Last year, I wrote an article about the struggles that many of the top Tar Heel commits in the modern recruiting era, asking if Mack Brown could change the fortunes of those highly rated recruits, something that he did in his first year back on campus. While that is great, I feel like I need to give some focus to the lower rated prospects who outperformed their recruiting ranking. Let’s look at some of the top Tar Heel overachievers in the modern recruiting era.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 71 S
Career Stats: 132 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 INT, 14 PD
A former 2✮ prospect, Watkins became a key part of the Tar Heels of the secondary in his time in Chapel Hill. After starting his first game as a sophomore against William & Mary, Watkins would start all of the remaining games that he played in, becoming a lockdown corner for the Tar Heels. Although he never received any postseason recognition, Watkins' growth is too much to ignore here.
247Sports Rankings: No. 872 overall, No. 49 RB
Career Stats: 529 rush, 2393 yds, 24 TD, 39 rec, 320 yds, 2 TD
When the Tar Heels landed this 3✮ prospect from Clover, SC, little did they know that they were landing one of the top rushers in program history. McGill still ranks 12th in program history in rushing yards and 11th in rushing touchdowns. In each of his four seasons at Carolina, McGill rushed for at least 400 yards and five touchdowns, but somehow never received even an honorable mention from the ACC. Despite that, McGill was still the player that carried this Carolina offense for most of the John Bunting era.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 76 WDE
Career Stats: 38 career starts
After committing to John Bunting as a 2✮ weakside defensive end, Jolly became a starter at offensive guard his sophomore season and was a big part of the offensive line for the first three seasons of the Butch Davis era. Jolly started the final 38 games of his playing career and graded out at a 75 percent mark in each of his final three seasons on campus. Jolly earned an All-ACC honorable mention in 2009 to close out a very strong career at Carolina.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 94 OLB
Career Stats: 150 ttkl, 29.0 TFL, 12.0 scks, 6 FF, FR, 4 PD
Wilson committed to Carolina as a 2✮ prospect, but quickly became a one of the major contributors along the Tar Heel defensive line. In his final three seasons, he finished second on the team in tackles for a loss as one of the team’s best run defending lineman. He may not have received any postseason recognition in his time at Carolina, but he put together a fine career for a guy that was ranked outside of the top 1000 prospects in the 2005 class.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 107 WR
Career Stats: 46 rec, 927 yds, 8 TD, 26 rush, 294 yds, 2 TD, 109 KR, 24.7 avg, 3 TD, 79 PR, 10.6 avg, 3 TD
Another player who was a former 2✮ prospect, Tate became one of the return men in program history. Tate’s six combined return touchdowns are tied for second most in program history with T.J. Logan both of his return averages are some of the best in program history. He earned All-ACC honorable mention in three of his four seasons on campus, all of which came as a returner. One of those honorable mentions came in 2008, a season where he played in just six games because. Tate was also a nice two year producer at wide receiver in his final two seasons and would have had a huge senior season at receiver if it wasn’t for the knee injury.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 92 OG
Career Stats: 39 career games played, 34 career starts
Yet another 2✮ prospect, Pelc was not supposed to be the star of an offensive line class that landed two 3✮ prospects at tackle ahead of him. Of the three, Pelc was easily the most successful, though, starting all of the remaining games that he played in after his first career start against Connecticut in 2008. Although he was never given any postseason honor by the ACC, he was a widely regarded guard who worked alongside Jonathan Cooper his final two seasons to form one of the best guard duos in the country.
247Sports Rankings: No. 931 overall, No. 38 PRO
Career Stats: 795-1277, 9377 yds, 58-46 TD-INT, 220 rush, -333 yds, 7 TD
Quarterback has been a spot where the Tar Heels have had a lot of success landing talent, but one of the lowest rated prospects they’ve ever brought in at the position became the program’s all-time leading passer. In four years as the Tar Heels starting quarterback, Yates led the team to 28 wins, including six wins over ranked opponents, tied for the most in school history with Matt Kupec. To this day, Yates’ 9,377 career passing yards still stand as the top mark in program history and his 58 passing touchdowns still remain fourth in program history. Not bad for a player who was barely a top 1000 prospect.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 72 CB
Career Stats: 204 ttkl, 14.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 8 INT, 13 PR, 2.5 avg, 12 KR, 19.5 avg
Coming in as a low end 3✮ prospect, many wouldn’t have guess that Brown would be a cornerstone of the Tar Heels late 2000’s secondary. He started 34 career games at either corner or nickelback and registered at least one interception in all four of his active seasons. Although he never received any postseason recognition from the ACC, his ability to create turnovers and label as a lockdown corner was well earned for a player that was not seen as a headliner of the 2007 recruiting class by any stretch of the imagination.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 181 WR
Career Stats: 167 rec, 2086 yds, 15 TD, 4 PR, 14.5 avg
In a class that boasted borderline 5✮ wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, as well as solid 3✮’s Joshua Adams and Vincent Davis, no one would have expected Highsmith to be the star of this group of wide receivers. Highsmith is one of just ten receivers in school history to finish with more than 2,000 yards receiving in his career and his fifteen receiving touchdowns are eighth in program history. Highsmith is another player who never received any love from the ACC in terms of postseason recognition, but he finished his career with 300+ yards and two or more touchdowns in all four of his seasons on campus.
247Sports Rankings: No. 818 overall, No. 64 CB
Career Stats: 282 ttkl, 8.0 TFL, 13 INT, TD, 12 PD
Boston was far from the biggest name in 2010 class on national signing day, but he would quickly turn into one of the best defensive playmakers in the ACC and the leader of a defense that saw two coaching changes in three years. Although he only landed on an All-ACC team once (second team in 2013), Boston increased his tackle and interception numbers every season at Carolina, even with his move from corner to safety prior to his senior season. Boston’s 13 career interceptions still remain third in program history and he continues his success at the NFL level today.
247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. N/A WR
Career Stats: 81 rec, 1667 yds, 20 TD, 24 ttkl, FR
Hollins is the first walk-on that appears on this list, but he is far from the last as Larry Fedora and his staff specialized in turning walk-on’s into stars. Hollin