 yds allowed, 4 TD allowed, 2 INT, 6 PD

#23 Power Echols (So.): 871 snaps, 103 ttkl, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 scks, 10 QB hur, 46 tar, 42 rec allowed, 332 yds allowed, 4 TD allowed, INT, 2 PD

#11 Raneiria Dillworth (So.): 119 snaps, 13 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 scks, 3 QB hur, 4 tar, 3 rec allowed, 31 yds allowed

#45 Jake Harkleroad (Jr.): 16 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#44 Randy Caldwell (Fr.): 15 snaps, 6 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#32 Sebastian Cheeks (Fr.): 3 snaps, 3 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 QB hur

#36 Jalen Brooks (So.): 3 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 socks, 0 QB hur, 1 tar, 1 rec allowed, 7 yds allowed

#47 CJ Murphy (Fr.): DNP

#48 Milad Aghaiepour (Fr.): DNP

#53 Gibson Macrae (RFr.): DNP

This was easily the defense’s most successful unit yet again in 2022 thanks to two starters who were simply tremendous. Gray was one of the best linebackers in the entire country this season, finishing second in the nation in solo tackles and third in total tackles. He earned first team All-ACC honors and was named a third team All-American  by Sporting News for what was easily a career year for him. Echols had a very nice season next to Gray, earning All-ACC honorable mention after finishing top ten in the country in solo tackles. He thrived playing downhill this season, but does have some work to do when in coverage. If he can improve when he has to drop, this could become one of the best linebacker duos in the entire country next season. Dillworth played some important rotational reps early in the season, but his struggles, especially with missed tackles, led to less playing time in conference play and his eventual transfer. Everyone else who saw snaps took them in garbage time, but Caldwell did flash when he was on the field.

Rich Storry-USA Today Storylines

Defensive Backs: D

#16 DeAndre Boykins (So.): 931 snaps, 67 ttkl, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 scks, 3 QB hur, FR, 78 tar, 58 rec allowed, 724 yds allowed, 2 TD allowed, INT, 7 PD

# 3 Storm Duck (Jr.): 801 snaps, 46 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 74 tar, 44 rec allowed, 621 yds allowed, 6 TD allowed, 3 INT, 9 PD

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly (Sr.): 785 snaps, 49 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 20 tar, 15 rec allowed, 326 yds allowed, 2 TD allowed, INT, PD

#27 Giovanni Biggers (Sr.): 777 snaps, 69 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FR, 23 tar, 12 rec allowed, 153 yds allowed, 2 PD

# 1 Tony Grimes (Jr.): 697 snaps, 36 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, 45 tar, 23 rec allowed, 328 yds allowed, 3 TD allowed, 7 PD

# 6 Lejond Cavazos (So.): 329 snaps, 18 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 27 tar, 18 rec allowed, 250 yds allowed, TD allowed

# 2 Don Chapman (Sr.): 325 snaps, 32 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, 12 tar, 7 rec allowed, 79 yds allowed, 2 TD allowed

#31 Will Hardy (Fr.): 323 snaps, 38 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks allowed, FF, FR, 21 tar, 15 rec allowed, 157 yds allowed, TD allowed, INT

#29 Marcus Allen (Fr.): 175 snaps, 16 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 14 tar, 9 rec allowed, 86 yds allowed

#14 Dontae Balfour (RFr.): 60 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 8 tar, 5 rec allowed, 85 yds allowed, TD allowed

#15 Ladaeson DeAndre Hollins (Sr.): 12 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 tar, 1 rec allowed, 8 yds allowed

#13 Obi Egbuna (Sr.): 1 snap, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley (Jr.): DNP

#18 Christopher Holliday (So.): DNP

#20 Tayon Holloway (Fr.): DNP

#21 Dontavius Nash (RFr.): DNP

#26 Naari Short (So.): DNP

#28 Tymir Brown (RFr.): DNP

#30 Phillips Alvarez (Fr.): DNP

#35 Jaden Selby (Fr.): DNP

#38 Val Edwards (Jr.): DNP

#40 Major Byrd (Fr.): DNP

The Tar Heel pass defense allowed their most yards per game since 2003 this season and while some of that is on the defensive line, the majority of it is on this defensive backfield. Boykins played the most snaps of anyone on the team not named Cedric Gray and while he did some good things tackling-wise, he allowed the second-most yards in coverage of anyone in the country this season. Duck had a much better second half of the season once he was able to start creating some turnovers, but he finished top ten in the country in most yards allowed in coverage and top 20 in touchdowns allowed. Grimes was the least picked on of the corners that played over 500 snaps, but he had his moments, as well, where he was picked on down the field and continued to have issues when helping in run defense. Kelly and Biggers had similar issues to the ones they faced a year ago in coverage on the back end, as they struggled to provide help over the top and take away the middle of the field once again this season. Hardy and Allen showed a ton of promise late in the season once they took over starting roles and provided some hope for the unit moving forward. Cavazos was solid when he was forced into a bigger role, but did struggle a bit when challenged down the field. Chapman started getting more reps late in the season, as well, and provided some decent help on the back end for a unit that played much better later in the season. Balfour started the first game of the year for the team against Florida A&M and was picked apart. He did not play a single snap after that and has since transferred to Charlotte. Hollins and Egbuna both had a more important role on special teams than they did on defense, playing their defensive snaps in garbage time.

Brett Davis- USA Today Sports

Special Teams: B-

#36 Jalen Brooks (So.): 193 snaps, 1 KR, 7 yds

#31 Will Hardy (Fr.): 154 snaps, 2 KR, 25.0 avg

#44 Randy Caldwell (Fr.): 136 snaps, 1 KR, 1.0 avg

#98 Noah Burnette (So.): 138 snaps, 57-58 XP, 15-21 FG, 57 KO, 63.6 avg, 28 TB, 1 OB

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly (Jr.): 108 snaps, 5 PR, 12.8 avg

#21 Elijah Green (Jr.): 96 snaps, 1 KR, 14.0 avg

#62 Spencer Tripplet (So.): 85 snaps

#92 Cole Maynard (RFr.): 81 snaps, 1 punt, 14.0 avg

#26 D.J. Jones (Jr.): 74 snaps, 1 KR, 14.0 avg

#23 George Pettaway (Fr.): 65 snaps, 7 KR, 31.6 avg, 1 PR, 16.0 avg

#91 Ben Kiernan (Sr.): 49 snaps, 48 punts, 46.8 avg

#11 Josh Downs (Jr.): 44 snaps, 10 PR, 13.3 avg

#61 Drew Little (Sr.): 43 snaps, 2 ttkl

#18 Bryson Nesbit (So.): 40 snaps, 1 KR, 43 yds, TD

#28 Omarion Hampton (Fr.): 37 snaps, 7 KR, 21.6 avg

#95 Jonathan Kim (Sr.): 33 snaps, 31 KO, 64.4 avg, 26 TB, 0 OB

# 3 Antoine Green (Sr.): 3 snaps, 1 KR, 20.0 avg

Mack Brown has been asking for this unit to show improvement since he first got back and this season they answered the call. Kiernan was simply outstanding this season, leading the ACC and finishing fifth in the country in punting yard m’s kick returner late in the season and could be one of the more dangerous returners in conference next season. Downs had the best season of his career in terms of punt return average and Kelly was very solid filling in for him early in the season when he was sidelined. Little and Tripplet were clean the entire season on snaps and Little had his best coverage season of his career as well on punts, while Maynard did a great job the entire season as the team’s holder. So you may be asking, how is the group not higher than a B-? That falls on the struggles of the kicking game and the coverage units. Burnette’s numbers weren’t terrible, but he missed too many important field goals down the stretch of the season, highlighted by the ones against NC State and Oregon. The kick coverage unit was tested far more this season because of the departure of Kim early in the season and finished outside of the top 100 in average yards per return allowed. Meanwhile the punt coverage unit allowed 22 punts to be returned, one of the highest marks in the country.


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