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Heel Tough Blog: Most Underrated Players of the Last 15 Years

Everyone remembers the names like Kelvin Bryant and Greg Ellis. Dré Bly, Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers are names that are known not only by Tar Heel and ACC fans, but general fans of college football. Lately, guys like Ryan Switzer and Sam Howell have been the names that have drawn the bulk of the headlines and the attention of the national pundits. However, a couple of weeks ago our writers here at the Heel Tough Blog were tasked with piecing together a list of their most underrated players of the last 15 years. Here is a look at each guy's top five underrated players during that time period and some honorable mentions.


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5. Zack Pianalto

Pianalto seems to be forgotten when you talk about top Tar Heel tight ends, but here was key piece of the Tar Heel offense for the four years of the Butch Davis era. He was a four year producer for the team from 2007 to 2010 and while he may not have found the endzone that often, he still put up very solid numbers in his time with the Tar Heels. In his career, he caught 94 passes for 918 yards and three touchdowns, numbers that rank him second all time among Tar Heels tight ends in both receptions and receiving yards. He was also a good blocker for the Tar Heels, helping pave the way for guys like Shaun Draughn, Ryan Houston, Johnny White to have some nice success on the ground. The biggest issue and the reason he isn’t recognized highly as he should be is because of his injury issues that cost him bulks of each of his final three seasons on campus. Of the 51 games the Tar Heels played in his career, he was only active for 34 of the games. He missed the final six games of his productive senior season, one that was setting up to be a career year.

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4. Mark Paschal

The Tar Heels had some tremendous linebacker that came through campus during the Butch Davis era, led by guys like Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter and Zach Brown. Paschal is the guy that everyone seems to forget from that group, though. He was the guy who set the table for that great run of linebackers, though, with the strong two years to close his career under Butch Davis. In his final two seasons with the Heels, Paschal totaled 156 tackles for 13.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks. As a senior in 2008, he was second on the team in tackles with 103 total tackles, trailing only Quan Sturdivant as they combined to allow just 139.4 rushing yards per game. He also was a phenomenal coverage linebacker in his final two seasons, pulling down three interceptions to close his career. Paschal looked bound for at least an NFL training camp spot, but his career unfortunately came to an end with a spinal injury suffered in the game against NC State after he had played in 47 consecutive games.

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3. Dominique Green

The Tar Heels defense in the Larry Fedora era was a far cry from the defenses of the Butch Davis era, but one position group that saw good success during his time there. The defensive backfield was home to names like Tre Boston and M.J. Stewart, but there were a few names that snuck under the radar and had some very solid careers back there. The most underrated of the group has to be Green, though, who came to Carolina as a walk-on and ended up starting 38 games for the team in his four year career. After spending a semester at Hargrave Military Academy prior to arriving in Chapel Hill, Green started all 13 games of the 2013 season, posting a career high three interceptions and finishing the season sixth on the team in total tackles with 59. Over the next two seasons, Green would split his time at free safety with Sam Smiley, but would put up some solid numbers during that time. He returned to a full time starting role as a senior in 2016, starting all thirteen games on the way to finishing fifth on the team in tackles with 67 and recorded the Tar Heels only interception of the season against The Citadel, one that he took 58 yards to the house. Green's story of walk-on to starter was a common one under Fedora, as other walk-on’s like Mack Hollins and Cole Holcomb became productive members of the team during that time, too, but received far more recognition than Green did.

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2. Charles Brown

Another extremely successful four-year starter in the backfield is one of the key members of the Butch Davis secondaries. Deunta Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Kendric Burney were the big names that headlined the unit, but Brown was also a major part of the unit’s success in his time in Chapel Hill. From the word go, Brown was an important part of the defense, as he started nine of the twelve games on the outside or in the nickel and was extremely productive, totaling 59 tackles and two interceptions. He recorded similar or better numbers in his junior and senior year following a slower sophomore season that was a bit injury plagued. Brown finished his 204 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, eight interceptions and 19 pass breakups. It’s also worth noting that despite being suspended for the entirety of the 2010 season, Brown returned to provide senior leadership for Everett Withers’ defense in that 2011 season.

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1. Bug Howard

When you think of the reasons that Larry Fedora and the Tar Heel offense were able to help propel this team to 19 wins in 2015 and 2016 seasons combined, you think of names like Marquise Williams, Elijah Hood, Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins. However, a key contributor in that wide receiving corps along the way is my most underrated player here. Howard, like many of the others on this list, was a producer from word go, playing in all thirteen games as a true freshman in 2013, catching 22 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. He would top or equal those numbers in nearly every one of those categories in the next three seasons. His breakout season came as a senior, where he finished second on the team in both receptions (53) and receiving yards (827) and led the team in receiving touchdowns with eight. He really stepped up following Mack Hollins injury in the game against Miami that cost him the rest of the season, as he posted three straight 100 yard receiving games including the game against the Hurricanes where Hollins was injured, a game where he posted a career high in receptions and receiving yards. Howard ranks 12th all time in receiving yards in program history and is one of just thirteen receivers to reach the 2,000 yard mark. With the offensive weapons that the Tar Heels had during that stretch, it’s hard to recognize every one, but Howard is a player that definitely deserves more recognition.


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5. Des Lawrence

Lawrence was a four year defensive back at UNC, and was a big part of the 2015 that won the ACC Coastal, and played in the school’s only ACC Championship game in program history. He was one of the many defensive players that benefited from Gene Chizik being hired after the 2014 season finished with a humiliating loss to Rutgers. His freshman season, Lawrence didn't produce big numbers as he recorded just 8 total tackles, as playing was limited. His sophomore season, he appeared in 12 games, recorded 71 total tackles (45 solo), and grabbed his first career interception. That led to the 2015 season, which was the most productive of his career as Tar Heel. Lawrence recorded 59 total tackles, 12 fewer than his sophomore season, but he grabbed 2 more interceptions, and had 14 passes defended. The secondary was a strength for the team that season, and Lawrence was a big part of their success. His last season, saw another dip in production with just 37 total tackles, but he had 8 more passes defended, as many ACC quarterbacks didn’t throw his way. When you think of secondary play at UNC you often think of Dre Bly, Duenta Williams, Kendric Burney, and M.J. Stewart, and rightfully so, but Lawrence is often forgotten about, in large part to the defenses he played on, and the overall limited success the program experienced while he was on campus.

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4. Shaun Draughn

When Butch Davis took over the program in 2007, he made it known that UNC was going to be a run first football, with physical backs in the backfield. Carolina already had bruiser Ryan Houston in the fold, but needed another tailback to help carry the load, which brings us to Shaun Draughn, who actually switched from defensive back to running back after his freshman season. His sophomore campaign, which would turn out to be his most productive, saw him carry the ball 198 times for 866 yards, and three touchdowns. He even caught 16 passes for 81 yards, and another touchdown, as he appeared in all 13 games. Many believed he was primed for a hge junior season, but injuries slowed him, as he played in only 10 games, rushing for 567 yards on 124 carries.He did improve his pass catching ability, bringing in 21 catches for 125 yards. His senior season was supposed to be a big year for the program, as UNC was nationally ranked in the preseason, and many believed they could win the ACC, and even be a dark horse for the BCS national title. Then right before the season opener against LSU, more than half of the starters were deemed ineligible due to recruiting allegations that would set the program back years. Draughn was one of the few deemed eligible to play, and he was healthy enough to appear in all 12 games. He rushed for 637 yards, on 129 carries, and a career best 6 touchdowns. While Draughn never rushed for over 1,000 yards in a single season, and his career average of 4.6 yards per carry isn’t sexy, Draughn was a productive player for UNC when he was on the field.


3. Zack Pianalto

The former tight end becomes the first Tar Heel to appear on both of our lists, and rightfully so. Pianalto was your typical tight end back in those days, in terms of playing with his hand in the dirt, and did as much run blocking as he did receiving. He only played a full season once (as a freshman), as injuries really derailed his career at UNC. That freshman season, Pianalto grabbed 24 catches for 204 yards, and had become a safety net for fellow freshman quarterback T.J. Yates. His sophomore season, he only played in 7 games, catching 7 passes for just 69 yards, but he did catch his first career touchdown. He bounced back in a huge way for his junior campaign, catching 33 passes, for 334 yards, and one touchdown in just 9 games. He was proving himself to be a big part of the offense entering that 2010 season, when injuries struck again, limiting Zack to just 6 games. Nonetheless, he caught 30 more passes, for 311 yards, and one score. Injuries derailed what could have been a special career for Pianalto, but we’ll always have his game-winning touchdown catch at UConn, as a reminder of the player he was when he was on the field.

UNC Athletics

2. Jeff Schoettmer

Larry Fedora had a knack for taking walk-ons, and turning them into productive players in his program, which is exactly what Jeff Schoettmer was at Carolina. Jeff had no offers after his finished playing his high school football in the great state of Texas, and found himself at UNC as a walk-on in 2012. He saw limited action as a freshman, but recorded 23 total tackles. His next two seasons, where he was listed as a safety, Schoettmer recorded 85 and 74 total tackles respectively. While he lacked the size and strength you see from today’s linebacker, he had a knack for finding the football and making plays, which the defense sorely needed, as they had a difficult time stopping anyone under Vic Koenning. His junior season saw him intercept two passes, and return them both for touchdowns, making it that much harder to play a player on scholarship over him. His final season in Chapel Hill was his best, and most special yet. He was the heart and soul of that defense, which helped get Carolina to the 2015 ACC Championship game. Schoettmer totaled 97 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and snagged 2 more interceptions. He also forced 2 fumbles, as the defense lived and died on takeaways that particular season. For his career, Schoettmer recorded 279 total tackles, (154 solo, 125 assisted), 19.0 tackles for his, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 defensive touchdowns. Schoettmer often gets over looked because there’s been so much talent from that position since Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill, but he’s one of the more productive players in recent memory.

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1. Charles Brown

If you are a listener to the Heel Tough Blog Podcast, you’ve heard me talk at length about how much I love Charles Brown to this day, and it’s not just because he leveled a Miami receiver early in his career. Brown was a part of the stocked secondary that included Kendric Burney, Duenta Williams, Trimane Goddard, Da’Norris Searcy, etc. As freshman Brown totaled 59 total tackles, and 2 interceptions, which one of those he returned for a touchdown. His sophomore season saw a dip in production, as he only appeared in 10 games, totaled 26 total tackles, and one more interception. He responded in a huge way in 2009, appearing in all 13 games, recorded 66 total tackles, to go along with 3 more interceptions. Brown would miss all of the 2010 season, as he was a part of the recruiting allegations that derailed that team’s chances at doing something special. He returned for 2011 under Everett Withers, where he had 53 total tackles, and 2 more interceptions. Despite his career 8 interceptions, Brown is often forgotten about, because of all the defensive talent that was in the program in that time, and his role in the investigation. But make no mistake, Brown’s impact was felt during his four seasons, and he’s forever etched in the heart of this particular UNC football fan.

Honorable Mentions

Carolina Blitz

Malik Simmons

Simmons wasn’t quite as decorated as Green was who made Anthony’s list, but he played in 48 games and started 23 in his career, developing into a major contributor in the nickel late in his career. He finished his career with 121 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and 11 pass deflections, thriving in that final season as part of an extremely talented trio involving him, Lawrence and M.J. Stewart.

Kevin C. Cox- Getty Images

Brooks Foster

Foster was a dual sports athlete who didn’t record a catch until his third season on campus, but once he hauled in that first catch he didn’t look back. With the success of Hakeem Nicks catching the attention and Brandon Tate’s added special teams ability giving him more recognition, Foster was the guy that seems to be forgotten. In the final three seasons of his career, he never finished a season with less than 29 receptions, 344 receiving yards or two touchdowns. Foster finished his career with 97 catches for 1237 yards and six touchdowns.


Hilee Taylor

Taylor is one of those John Bunting holdovers who thrived under Butch Davis. Taylor started his career with a banging, setting the school record for sacks in a true freshman season with 4.5. After a quiet sophomore season, he bounced back with a solid junior year before putting together one of the best years amongst defensive linemen since the turn of the century as a senior in 2007, finishing with 49 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

ESPN Charlotte

Bentley Spain

A guy that doesn’t seem to get as much credit as other decorated tackles like James Hurst and even Charlie Heck, Spain is the guy who anchored the Tar Heel offensive line during two of the most successful offensive seasons in program history in 2015 and 2016. Injuries prevented him from being on the field as much as some of those other guys, but when he was on the field he was one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the ACC.


E.J. Wilson

Wilson is another productive defensive linemen from the Butch Davis era that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough for his role in the success of the Tar Heel defense. In his final three seasons on campus, Wilson started 37 games, tallying 131 total tackles, 26.0 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and six forced fumbles. He had an outstanding senior season, as he finished with a career-high 49 total tackles and 12.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks while also forcing five fumbles.

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