2020 is setting up to be one of the most exciting seasons for the North Carolina Tar Heels in a while. There are many different reasons why, but one of the biggest ones has to be the fact that this sets up to be one of the deepest teams, at least in terms of talent, in recent memory. While there is good depth spread out around this team, some are much deeper than others. Here’s how we rank the depth of each of the major position groups (minus special teams) for the 2020 season.
8. Tight Ends
Senior Garrett Walston will headline the thinnest and least experienced group on this team. Last year, no Tar Heel tight end finished with more than 76 yards receiving for the entire season, so they will need more production from a group that simply hasn’t done that so far in their careers. Three freshmen will be battling for reps behind Walston, all of whom must grow up quickly. The loss of spring practice was a big blow for this position that will be looking for an uptick in production from a unit that struggled this past season.
Remember that this is about depth and not about talent. Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel do return, giving the Tar Heels a great combo in the middle, but last year, there wasn’t nearly enough depth behind them. It’ll be more of the same behind them this year, as only sophomore Eugene Asante has any significant experience. The return of Matthew Flint from injury and addition of true freshman Ethan West definitely give the Tar Heels some talented depth options, but they simply don’t have any experience. The unit will also have the task of replacing Dominique Ross, a job that looked poised to be Khadry Jackson’s, especially with the cancellation of spring practice hindering Cedric Gray’s push as an early enrollee. This is one area that the Tar Heels need more time to build depth on the recruiting trail, though, as the three-deep will likely still contain a lot of walk-on flavor.
6. Running Backs
Like the linebackers, this is a unit that has plenty of talent at the top, but not much experience behind it. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams form one of college football’s most underrated running back tandem after both finished the 2019 season with over 1,000 yards of total offense. The loss of Antonio Williams is big, though, as he was very helpful late in the season when Javonte was banged up. Sophomore Josh Henderson is the favorite to take over, but his most significant playing time came in the fourth quarter of the Tar Heels blowout win over Mercer at the end of last season. True freshman D.J. Jones was an early enrollee, but the cancellation of spring hurts his chances to make an impact. That leaves fellow true freshman Elijah Green and walk-on British Brooks to round out this unit. While this unit is still in good shape, this is far from the deepest unit on this 2020 team.
5. Defensive Line
This is the position that has the most question marks in terms of proven talent, but there is more depth than you might notice here because of the work the staff has done in the last two recruiting cycles. Replacing Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford are difficult tasks, but there are talented options to do so. Senior Tomon Fox’s return gives them a solid leader and junior Raymond Vohasek and sophomore Tomari Fox, both of whom played a pretty significant role a year ago, will lead a talented group of players that will battle for reps at the 4i-tech defensive end spots. Kristian Varner and Kevin Hester Jr. were both players talked about as guys that will likely factor in after good offseason workout periods and veterans like Xach Gill and Lancine Turay also back to compete for reps. That doesn’t even take into account the loaded true freshman class that is packed with a lot of raw talent. Behind Tomon, there is a mix of experience with Tyrone Hopper, who back for his senior season, and talented names like Chris Collins and true freshman Desmond Evans. The concern, though, lies at nose tackle, where two true freshmen are going to be relied one to play big roles. Sophomore Jahlil Taylor will be back, but it will be a significant step up for him after Aaron Crawford dominated the snaps at nose tackle a year ago. That means Kedrick Bingley-Jones and Clyde Pinder Jr. will have to gain some confidence early with them both likely having to play a role this season. There are a lot of bodies, something that is a huge positive, but the lack of experience pushes them down this list.
It’s the first time in a few years that you can feel confident in the depth this unit possesses. It all begins with sophomore star Sam Howell, who has the starting spot on lockdown and is poised for one of the most special careers in Tar Heel football history. Unlike last year, though, there is some depth behind him, meaning Phil Longo will be able to use him in the run game and take a few more risks than he was late last season when walk-on Vincent Amendola was his backup. Sophomore Jace Ruder looks like he’ll be back from a knee injury that he suffered in the game against Appalachian State barring a setback in his recovery. Meanwhile, true freshman Jacolby Criswell has all the talent and fits the offense well enough that he could push Ruder for the backup job in fall camp. This unit is in as good of shape as it has been since Bryn Renner, Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky all shared a quarterback room in 2013.
3. Offensive Line
This is consistently one of the deepest units on the team each year and this year is no different. The Tar Heels lose just one starter from a year ago in Charlie Heck and Nick Polino departs, as well. Other than that, though, the unit is in phenomenal shape. Junior Jordan Tucker is back after starting every game a year ago, while sophomores Marcus McKethan and Brian Anderson both return, as well, after starting double games. Fellow sophomores Joshua Ezeudu and Ed Montilus split time at guard and both are capable of holding their own as starters if needed. Sophomore Asim Richards is the guy being looked at to take over at left tackle for Heck, but guys like redshirt freshman Triston Miller and true freshman Trey Zimmerman have the talent to make an impact. The depth on the interior is loaded with both talent and experience. Junior Billy Ross started every game back in 2018 and can play either guard spot if needed, while sophomore William Barnes is entering his third year in the program and is looking to break through if he has the opportunity. Redshirt freshman Ty Murray shined in his reps behind Anderson a year ago at center and looks capable of contributing if needed. The return of Wyatt Tunall from an injury that caused him to miss all of 2019 and the addition of four true freshmen continue to bolster an offensive line that could be a strength of this team for the next couple of years.
2. Wide Receivers
The Tar Heels wide receiving corps may very well be the deepest in the entire ACC. It starts with the pair of 1,000 yard receivers in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome who both are back to expand on huge 2019 seasons. Senior Beau Corrales is coming off of a strong junior campaign and will once again be a big part of this Tar Heel passing game. Fellow senior Rontavious Groves and junior Antoine Green will both be back rotational options after thriving in those roles a year ago. Early enrollee Josh Downs headlines a talented group of receivers that are coming in, all which have the talent and capability to make an early impact. Sophomore Emery Simmons and redshirt freshman Khafre Brown are second year players who are looking to breakout if they get the chance. The only reason that we go with the defensive backs over the wide receivers is because of the slight experience edge of the depth.
1. Defensive Backs
When was the last time that a defensive unit would be ranked this high on this list? The Tar Heels 2020 secondary might be the deepest defensive back unit since Butch Davis was the head coach of the Tar Heels, something Tar Heel fans should be ecstatic about. The Tar Heels will lose just one full-time starter and return an abundance of talent, most of whom have playing experience. The cornerback position is as deep as it has been in a very long time, with all but one contributor returning this year. Junior Trey Morrison and sophomore Storm Duck finished the season as the starters and both will be back this season to be major contributors again. Senior Patrice Rene will return from a knee injury that he suffered in the game against Miami, one that ended his season as he was looking to build upon a phenomenal 2018 season. Bryson Richardson will return from his own knee injury, although there is a possibility he might be needed at safety, and DeAndre Hollins also showed that he could hold his own this past season. The Tar Heels add reinforcements in junior Bryce Watts and sophomore Kyler McMichael, both of whom are eligible after sitting out 2019 after transferring to Carolina. At safety, Myles Wolfolk and Cam’Ron Kelly will both return from injury after looking strong in their time on the field in 2019. Both D.J. Ford and Don Chapman both started a significant number of games a year ago and should both be contributors again. Javon Terry, like Richardson, could be used all over the secondary, but was used last year at safety. There are also talented young options like sophomore Giovanni Biggers and true freshmen Cameron Roseman-Sinclair and Ja’Qurious Conley.