Last Wednesday, the 2023 recruiting cycle officially came to a close in extremely quiet fashion for the Tar Heels. The team did not sign a single player in the class after the early signing period, bringing in all 20 of their players back in December. After a disappointing season in 2021, the Tar Heels took a step back in recruiting, as the class ranked 28th overall according to 247Sports, the lowest rated class the team has brought in since 2019. That makes the 2024 cycle a crucial one for Mack Brown and his staff if they want to take another step as a program. Here is a look at the ten targets that I want the most for the Tar Heels in the 2024 class.
10. 3✮ LB Ashton Woods- Walton (Marietta, GA)
Woods is an extremely athletic and physical linebacker that the Tar Heel staff should be making a serious push for. He moves very well in the open field and has the speed and quickness to play sideline-to-sideline. The majority of his film, though, is him using his speed to fly downhill and lay the lumber on running backs in the run game. He resembles a lot of what Cedric Gray brings to the table and would be a nice fit to fill those shoes. It would also be a significant addition from the state of Georgia where the team is attempting to establish a stronger pipeline to.
9. 4✮ CB Asaad Brown- Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, VA)
Cornerback is an area that the Tar Heels that still have work to do after all that departed in the transfer portal earlier this offseason and Brown should be priority number one for new position coach Jason Jones. He thrives in zone coverage situation because of how well he closes on the football and how good of a tackler he is. He has fluid hips and his speed makes it difficult for teams to beat him over the top, something that the Tar Heel corners have struggled with over the past few years. He also helps in the run game and fights off of blocks, another area where the team’s cornerbacks have struggled recently.
8. 3✮ S Zahir Rainer- Trinity Episcopal School (Richmond, VA)
Speaking of the defensive backfield, the team is in need of help at safety with the issues the team has had there the past two year and the room being filled with a ton of upperclassmen. Rainer resembles a lot of what Ja’Qurious Conley was coming out of high school with the ability to either play deep safety or nickelback. He has great closing and straight line speed that allow him to make a lot of plays on the football and he does hit people hard when he has the chance to. The team just offered him back in January, but he should be near the top of the priority already for Charlton Warren and the defensive staff.
7. ATH Khalil Conley- Christ School (Arden, NC)
Conley is as explosive of an athlete as anyone in this class. He was a major part of all three units for Christ School a year ago and will be a valuable asset to whatever program eventually lands him. He may have the best pure speed and acceleration of any player in this entire class and it shows up in all three phases. He simply flies around defensively and uses that speed to make plays on the football and on ball carriers. That speed allows him to create separation pretty easily and makes him even more dangerous when he has the football in his hands. On special teams, it shows up in the return and coverage games, making him a special teams ace. If he could find a way settle in at safety, that would be preferable, but he could be an impact player in the slot at receiver if he sticks on the offensive side of the ball.
6. 4✮ OT Ethan Calloway- Lake Norman (Mooresville, NC)
The Tar Heels have already landed two offensive tackles in this class, but this is a group that needs to bring in more talent. Calloway fits that bill perfectly and give the Tar Heels a commitment from the state’s top offensive lineman, a position group that the Tar Heels have struggled to keep from going out of state even since Mack Brown’s return. He is an absolutely road grader who simply overpowers defensive linemen in the run game set up by a tremendous first step off the line of scrimmage. His lateral movement and length combine to make him a solid pass protector, as well. The Tar Heels have to start locking up these in-state offensive lineman and this would be a start.
5. EDGE Cole Mullins- Mill Creek (Hoschton, GA)
Mullins is a name that many may not be familiar with, but he is one that everyone should get to know as soon as possible including Tim Cross. He split time between linebacker and edge rusher this past season, but thrived a little more as a pass rusher, something this Tar Heel defense desperately needs more help with. He has a high motor and does a good job of mixing things up when working against offensive linemen. He has the strength to knock tackles back off the ball and he combines with a good release off the snap, but he can also utilize some of those technical moves, as well, at times to get in the quarterbacks face. This is a position group that the Tar Heels will eventually have to extend more offers at, but for right now, Mullins need to be their top target here.
4. 3✮ WR Alex Taylor- Grimsley (Greensboro, NC)
Wide receiver is the most loaded position group in this 2024 cycle and Taylor is the best of the group. He is easily the most complete of the receivers the team has offered and he has an impressive frame to go along with his skillset. He does an outstanding job of creating separation with his route running and he has the ability to climb the ladder and make plays on the football, as well. He could certainly be the next great receiver for the Tar Heels in an offense that has featured one of the top receiving corps in the country since 2019.
3. 4✮ LB Cayden Jones- Christ School (Arden, NC)
As we mentioned above, linebacker is a need for this Tar Heel team moving forward that could become even more immediate if Cedric Gray and Power Echols continue to produce at the level that they did this past season. Jones is the most complete and versatile linebacker that the team has offered in this class. He has the ability to play sideline-to-sideline and is as sure tackler as anyone that the team is recruiting right now. His coverage ability is tremendous for a linebacker and would be a huge asset for a scheme that drops linebackers into coverage more often than not. He even played off the edge at times and his speed allows him to make plays in the backfield, which could be a nice fit at the JACK position. There is still a lot of work to be done on the defensive side of the football with this class and it should all start with Jones.
2. 4✮ ATH Jonathan Paylor- Cummings (Burlington, NC)
Paylor might be the most dynamic offensive weapon in the entire class and he is right in the Tar Heels backyard. His speed will be a problem for defenders to handle both with the ball in his hands and without and he has some wiggle to his game, as well when he can’t just beat players with his straight line speed. He is a really strong route runner, which could allow him to factor in as a slot receiver, but his ball carrier vision and decisiveness is hard to ignore. No matter where he plays, Paylor is going to be an extremely valuable option for whatever team he lands with.
1. 5✮ QB Jadyn Davis- Providence Day (Charlotte, NC)
This is the name that is likely at the top of everyone's list and for good reason. Davis is the next great quarterback from the home state and the door has crept open with the fluidity of the future of Michigan football. Davis has a lot of similar traits to current starting quarterback Drake Maye and the game just seems easy to him at times. He has tremendous touch on his passes that allow him to drop the football into receivers at all three levels and fit the ball into tight windows when he has to. He has nice arm strength that allows him to drive the ball down the field when he needs to, but he is not someone who is going to force the big plays down the field. Like Maye, he has the capability to make plays outside of the pocket and makes some nice throws on the run, but he hasn’t really been a major part of the run so far despite showing the capabilities. He is a guy that is more than capable of coming in and starting right away if Maye leaves after this season and he could be the player capable of taking this team to the brink of the expanded CFP bracket.
3✮ S Brody Barnhardt- Providence Day (Charlotte, NC)
4✮ DL Hevin Brown-Shuler- Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA)
3✮ WR Jordan Shipp- Providence Day (Charlotte, NC)
3✮ OT Mason Wade- Loudoun Valley (Purcellville, VA)
3✮ WR Channing Goodwin- Providence Day (Charlotte, NC)