The Tar Heels offense that takes the field next Saturday for the program’s first Orange Bowl appearance ever won’t quite be as powerful as the one that led them there this season. After leading rusher Michael Carter and leading receiver Dyami Brown announced they were opting out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft on Tuesday, the Tar Heels found out on Saturday that they will also be without the second piece of their dynamic running back duo, as well.
Via his new Instagram account, junior running back Javonte Williams announced that he will be sitting out the Orange Bowl game and entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams has sailed up draft boards following his tremendous junior season, where he has some of the top numbers in all of college football. Williams ran for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns, the latter of which is tied for second in all of college football, and did so on just 157 carries. His 1,445 scrimmage yards are sixth in the country this season, while his 22 total touchdowns are second behind only Najee Harris and the most in a season in Tar Heel football history. Amazingly, this wasn’t enough for Williams to earn even first-team All-ACC honors, as he had to settle for second-team honors behind Carter and Clemson Travis Etienne and he was also passed over for Etienne by the media in the Doak Walker Award voting. He did grade out as Pro Football Focus’ top running back in the nation, posting the highest single-season score by a college running back since the site’s creation and will be remembered for one of the best single season rushing performances in Tar Heel football history.
With both Carter and Williams out of the Orange Bowl game, the Tar Heels backfield against the Aggies will be without a single player that has played more than 43 offensive snaps in their entire career. Not only will Carter and Williams be absent, but true freshman D.J. Jones will not be available either after a report from Tar Heel Illustrated about a lower-body injury suffered in the week between the Western Carolina and Miami games. That means that sophomore Josh Henderson, true freshman Elijah Green and junior walk-on British Brooks will be the three running backs available in this game. The Tar Heels will need their offensive line and passing game to step up in this one, but this is a good chance for some young talent to emerge in what now becomes an early opportunity for one of the three backs to establish some momentum ahead of what will be an extremely important and competitive battle in the offseason. Green shined in his most extensive action of the season against Western Carolina, when he ran for 43 yards on six carries, but this will be a much different challenge in this one. Still, if there is a running back from this stable to keep an eye on, it’s Green who’s speed can make him a weapon on the edge.
The Tar Heels will be without four extremely important members of this 2020 team in this one and there is still the possibility that Dazz Newsome could also choose to sit this one out at some point. Even if Newsome does play, though, this is a game where the Tar Heels will be seen as heavy underdogs heading in and the main focus will be on getting some future contributors some important reps.