With 14 commits and the No. 2 overall class in the 2021 cycle, it’s no secret that the Tar Heels are off to the best recruiting start in program history. Even with that, the Tar Heels still have some needs that they will have to address before closing what will end up being one of, if not the best recruiting class in program history. In this article, both Anthony and Zack give you their opinions of what the biggest remaining needs in the 2021 class.
Anthony’s Biggest Needs
1. Tight End
There’s a lot of different reasons for this being the biggest need in this class. The Tar Heels don't have a ton of depth at the position to begin with, as there will only be four scholarship tight ends on the roster to begin the season. Of those four players, only two are returning from last season and neither player has more than 10 receptions in their career. Even if they get some experience this fall, Walston will graduate at season's end, so there will definitely still be early playing time available. You can also couple that with the fact that this will be new coach John Lilly’s first class since taking the job at Carolina. While this last class has some guys who fit this offense well, you know that Lilly wants to be able to bring in a guy that fits the way he recruits the position, so it feels like he will be pushing hard to land one in this class that can contribute if needed. Lilly’s first offer when he took the job was 3✮ Miles Campbell from Douglasville, GA and one would think he is the primary focus right now at the position. 3✮ in-state player Bryson Nesbit is another name to keep an eye on, especially with the damage the team has already done so far, and 3✮ Robbie Ouzts is another name to keep in mind.
2. Nose Tackle
The nose tackle spot isn’t as thin as once thought, but this is still an area that the Tar Heels need to keep adding to talent and depthwise. The Tar Heels have four guys that will likely battle for reps at the nose tackle spot in 2020, but only two truly fit the mold of what they are looking for in a nose tackle. In an ideal situation, the Tar Heels would be able to add another defensive tackle in this class, allowing Kedrick Bingley-Jones to slide back to the 4i-technique spot that he seems like a better overall fit at. The Tar Heels have a few targets at the position right now, with 4✮ Payton Page, an in-state player who the Tar Heels have been in a fierce battle for for a while, being the headliner. There are some rumors, though, that the Tar Heels may be backing off of him a bit, so keep an eye on fellow 4✮ Tyleik Williams, a player who fits what the Tar Heels want in the middle and one the staff has already built a solid relationship with. 3✮ Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins is also a name to watch, although he doesn’t seem to be tied to the Tar Heels nearly as much as the other two are.
3. Offensive Tackle
This is not a major need, but there is still some limited depth here that warrants this being a need. The Tar Heels already have the extremely talented 4✮ tackle Eli Sutton already committed in the class, but there are plenty of other targets that the Tar Heels are still in a good position with at this point. In-state 4✮ Colby Smith is probably the primary target of the class right now, especially after he placed the Heels in his top five, but there are rumors that 4✮ Virginia-based tackle Logan Taylor has been close to committing to Carolina as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Florida 3✮ Austin Barber is another name that has been closely tied to the Tar Heels so far in his recruitment and don’t count out 3✮ Andrew Canelas, another in-state prospect, if the three primary targets fall through.
Zack’s Biggest Needs
1. Outside Linebacker
With the inception of Jay Bateman’s 3-4 defense last season, outside linebacker or edge rusher players schematically factor in more heavily than under the previous coaching staff. This past season, UNC arguably lacked the talent and depth to rotate and played three guys primarily in Tomon Fox, Tyrone Hopper, and Allen Cater. Allen Cater’s departure leaves five scholarship OLBs on the roster: the aforementioned Fox and Hopper, both redshirt seniors, the redshirt sophomore Chris Collins, and the true freshmen duo of Desmond Evans and Kaimon Rucker. While Tomon Fox is a steady producer and the young players do have some buzz, reinforcements will be needed in order to play two outside linebackers in pass rush situations, rotate to keep guys fresh, and maintain proper depth. UNC already has a potential outside linebacker target committed in 4✮ Gabe Stephens, out of Mountain Island Charter in Mount Holly, NC, but would ideally add another to compliment him. UNC’s top remaining outside linebacker target is 4✮ Zaire Patterson, out of Winston-Salem Prep in Winston Salem, NC, and brings a traditional long and lean frame to pair with burst and technique. UNC is the team recruiting him the hardest currently but Zaire has national aspiration, naming Clemson and Alabama as his co-leaders. Current intel suggests Alabama would not look to accept his commitment at this time but with the recent decommitment of 5✮ SDE Korey Foreman, Clemson’s interest has naturally increased and will keep Zaire interested for the time being. I like UNC’s chances the most, given all factors involved, to add depth to its thinnest position.
2. Tight End
Tight end play did not generate a ton of buzz in UNC’s first year under OC Phil Longo but served a key role nonetheless in the team’s run game and as short-yardage passing targets. With departures from Carl Tucker and Jake Bargas, UNC returns only two scholarship tight ends in redshirt senior Garrett Walston and redshirt freshman Kamari Morales. UNC added two tight ends in the 2020 class in John Copenhaver and Kendall Karr but that’s still only 4 guaranteed tight ends on the roster. 2020 signee Jefferson Boaz is the wildcard here; playing QB in high school, his size and frame lean towards tight end, making him an option at both spots. The unknown surrounding Boaz’s ultimate position leaves a need for one addition to this group. New UNC tight ends coach John Lilly has zeroed in on 3✮ Miles Campbell, out of Douglasville, GA, as his primary target, due to his stocky frame, long arms, and aggression. Campbell is in the early stages of his recruitment, with Georgia Tech, FSU, Tennessee and NC State also vying for his signature. 3✮ Bryson Nesbit, out of South Mecklenburg in Charlotte, NC, was Tim Brewster’s top choice, as a more athletic receiver for the tight end spot. Nesbit has strong ties to South Carolina, as his parents are both alumni, but UNC had some good progress early on.
3. Blue Chip Players (4-5 ✮ Players)
It was difficult to come up with a legit need here: Mack Brown has done a great job in his first 3 classes to inject talent and depth onto this UNC roster to the point that no need could be described as “glaring.” The next step, however, in program building is winning recruiting battles over elite programs and signing top tier players. UNC has already won a few of those battles in 2021, mainly QB Drake Maye, DE Keeshawn Silver, and ILB Raneria Dillworth, but there are quite a few elite prospects remaining on the board that the staff would take regardless of need. 5✮ APB Will Shipley has been among UNC’s top running back targets for a good while and saw their chances rise with the addition of several other high-profile offensive commits. Despite the staff’s efforts, Clemson and Notre Dame are seen as a close #1 and #2 in this race and UNC has limited time to push. 5✮ CB Tony Grimes will remain open until his Dec. 1st commitment date but UGA and UNC are the consensus top two in this recruitment. UNC has a lot going for it: proximity, growing national relevance, great relationships with Mack Brown and Dré Bly. However, UGA has made Grimes one of their top priorities in their 2021 class and the Bulldogs rarely miss in these situations. Regardless, I feel UNC has a great shot. Finally, 4✮ DT Payton Page has UNC in his top three, alongside Clemson and Tennessee. Clemson has been the favorite for a while and Tennessee has made a little noise but I still think UNC has a chance, as there’s a lot of noise behind the scenes that the three teams are still evaluating him and determining their level of interest.