Updated: Jan 5
Don’t get me wrong. What Mack Brown has done in Chapel Hill since returning to his old stomping grounds back in November is simply amazing. He has re-energized a dormant fanbase who has watched their team finish a combined 5-18 in last two seasons, scrambled to help the 2019 recruiting class recover from a slow start under the previous coaching staff and gotten the 2020 recruiting class into the top ten in the country. With that being said, there is another hurdle that Brown must clear that no other coach in the modern recruiting era has been able to clear.
Landing talent has never been a huge issue for Heels, even late in the Fedora era. The problem has been that talent under performing once on campus. To show you the depth of the issue, let take a look at 247Sports top 20 recruits since it’s culmination back in 2000 and how their careers in Chapel Hill turned out.
No. 1: DT Marvin Austin
The No. 4 overall prospect in the 2007 class, Austin is easily the Heels highest-rated recruit of the modern recruiting era. While Austin is remembered for a much different reason than play on the field, many will remember him as an underachiever when he was on the field. In his three years that he was eligible at Carolina, Austin played in 38 games, tallying 106 total tackles, just 13.5 of which were for a loss and 9.0 of which were sacks. Austin would be selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, but would last just three years in the league.
No. 2: WDE Donte Paige-Moss
247Sports Composite: .9876
A top 30 recruit and the headliner for the Heels in the 2009 class, Paige-Moss never quite lived up to his hype in his time on campus. He played sparingly during his freshman season before having a very solid sophomore season during the tumultuous 2010 season in which he finished with 13.5 tackles for a loss and 7.0 sacks. However, his junior season was lackluster at best and his decision to leave early left many scratching their heads. Paige-Moss finished his Carolina career with 83 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and 11.0 sacks in 34 career games. Paige-Moss would go undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft and would never make an appearance on an NFL field, essentially ending his football career.
No. 3: WR Dwight Jones
247Sports Composite: .9866
One of the most successful players on this list, Jones had a very good career in Chapel Hill. Jones had a slow start to his career, only catching five passes for 21 yards in his first two years on campus. Jones would finish his career with two of the best receiving seasons in Carolina history, catching 147 passes for 2,142 yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Jones’ career would conclude with him finishing with 152 receptions for 2,163 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jones would enter the NFL as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft, but would never take an NFL regular season snap.
No. 4: OT James Hurst
247Sports Composite: .9816
Between his college and NFL careers, Hurst is easily the most successful player on this list. Hurst was the headline for the Heels 2010 class and had a phenomenal career in a Tar Heel uniform. As a freshman in 2010, Hurst was a Freshman All-American and carried that throughout his career, landing on the second team All-ACC as a sophomore and earning first-team honors during his junior and senior seasons. In his four seasons on campus, Hurst started a record 48 games, grading out at an 83 percent or above in each of his four seasons and highlighting his career with a shutdown of the highest rated prospects in NFL Draft history in Jadeveon Clowney. Hurst went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, but was signed as an undrafted free agent almost immediately after by the Baltimore Ravens. In his first five years of his career, Hurst has played in 74 games, starting 42 of them, including the last 26 games that he has been active for. Hurst is expected to continue that streak this season.
No. 5: WR Jheranie Boyd
247Sports Composite: .9780
Part of that exclusive 2009 class, Boyd was another top 50 player in the class, but never lived up to his lofty expectations. Boyd played in 12 of 13 games as a freshman, catching 12 passes for 214 yards and 4 touchdowns, but was never able to expand upon those numbers in his remaining three seasons on campus. Boyd finished his Carolina career with just 44 career receptions for 860 yards for 13 touchdowns in 44 career games. Boyd would go undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft and would never make an NFL regular season roster.
No. 6: RB Elijah Hood
247Sports Composite: .9773
The top recruit of the Larry Fedora, Hood had a very solid, but up-and-down career while at Carolina. Hood saw limited action as a true freshman in 2014, but broke out as a sophomore, where he ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns on 218 carries in 14 games. Big things were expected once again out of Hood as a junior, but instead, he struggled with consistency and lost carries to hardworking senior T.J. Logan. Still, he was able to finish with 1,000 yards of total offense, 858 of which can on the ground. Hood would leave for the 2017 NFL Draft following his junior season, closing his Tar Heel career with 430 carries for 2,580 yards and 29 touchdowns. Hood would go undrafted and has yet to make a regular season roster in his first two seasons, the most recent of which due to a knee injury late in the preseason, but will have a chance again this August.
No. 7: OG Calvin Darity
247Sports Composite: .9743
The headliner of one of John Bunting’s final classes, Darity had a solid career in Chapel Hill, but never quite became that dominant offensive lineman that many were hoping. Darity was unable to play until his redshirt sophomore season due to a recovery from a broken foot in the spring of 2005 following a redshirt season in 2004. From that point on, Darity would start 36 of the final 37 games of his Tar Heel career, grading out in the mid 70 percentile in both of his final two seasons. Darity would earn honorable mention All-ACC as a senior, as well. Darity would never make a run at an NFL career following his graduation in 2009, but did play in the AIFA with the Fayetteville Guard for former Tar Heel receiver Marcus Wall.
No. 8: SDE Jocques Dumas
247Sports Composite: .9739
Carolina’s top player in the 2001 recruiting class, Dumas was never able to make a sizeable impact in Chapel Hill. Dumas’ most successful season came as a sophomore where he finished with 38 total tackles, 4.0 of which were for a loss and 2.0 of which were sacks. Dumas would fall off during his junior season before eventually moving to tight end for his senior season. Dumas would finish his Carolina career with just 62 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks in 36 career games played defensively. Dumas did not even attempt to enter his name into the NFL Draft in 2005, ending his football career.
No. 9: WDE Jalen Dalton
247Sports Composite: .9738
Fedora’s highest-rated defensive recruit, Dalton was never able to have a major impact, due to his motor and on-field discipline issues that combined with injury issues. Dalton showed flashes throughout his career, particularly as a junior, but was never able to become a consistent starter over his four seasons in Chapel Hill. Dalton rounded out his Tar Heel career with 92 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Dalton will attempt to pursue an NFL career and is eligible to be selected in Thursday’s draft, but is expected to go undrafted.
No. 10: OT William Barnes
247Sports Composite: .9732
The highest rated player in Fedora’s final class, Barnes is still early in his career, but is not off to a flying start. As a true freshman, Barnes played in just four games before redshirting after he was beaten out for the starting right guard job by Billy Ross. This offseason, Barnes was with the No. 1’s to begin spring camp, but the emergence of his high school teammate, Ed Montilus and fellow redshirt freshman Joshua Ezeudu, combined with the fact that he hasn’t quite been as dominant as many thought he could be, means he may not start again this season.
No. 11: WR Jordyn Adams
247Sports Composite: .9707
He was the headliner of Fedora’s final class until Barnes’ commitment, but was still expected to be a big-time contributor for the Heels as a true freshman and beyond. Unfortunately, Adams would never even suit up for a practice in Chapel Hill, as he would be drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first round in June and would choose to play baseball. Adams is currently a member of the Angels’ Class A affiliate Burlington Bees.
No. 12: WR Mike Mason
247Sports Composite: .9661
A highly touted receiver that was part of the wide receiver unit labeled the “Big Three”, Mason was never able to live up to expectations in his time on campus. Mason got his career off to a solid start as a freshman, catching 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, but was never able to build upon that in his final two seasons at Carolina. In his final two seasons, Mason never finished with more than 400 yards or one touchdown. Mason was dismissed from the team following his junior season for a violation of team rules. Mason would sit out the 2006 season and would then go undrafted in the 2007 NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns would sign Mason shortly afterward, but his NFL career would span just three games before a severe knee injury ended his football career.
No. 13: PRO Bryn Renner
247Sports Composite: .9642
Renner is the highest-rated quarterback to ever commit to Carolina and had a fantastic career despite playing for three different head coaches in his four college seasons. In his two seasons under Butch Davis, Renner played in just three games, throwing two total passes in 2010 after redshirting in 2009. Renner got his first start in 2011 under Everett Withers, throwing for 3,086 yards and posting a 26-13 TD-INT ratio while completing 68.3% of his passes. Renner would play his final two seasons under Fedora, throwing for 5,130 yards and posting 38-12 TD-INT ratio, while completing 65.5% of his passes in 19 starts. Renner’s college career would come to an end in the seventh game his senior year after a shoulder injury cost against the rival NC State Wolfpack. Renner would finish his Tar Heel career with 8,221 yards, a 64-25 TD-INT ratio, and a 66.5% career completion percentage. Renner went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft and was out of the league after three years bouncing around on practice squads.
No. 14: OT Kiaro Holts
247Sports Composite: .9636
The top player in Everett Withers’ only recruiting class at Carolina, Holts career definitely did not go as planned. As a freshman, Holts played in eight games, starting one, but was active for just one game as a sophomore in 2012 due to an undisclosed injury. Holts would return in 2013, but played in only nine of the Heels 13 games and started just two games before decide to graduate and forego his senior season, ending his football career. Holts played in just 18 games in his Carolina career, starting just three.
No. 15: ILB Travis Hughes
247Sports Composite: .9626
Another highly-touted member of Withers only Tar Heel recruiting class, Hughes took a while to reach his potential. In his first two years on campus, Hughes was active for all 25 games, but tallied just 51 total tackles, including 2.0 tackles for a loss. Hughes stepped his play up when he became a full-time starter prior to the 2013 season. Over his final two seasons on campus, Hughes would put up some solid, but not astounding, numbers defensively (141 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for a loss and 1.0 sack in 23 games). Even with the solid finish to his college career, Hughes went undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, but did see a short preseason stint with the Cleveland Browns before ending his football career later that season.
No. 16: ATH Greg Little
247Sports Composite: .9614
One of the more difficult careers to judge, Little was another member of that infamous 2007 class that entered campus with lofty expectations. Little’s first two seasons in Chapel Hill saw him battle for reps in a crowded backfield, where he ran for 639 yards and five touchdowns on 137 carries in those two seasons. Prior to his junior season, Little would make the move to wide receiver, where he would go on to lead every major receiving category, catching 62 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns. Little would return senior season, but would be deemed ineligible for the entirety of his senior season prior to the opener against LSU. Little would be selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, and got off to a successful start to his NFL career, catching 155 of his 312 targets for 1,821 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with Cleveland. Since 2013, though, Little has made just one 53-man roster. He will is expected to try and make a roster again this upcoming preseason.
No. 17: PRO Mike Paulus
247Sports Composite: .9592
Paulus was another member of that 2007 class, but did even last to that infamous 2010 season. Paulus redshirted in his first season on campus and saw limited action as a redshirt freshman, throwing just 13 passes, completing four for 22 yards and posting a 0-2 TD-INT ratio in mop-up duties behind T.J. Yates. Paulus would never take another snap in a Tar Heel uniform, transferring to William & Mary for the 2010 season, where he struggled to win the job outright in his final two seasons of eligibility.
No. 18: DUAL Sam Howell
247Sports Composite: .9582
One recruiting class and Mack Brown already has a name on this list. Howell, the headliner of Brown first class back in Chapel Hill, enrolled early and took part in spring camp, closing it down with a strong performance in the spring game. He will battle for the starting quarterback job in fall camp, looking to become the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since T.J. Yates back in 2007.
No. 19: SDE Brandon Willis
247Sports Composite: .9473
Maybe the biggest disappointment on this entire list, Willis never suited up for a regular season game, transferring following his true freshman spring camp. Willis did transfer for legitimate, following his single father to Los Angeles after a job transfer during the summer of 2010. Willis would transfer back to Carolina in May of 2011 before eventually transferring back to UCLA in August. Willis finally became eligible in 2012 for the Bruins, where he would play in just 16 career games and total just seven career tackles. Willis would finally land on his feet as a graduate transfer at UNLV in 2014, where he would become a key starter for the Rebels. Willis’ football would come to an end following that 2014 season.
No. 20: DT Tydreke Powell
247Sports Composite: .9470
Another member of that 2007 class, Powell was expected to team with Austin to form that unstoppable force in the middle. That never came to fruition, but Powell did eventually close out his career with two solid seasons following a slow start. Powell would finish his Tar Heel career with 136 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks, with a bulk of that success coming in his expanded roles in 2010 and 2011 (93 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in those two seasons). Powell would go undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft and would never it further than a preseason roster.
Just by looking at this list, you can see the development of this talent hasn’t been there. It’s Mack Brown’s job to change that. Recruiting the talent here is one thing. Mack is doing that with ease. Now it’s about taking those talented players and making them into the types of players they’re upside suggest they can be.