We continue our in-depth look at the Tar Heels 2023 squad with the wide receivers, a unit that was scheduled to once again be one of, if not the deepest, position groups on the team. The team was expected to have two of the best transfers from the portal to help fill the shoes of Josh Downs and Antoine Green, but a snag with one's eligibility could reset things just a little bit. Even if that doesn't work out the way the Tar Heels are hoping, this could still be one of the best units in the conference this season.
Kent State transfer Devontez Walker has received some high praise in the preseason after hauling in 58 catches for 921 yards and eleven touchdowns for Kent State a year ago, but it is possible that he will have to wait a year to play in Chapel Hill. Last week, his transfer waiver was denied by the NCAA despite enrolling prior to the new two-time transfer rule that has been put in place. The staff is confident that things will work out in their favor, but this could be a major loss for the Tar Heels if his appeal falls short. He showed Tar Heel fans what he is capable of in the spring game and Mack Brown comparing him to Dyami Brown in his pressers has fans dreaming of a big season for him. If he is eligible, he gives the Tar Heels a great shot at a fifth straight season with a 1,000-yard receiver. If not, the attention turns to the other transfer and a group of promising, but unproven group of young receivers to pick up the slack
Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum could also have a shot to become a 1,000-yard receiver after some tremendous production a year ago with the Yellow Jackets. His 655 yards and three touchdowns were the most by a Georgia Tech receiver since DeAndre Smelter in 2014 and his 60 receptions were the most since Calvin Johnson. This Tar Heel offense feels like a great fit for him and with him already building some nice chemistry with Drake Maye, it’s hard to imagine this won’t be a career year for him.
The other guy who looks to be heading for a starting spot regardless of what happens with Walker is sophomore Gavin Blackwell, who has been running with the blue team alongside Walker and McCollum to begin fall camp. He started the first four games of last season before becoming a rotational player when Antoine Green came back from his injury and, like Jones, he wasn’t able to contribute consistently when he was starting. The team needs him to build off of what he's done this preseason and become a reliable target that can make plays in the intermediate passing game, especially if they are going to be without Walker.
Who would start opposite of Balckwell if Walker can't play is a bit of a question mark, but there are some talented options they could turn to. Junior J.J. Jones started 12 of the team’s 14 games a year ago but has work to do to hold on to his job, especially after missing the spring recovering from offseason hip surgery. He is the leading returning receiver in the room, after totaling 434 yards and two touchdowns on 24 receptions a year ago. The issue for him has been consistency, but he might give the team what they need over the top if he has to start.
If sophomore Kobe Paysour can prove to the staff that he can play on the outside, he would be the most obvious choice here, though. He started three games a year ago in the slot in place of Downs and led the team in receiving in all three of those games, including in the bowl game against Oregon. The fact that he is the second-leading returning receiver after totaling 324 yards and four touchdowns while only playing significant snaps in those three games should tell you all you need to know if he is capable of making the move out of the slot.
Those five are the ones that Mack Brown said at the end of spring would rotate with the ones in fall camp, but there is a group of others that are trying to enter that rotation. Redshirt freshman Andre Greene Jr. flashed what he brings to the table in the bowl game (3 rec, 26 yds, TD), but apparently did not show the staff enough in the spring to get himself into the rotation. It feels like it won’t take him much to become a part of it, especially with Brown saying they are looking to have six guys they can rely on in that room.
Another guy who will be fighting for that sixth rotational spot is true freshman Christian Hamilton. Brown liked what he saw from the early enrollee in the spring and he closed the spring strong with a nice showing in the final scrimmage. If he can build of off that success in fall camp, don’t count him out as the next true freshman receiver that could add him name to that group that the staff trusts at the position.
Fellow true freshman Chris Culliver joined the mix in fall camp after being the highest-rated recruit in the 2023 class. His game also resembles Dyami Brown’s and being able to learn behind a guy like Walker this year feels like a perfect scenario for him. With him not getting to campus until the summer, it was hard to see him having a major impact, but with Walker's situation and rumors that he is impressing the staff, there is a chance he could get a look if Jones can't be more consistent.
The deeper depth at the position is full of talented young options, as well. True freshman Paul Billups II was another early enrollee that came in and received praise from Brown for his performance in the spring. He doesn’t have the versatility that Hamilton has, which probably means he will have a harder time finding his way onto the field this year, but he has shown that he has a chance to be a big part of this team’s future at the position.
Redshirt freshman Tychaun ‘Doc’ Chapman will be in his second year on the roster and help with the depth in the slot. This is another guy who feels to be more of a casualty to the depth in terms of his playing time on offense, but he could make his impact felt on special teams this season.
Senior Tylee Craft is the last player that will be on scholarship, but he will not play this season as he continues to undergo cancer treatments. Back in May, he began undergoing a new form of treatments after new growths appeared on his brain. He told Inside Carolina’s Adam Smith that he felt like he was “making progress”.
There will be eight walk-on’s that will be a part of the room this year. They are junior Landon Stevens, sophomores Thomas Flynn, Brooks Miller and Cyrus Rogers, redshirt freshmen Aiden Cloninger, Michael Hall and Grady Sherrill and true freshman Josh Espindola.
Projected Depth Chart
# 9 Devontez Walker, Jr.
# 5 J.J. Jones, Jr.
# 3 Chris Culliver, Fr.
#20 Brooks Miller, RFr.
#84 Cyrus Rogers, So.
#13 Tylee Craft, Sr.
# 8 Kobe Paysour, So.
# 2 Gavin Blackwell, So.
# 1 Andre Greene Jr., RFr.
#11 Paul Billups II, Fr.
#85 Landon Stevens, So.
#27 Michael Hall, RFr.
# 6 Nate McCollum, Jr.
# 7 Christian Hamilton, Fr.
# 0 Tychaun ‘Doc’ Chapman, RFr.
#19 Grady Sherrill, RFr.
#83 Josh Espindola, Fr.