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Heel Tough Blog: 2023 Early Signing Class Breakdown

Wednesday was National Signing Day around the world of college football, as staffs around the country officially signed their letter of intents. The Tar Heels signed all 20 of their commits before 11:00 AM this morning, piecing together another very solid class. Here is a breakdown of the 2023 class that the Tar Heels are bringing in.

Class Rankings

247Sports- Overall: No. 26 | ACC: No. 4

Rivals- Overall: No. 25 | ACC: No. 3

ESPN- Overall: No. 26 | ACC: No. 5

On3- Overall: No. 28 | ACC: No. 5

@_chrisculliver- Instagram

4WR Chris Culliver- Maiden (Maiden, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 67 WR

Rivals: No. 138 overall, No. 23 WR

ESPN: No. 300 overall, No. 26 ATH

On3: No. 109 overall, No. 18 WR

Composite: No. 202 overall, No. 28 WR

Culliver fits exactly what the Tar Heels need in this class at wide receiver. First of all, he has the size and frame to play on the outside at 6’3, 175 lbs., something that the team is simply lacking right now in the wide receiver room. In terms of his actual play, he is a speedster that can definitely fill the role of that deep threat that this offense relies on to succeed, as the majority of his touchdowns as a junior came via deep routes down the field. That speed also makes him dangerous with the football in his hands after the catch and is also a big part of why he was able to succeed at such a high level on special teams. Culliver does a good job of finding the holes in the defense, something that is preached by this staff since their arrival. He has no problem going up and coming down with the contested catches and does so multiple times on film. He will have to expand his route tree a bit when he gets to campus, but he is exactly what the Tar Heels need and has the skillset to make an impact early on in his career.

@not.bron- Instagram

4EDGE Jaybron Harvey- Southern (Durham, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 30 EDGE

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 22 WDE

ESPN: No. 186 overall, No. 16 OLB

On3: No. 254 overall, No. 28 EDGE

Composite: No. 242 overall, No. 26 EDGE

Harvey is as electrifying as it gets on tape at the edge rusher position. His explosive bursts off the line of scrimmage are extremely exciting to watch as is his pure speed off the edge. Those two factors are a big part of why he can win so many reps, especially against slower offensive tackles and pull blocks. He has a 4.59 40 time which showcases just how fast he is and he combines that with a high motor to hunt down and make plays in the backfield. He has some nice length to go with that speed, as well at 6’3, but will have to add some more weight to his frame with him currently at just 215. He doesn’t have to play with a lot of physicality, which makes sense considering how fast he is, but that speed won’t win him as many reps at the next level, so he will need to be able to pack more of a punch. Still, this is a young man with immense physical gifts that can’t be denied and could allow him to factor in early if he can succeed in the weight room.

@t.2nstyyy- Instagram

4EDGE Tyler Thompson- Panther Creek (Cary, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 31 EDGE

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 19 WDE

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 65 DE

On3: No. 153 overall, No. 19 EDGE

Composite: No. 258 overall, No. 30 EDGE

Thompson is one of those guys that simply lives in the backfield. He has really nice speed off the edge, but he is an extremely physical player, as well and that is what allows him to shed blockers so easily. He has a powerful upper body that combines with nice length that makes him tough to stop when coming off the edge and even allowed to succeed inside a bit in high school. He also does a nice job of mixing in some of the finesse moves as well to help free himself up and get to the quarterback. He has a nice first step off the line of scrimmage and that closing speed in space makes him a nightmare for quarterbacks and even running backs. The biggest concern with him, especially in the new system, will be his size, as he has just 205 lbs. on his 6’5 frame. While it may keep him off the field early, if he can add the weight and continue to build the upper body and powerful first punch, he should be able to get himself into the conversation at the power end spot.

@joelstarlings- Instagram

4DL Joel Starlings- Benedictine (Richmond, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 46 DL

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 36 DT

ESPN: No. 202 overall, No. 12 DT

On3: No. NA overall, No. 41 DL

Composite: No. 313 overall, No. 43 DL

One of the biggest things about Starlings that should catch the attention of Tar Heel fans is how easily he is able to shed blocks, something that the team has not done well enough in the last couple of seasons. He has no problem freeing himself up, even in double team situations, and has a nice push off the line of scrimmage thanks to a strong lower body. He has some very nice athleticism for a player of his size (6’5, 310) and shows some great hustle and a high motor that he shows consistently on tape. He is not afraid of the physicality, but is definitely a more finesse pass rushing defensive tackle than a block-eating run stopper. At his size, he will have a chance to come in and make an immediate impact if he can maintain his weight, just adding to the team’s bevy of talent on the defensive line.

@d7ggy._- Instagram

4WR Christian Hamilton- Hickory Ridge (Harrisburg, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 45 WR

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 59 WR

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 27 ATH

On3: No. NA overall, No. 67 WR

Composite: No. 352 overall, No. 49 WR

Hamilton is the type of receiver that fits exactly what this offensive staff wants in a receiver. He has the versatility to play in the slot or on the outside and he is a guy who seems to play with the mentality of finding the holes in the defense. He is a strong route runner that gets in and out of cuts well and that allows him to create separation from the defensive backs, which he has to do with his 6’0, 175 lbs. frame. He has really good straight-line speed and short-area quickness that allows him to create space and do damage with the football in his hands. He fits the mold of the modern-day outside receiver that thrives out there despite a smaller frame and could fall in line to have a shot to contribute in the slot immediately with Josh Downs's departure.

@tadhudson7- Instagram

4QB Tad Hudson- Hough (Cornelius, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 23 QB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 25 QB

ESPN: No. 145 overall, No. 10 QB-PP

On3: No. NA overall, No. 53 QB

Composite: No. 377 overall, No. 24 QB

When watching Hudson’s film, it’s no shock why this staff feels like he will be a great fit in his system. His deep ball accuracy is tremendous and he has a very strong arm to go with it that will allow him to succeed in this Tar Heel offense that has its most success with a quarterback that can drive the ball down the field. He has a solid base when he has a clean pocket and a nice delivery to go with it, but his footwork can definitely get a bit sloppy when he is under pressure. The interception numbers are definitely a bit concerning, as he has thrown 12 already in his career while starting just ten games, but that is something that you would imagine will be worked on in his final two seasons at the high school level and even into college if it proceeds. He, like when Sam Howell was in high school, already has a great frame that won’t need to be added to that much when he arrives, although he will be a much more pocket-based quarterback than Howell or even 2021 quarterback signee Drake Maye. The arm talent is there, now it’s just about cleaning up some of the risky throws, something that the staff will hope to see him do before he arrives to campus in a few years.

@iam__jr11- Instagram

3TE Julien Randolph- Independence (Ashburn, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 41 TE

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA TE

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 29 TE-H

On3: No. 288 overall, No. 16 TE

Composite: No. 570 overall, No. 26 TE

The first thing that immediately jumps off the page with Randolph is his size at 6’5, 210 lbs. He uses that length extremely well on tape by high-pointing the football, something that makes a lot of sense considering the fact that he also plays basketball. The frame and ability to go up and get the football should allow him to win a lot of 50/50 balls and be a threat in red zone. He is very physical with the ball in his hand as he consistently fights for extra yards and while he may not be the fleetest of foot, a 4.6 40-time shows there is a little bit of speed there. Playing on the outside like he did most of his time at the high school level shows he can bring similar versatility to what we will likely see in Chapel Hill from Bryson Nesbit at times this season and also means he is a much more polished route runner than a lot of pure tight ends that come out of high school. The biggest learning curve and the thing that could prevent him from having a major role early in his time in Chapel Hill is blocking. He didn’t do a whole lot of it on tape and when he did, it was typically as an outside receiver against much smaller corners. This is a guy, though, that has a lot of potential, especially as a pass catcher, and could be one of the steals of this class if he develops quickly as a run blocker.

@nolanmcconnell4- Instagram

3OT Nolan McConnell- Colonial Forge (Stafford, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 39 OT

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 58 OT

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 47 OT

On3: No. NA overall, No. 62 OT

Composite: No. 583 overall, No. 46 OT

McConnell has good size at 6’7, 275 lbs and he uses that big frame well on tape. He has a strong first step that allows him to establish leverage on many reps that he had in each of the last two seasons and his hand placement is outstanding in most of those reps as well. He plays with the mean streak that the Tar Heels need in their offensive linemen as he simply steamrolls through guys in run-blocking reps. He is not the most fleet of foot offensive linemen that we’ve seen commit to the Tar Heels in recent years, but he still looks pretty solid in pull-blocking situations. He will be a work in progress as a pass protector because of the type of offense that Colonial Forge runs and the level of competition might be a bit of concern as well. McConnell is a guy that will likely need a little bit of time to grow when he first arrives to campus, but with his physicality and sound technique, he is a guy who is more than capable of being a key part of the team’s offensive line moving forward.

@da1emiller- Instagram

3CB Tre Miller- Deer Creek (Edmond, OK)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 84 CB

Rivals: No. NA overall, 62 CB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 94 CB

On3: No. NA overall, No. 86 CB

Composite: No. 677 overall, No. 68 CB

Miller will give the Tar Heels a really strong man cover corner in this class. He plays with a ton of physicality on the outside and is a solid open-field tackler. He has really fluid hips and breaks on the ball really well. He has nice speed, clocked at 4.48 in the 40 before his junior season at a Mississippi State prospect camp. The question will be, does he have the size to play on the outside at 5’10, 165 lbs because he certainly has the skillset? In an article written prior to last year on, Hoover Coach Josh Niblett commented on his junior corner size concerns on the outside. “He might not be 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, but he plays tall. He has really long arms.” If he can in fact play on the outside, he would become an even more valuable piece for a Tar Heel defensive backfield group whose depth needs to be replenished.

@jgroovy11- Instagram

3RB Jordan Louie- Meadowcreek (Norcross, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 79 RB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 20 RB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 61 RB

On3: No. NA overall, No. 31 RB

Composite: No. 697 overall, No. 50 RB

Louie might be the most underrated member of this Tar Heel recruiting class and could have a chance to factor into the rotation in the backfield sooner rather than later. He has plenty of speed, as witnessed by his film and his 4.47 40-yard dash time. While he has the speed to pull away from guys in the open field, he also runs with a nice edge that allows him to run through defenders at a pretty solid rate. He is extremely decisive as a runner, an element that most high school running backs struggle with, and gets downhill more often than not. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is one of the best in the class, something that is important for Tar Heel backs to be able to do with how they have used them since Mack Brown’s return. With how complete of a player he is and the lack of clarity with the running back rotation, there is a chance that Louie could push for at least a rotational role this season.

@ca1eb.lavallee- Instagram

3LB Caleb LaVallee- Whitefield Academy (Mableton, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 88 LB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 15 ILB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 19 LB

On3: No. NA overall, No. 132 ILB

Composite: No. 726 overall, No. 59 LB

LaVallee will be one that Tar Heel fans will love once they turn on his film. He has the athleticism and speed that fits what the team wants in their linebackers and has the ability to go sideline to sideline with ease. He doesn’t drop into coverage that often, but looks more than capable when he does if he needs to. LaVallee does have a slender frame, but lives in the backfield on tape due to that speed and is a sure-handed tackler that can wrap up and finish solo tackles consistently. The level of play and the size is a bit of a concern that probably means he will take some time to develop when he gets on campus, but there is a lot to like about this high-energy tackling machine.

@kalebcost- Instagram

3CB Kaleb Cost- Sandy Creek (Tyrone, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 118 CB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 47 CB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 100 CB

On3: No. NA overall, No. 100 CB

Composite: No. 747 overall, No. 78 CB

Cost will provide the Tar Heels with a versatile option on the back end of their defense in this class. In his junior tape, he spends the majority of his time at corner, but he does take reps at safety and did so a bunch on his sophomore tape. He looked really fluid in coverage and has the athleticism to cover 1-on-1 on the outside, which he does often on tape, mostly in man-to-man. The most underrated aspect of his game is his contributions as a run defender. He plays with a lot of physicality, which allows him to shed blocks and he makes running backs pay when he gets to the ball, and he thrives both out of the safety and corner spots as a run defender. He plays the ball well in 50/50 situations and his time spent on the offensive side of the ball certainly doesn’t hurt him here. His special teams ability is just an added bonus for him that could guarantee him some sort of early role, even if it isn’t as a returner. Finding his full-time position will be a big part of the transition for him, but this is a nice addition for Gene Chizik and Charlton Warren’s defense.

@paulbillupsii- Instagram

3WR Paul Billups- Western Branch (Chesapeake, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 89 WR

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA WR

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 109 WR

On3: No. NA overall, No. 118 WR

Composite: No. 783 overall, No. 106 WR

Billups is a nice addition to round out this 2023 receiver class for the team. He gives the Tar Heels another player that can go up and win jump balls, something he did constantly on film in his sophomore season. As a junior, he saw a lot more screens and short routes which allowed him to showcase his ability after the catch. He might not be the fastest wide receiver in this class, but he still has solid speed with his long strides and has enough shiftiness to make people miss in the open field. There is no doubt that he is still a bit raw and will certainly have work to do when it comes to developing as a receiver pre-snap, but he has shown the skill set of a guy that could develop into a complete receiver at some point in his career, especially with someone as successful as Lonnie Galloway is at developing receivers.

@RodneyLora- Instagram

3DL Rodney Lora- Woodberry Forest (Woodberry Forest, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 109 DL

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. 50 DL

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 40 DT

On3: No. NA overall, No. 68 DL

Composite: No. 807 overall, No. 88 DL

Lora gives the Tar Heels an athletic defensive tackle that this class lost with Horton’s decommitment. At 6’4, 270 lbs., he isn’t exactly a gap filler in the middle but he plays with the physicality that allows him to thrive on the interior of the defensive line. His greatest strength is his athleticism which has allowed him to play on the edge at the high school level. He has good speed for someone of his size and he plays with a high motor, as well. There is certainly going to be some development needed, especially in the technical aspects of the game, but there is some potential here if that physical edge carries over.

@aydendunc2023- Twitter

3S Ayden Duncanson- Whitefield Academy (Mableton, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, 69 S

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA ATH

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 90 S

On3: No. NA overall, No. 52 S

Composite: No. 840 overall, No. 72 S

Duncanson’s film shows a player with plenty of potential but is a guy who has some developing to do. He has some outstanding speed that allows him to cover a lot of space and a nose for the football, things that this secondary desperately needs. He has been a much better tackler this season than in previous years and is more willing to be involved in the run defense. Just like with his fellow classmate, Ty Adams, the fact that he has been playing so much on offense has limited the chances for him to grow as a safety. Because of that, there is a lot of development that is needed for him, meaning it will almost certainly take him some time before he can become an impact player on defense.

@the5ive1ne- Instagram

3IOL Robert Grigsby- North Cobb (Kennesaw, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 63 IOL

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OT

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 72 OG

On3: No. NA overall, No. 73 IOL

Composite: No. 884 overall, No. 68 IOL

With Grigsby, there is so much to like about what he shows on tape. First of all, at 6’5, 295 lbs. he has the size to compete for reps right away, something that could be important for the team to have next if in fact he does play inside. He certainly has the mean streak to play inside if he wants to, but also has the footwork and athleticism to play tackle and have some nice success. The way that he moves is amazing considering his size and his vertical movement is really strong for someone at the high school. There should be no worry about his level of competition because he plays in the highest classification in Georgia and was able to dominate guys the way he did. This may very well be the most underrated member of this 2023 class.

@tyy_a2- Instagram

3CB Ty Adams- Swainsboro (Swainsboro, GA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 130 CB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA ATH

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 107 ATH

On3: No. NA overall, No. 55 CB

Composite: No. 901 overall, No. 90 CB

Adams is pretty raw on the defensive side of the football, but he has plenty of potential. He provides some nice versatility, as he’s played more safety and slot this season after playing a lot of outside corner a year ago. He fits the zone-heavy scheme of Gene Chizik and Charlton Warren well thanks to the track speed that he shows off often on the offensive side of the football. He breaks on the ball very well, something that the current members of this Tar Heel defense simply do not do well. He is far from a complete product that is ready to play early in the secondary, but with his athletic tools, it is hard to imagine he won’t be able to contribute early as a member of the special teams unit.

@dj.k1ng- Instagram

3IOL D.J. Geth- Dorman (Roebuck, SC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 67 IOL

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OT

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 53 OG

On3: No. NA overall, No. 87 IOL

Composite: No. 1119 overall, No. 81 IOL

Geth is a guy who certainly looks the part on tape. He is a tremendous run blocker who can be seen simply blowing defensive linemen off the ball with ease and he does a great job of climbing to the second and third levels and clearing running lanes down the field for his backs. He plays with that mean streak that you need as an interior offensive lineman and has a high motor as well that extends beyond the initial block. His hand placement is very encouraging and is part of why he is able to lock on and hold his blocks on film. He doesn’t move quite as fluidly as someone who could play tackle at the next level, but he does show some nice things in pull-blocking situations and moves better than you might expect at 6’4, 300 lbs.. He has some work to do as a pass blocker, in large part because of the system that he plays in at the high school level. Because of that, as well as the natural learning curve that comes with the transition from the high school level for players in the trenches, it will likely take some time for him to factor in. However, there is some nice upside here and he possesses some attributes that this team needs on the interior of their offensive line.

@amareGcampbell- Twitter

3LB Amare Campbell- Unity Reed (Manassas, VA)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 117 LB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OLB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 70 OLB

On3: No. NA overall, No. 99 LB

Composite: No. 1273 overall, No. 111 LB

Campbell’s film is an exciting one to watch because of just how physical his style of play is. He is the definition of a downhill linebacker, constantly pursuing running backs and making them pay by knocking them backward. He plays with a mean streak that is extremely noticeable on plays where he blitzes, especially when it is a running back's task to block him. He has some nice closing speed that could allow him to eventually play sideline-to-sideline, something that he doesn’t do a whole lot of on film. The challenge for him will be pass coverage, an element of his game that seems to be rarely on display and could keep him off the field on passing down unless he is converted to more of a pass-rusher role. He may not be highly rated by the recruiting websites, but this is a guy that plays with a lot of energy and the physicality that this staff wants to start seeing in this team. It may take some time when he initially arrives, but if he can develop into someone who can play sideline-to-sideline, he has the chance to be a successful part of what the Tar Heels do at linebacker in the future.

@mike1short- Instagram

3LB Michael Short- Mallard Creek (Charlotte, NC)

247Sports: No. NA overall, No. 148 LB

Rivals: No. NA overall, No. NA OLB

ESPN: No. NA overall, No. 159 DE

On3: No. NA overall, No. 171 LB

Composite: No. 1299 overall, No. 112 LB

Short is a good sideline-to-sideline player to pair with the two downhill linebackers that they already have committed to the class. He has tremendous speed that allows him to track down running back and quarterbacks in space with ease and makes him tough to contain when they blitz him. He plays with a nice physical edge and can make ball carriers pay when he gets to them. He takes aggressive angles to the football, which has worked well for him at the high school level but could be risky against the type of speed that he will face at the Power 5 level. The other question mark with him, just like with the other linebackers in this class for the Tar Heels, is his coverage ability. As we saw this season, Chizik’s system relies on the linebackers dropping into coverage and Short didn’t really have to do much of that at the high school level. Still, this is a player with a ton of upside and has some tools that Tommy Thigpen should be able to fine-tune when he gets on campus.


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