The Tar Heels are steaming towards their August 27th opener in Kenan Stadium against Florida A&M and we at the Heel Tough Blog are getting you ready the way that we always do with our in-depth positions previews. Today, we look at the unit that contains one of the country's best players but needs more consistency overall, the wide receivers.
Josh Downs is coming off of one of the best receiving seasons in Tar Heel football history and will be in the conversation amongst the nation’s best entering this season. He set the program record for receptions in a season with 101 and finished second in the conference in receiving yards with 1,335 yards, trailing only Bilitnekoff Award winner Jordan Addison. He was quieted a bit late in the season, though, failing to find the end zone in each of the final six games of the 2021 season. Mack Brown attributes a lot of that to the fact that teams were bracketing him a lot more, something that he hopes will be more difficult for defenses to do by moving him around a little bit and getting creative with how they use him. If they can do that successfully, he could make an even stronger case to be considered the one of the top receivers in the country.
Antoine Green was expected to be back with the team for his sixth year of eligibility after a nice finish to the season a year ago, but is currently out indefinitely with a collarbone injury. In the final six games of the season, he caught 20 passes for 359 yards and a team-high four touchdown receptions. While it was a career year for him by far, the hope was that he can just be a little more consistent this year after finishing six of the team’s thirteen games last season with just one reception. For now, that is on hold, but the hope is that he will be able to return at some point this season and show that consistency.
Outside of Downs and Green, there is not much of a track record for the rest of the receivers. Sophomore Kobe Paysour is the guy that has been raved about the most over the summer months and received the most targets of anyone in the spring game. He also provides versatility, as Brown has said that they have played both on the outside and in the slot, meaning that he can rotate between those two spots with Downs if the staff wants him to. He looks like he has the best chance to start right now amongst the other receivers in the room, especially if he can build on the momentum he has right now. The team needs that to happen now more than ever with the uncertainty about Green’s timetable.
Fellow sophomore J.J. Jones was the guy who saw the most reps of the trio of true freshmen from a year ago, but his name has not been mentioned as much as Paysour’s this offseason. He is more of the traditional deep threat receiver on the outside, but he has to do a better job of creating separation for himself than he did late last year. The addition of experience should definitely help him and he will almost certainly be a rotational guy on the outside. The injury to Green, though, will present him with that chance to start early.
There are a couple of wild cards that could be major factors for the team on the outside this season. Sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit took a significant amount of snaps with the team at receiver in the spring and actually started the spring game with the top offense opposite of Green. He is another guy that the team can also move around and play in the slot if they want to, making him one of, if not the most versatile piece in this offense. Expect to see him used in a lot of different ways, primarily in red zone situations.
True freshman Andre Greene Jr. has been on fire since the start of fall camp and has put himself in the conversation immediately to play some snaps on the outside. He has the ability to climb the ladder and win those 50/50 balls that the team wants to win more of this year and he is showing that off so far in fall camp. If he can continue to be one of the standouts in camp, he could certainly put himself in the conversation for significant reps right out of the gate, especially now.
The guy who it feels like many are forgetting about is junior Justin Olson who started the majority of the games opposite of Green last season after the departures of Khafre Brown and Emery Simmons to the transfer portal. He did not finish a single game with more than two receptions or 45 yards receiving, something that simply has to change if he wants to be a major part of this team’s receiving corps. More depth on the outside could allow him to move into the slot where he might be able to thrive a little more. However, that may be on hold now with the injury to Green.
In the slot, the depth is strong as well. Redshirt freshman Gavin Blackwell is in his second year and could have a chance to see more snaps with Downs being moved around this year. He is a strong route runner and if he can prove that he can find grass like Longo and this staff wants, he could see some rotational reps this season.
True freshman Tychaun ‘Doc’ Chapman will be another interesting rookie to monitor this season. He provides a similar big play element that Downs provides. He has tremendous speed and quickness which makes him a problem both before and after the catch. He will push Blackwell for that backup role in the slot if he is fully recovered from the injury that cost him his senior season of high school.
It is unknown the level of impact that junior Tylee Craft will be able to have this season with him in the midst of a battle with cancer. For right now, the focus is on his recovery, as it should be, although he is back on the field with the training staff as of mid-July.
The unit will have nine walk-on’s this season, easily the most of any position group on the team. Junior Jeffrey Saturday, sophomore Landon Stevens and redshirt freshmen Thomas Flynn, Brooks Miller and Cyrus Rogers all return from a year ago. Aiden Cloninger, Michael Hall, Kellan Hood and Grady Sherrill are the four newbees.