The 2021 early signing period came to a close on Friday evening, as the Tar Heels seemingly wrapped up an 18-man class that ranks 14th in the overall recruiting rankings according to 247Sports Composite team rankings. In Mack Brown’s post-signing day press conference, he didn’t say that the class was officially closed, but he did say that there were a few spots open for potential transfers. With no true connections seeming to be in place with the current unsigned prospects, the staff’s focus has all but turned solely on the 2022 trail.
The Tar Heels added their first commitment to the class on Saturday in 4✮ WR Tychaun Chapman to get the class started and two other major targets are set to announce their commitments in the near future. With that, it’s time to take a look at our ten most important targets for the Tar Heels to land in the 2022 cycle.
1. 5✮ OT Zach Rice- Liberty Christian Academy (Lynchburg, VA)
It feels weird to say that a 5✮ prospect is the most important prospect in a class, but the current outlook at offensive tackle and the lack of other targets here puts him at the top. The team has already established a really strong relationship with both Rice and his family and despite COVID, he has been on campus multiple times. The staff will have their hands full in this one, but as we’ve seen with guys like Tony Grimes and Drake Maye in the past two years, Mack Brown and his staff are much more equipped to handle these battles than the previous staff. The offensive line will see a lot leave after the conclusion of the 2021 season and this is still a unit that will be looking to add the type of talent that will allow them to compete with the likes of the nation’s top tier teams. Rice would help them take another step closer and it’s nowhere near a stretch to say it could happen at this point.
2. 4✮ CB Tayon Holloway- Green Run (Virginia Beach, VA)
As we talked about above, Holloway is set to commit and landing him would be huge for the Tar Heels. Cornerback is a position that you can never seem to have enough depth and talent at and the Tar Heels did a great job at this spot in the 2021 class. With the potential that Storm Duck could leave early at season’s end and Trey Morrison potentially departing, this is a spot where the Tar Heels will need to add at least one commitment in this class. Holloway seems like a near lock at this point and this would be a huge commitment for multiple reasons, including important momentum in the crucial state of Virginia.
3. 5✮ DT Travis Shaw- Grimsley (Greensboro, NC)
The Tar Heels did a great job of building a fence around the state of North Carolina in the 2021 class, but they were not able to keep the top prospect in the state at home, something they’ll look to change in the 2022 class. Shaw has been a priority since the minute that this staff stepped on campus in this cycle and he will continue to be that, especially with the Tar Heels still in search of those two gap defensive tackles that can handle a lot in the middle of this defense. The Tar Heels have scored some big wins on the trail over teams like Alabama, Penn State and even Ohio State, but they haven’t been able to beat out Clemson just yet. That will have to be the case here is this battle and this is one that seems to be a more winnable one than the ones in the past with the reputation that the team has developed in the state.
4. 4✮ OLB Malaki Hamrick- Shelby (Shelby, NC) Another position where the Tar Heels are looking to continue to add depth and improve the overall talent is at edge rusher and that will be a priority once again in the 2022 cycle. Hamrick is one of the best fits for that position and is an in-state prospect who grew up a Tar Heel fan and is a vocal leader amongst the state’s prospects in the class. This is one recruitment that the Tar Heels have a distinct advantage in and should be able to close out at some point. The sooner they get it sealed, the more benefits it may have.
5. 4✮ RB Omarion Hampton- Cleveland (Clayton, NC)
The Tar Heels will likely continue to stick with a two back rotation after Michael Carter and Javonte Williams leave campus and Hampton should be the Tar Heels most important target at the position in this cycle. He plays with a physical edge, similar to the one that Williams has made the staff and fans fall in love with over the past couple of years. He combines that with fantastic speed to make him one of the most complete backs in this 2022 class. Add in the fact that he is an in-state prospect with not a ton of other high end offers and this is one recruitment that it would be nice to see the Tar Heels win.
6. 4✮ OLB Jalon Walker- Salisbury (Salisbury, NC)
This another in-state battle where the Tar Heels would have to beat out Clemson for a commitment from a top 50 overall prospect. Walker is one of the most versatile linebackers in the class, covering sideline-to-sideline without issue and also being a weapon in coverage. Walker seems to have a solid relationship with the staff and this will be another chance for the staff to continue their building of the fence around the state of North Carolina. Keeping Clemson and Ohio State from plucking him away will be a tough task, especially if they can’t get him on campus again before his decision, but this is one that the staff should fight hard for.
7. 4✮ RB George Pettaway- Nansemond-Suffolk Academy (Suffolk, VA)
Pettaway is another one of those coveted Virginia-based recruits that the Tar Heels will be pushing hard to add to this class. Pettaway is another highly-rated player that the Tar Heels have a really strong relationship with early on. Pettaway might have the best pure skill set of this amazing group of running back targets in this cycle, headlined by his fantastic vision and cutback ability and landing him would give the Tar Heels someone who looks like he could contribute right away and would only further their relationships in the talent-rich Tidewater region of Virginia.
8. 4✮ WR Dakota Twitty- Thomas Jefferson Academy (Mooresboro, NC)
Wide receiver is another loaded position in this 2022 cycle, especially in state, but we’ll give Twitty the advantage over some of the other here because of his size and red zone ability. With Chapman already committed to the class, Twitty would be a nice compliment to him as someone who can climb the ladder and make plays on the football. The Tar Heels recruiting strategy under Phil Longo has been to bring in at least three receivers per class and that likely won’t change in this cycle. The Tar Heels have a good relationship with both Twitty and his family and his skill set fits exactly what the Tar Heels are still looking for at receiver in this class.
9. 4✮ S Sherrod Covil- Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, VA)
Adding a versatile player like Covil is never a bad thing, especially with the attrition that the unit saw this season, leaving the future depth a little thinner than originally was expected. Covil can succeed both in the box and out and has a strong ability to cover 1-on-1, something that is needed in Jay Bateman’s defensive scheme. Bateman will also like his aggressive mindset as a blitzer that makes him one of the most complete safeties in this class. This is yet another big target from the state of Virginia that the Tar Heels have already developed a very strong relationship with early on in his recruitment and is one that would be great to see the Tar Heels finish off with a commitment.
10. 4✮ DT Santana Hopper- Shelby (Shelby, NC)
As we talked about with Shaw, the Tar Heels are still in search of talent and depth in the middle of their defensive line and Hopper is one of the top targets in this 2022 class. He, like his teammate Hamrick, has a strong affinity for the Tar Heels and will be one of the top players in the state overall in the cycle. Landing him would not only give the Tar Heels a nice fit for the middle of their defensive line, but would continue to strengthen the school’s ties to one of the state’s most consistent college producers.
Other Names to Know: 4✮ RB Michael Allen, 4✮ RB Damari Alston, 4✮ WR Shaleak Knotts, 3✮ WR Mekhi Wall, 4✮ ILB Xavier Simmons, 3✮ OLB Albert Redd, 3✮ CB Ryland Gandy