The Tar Heel defense has seen another mass exodus of players in the past week following the conclusion of spring practice. Today, the team lost their most significant piece of this second transfer window.
Adam Smith reported on Monday afternoon that junior defensive back Ja’Qurious Conley has entered his name into the transfer portal. He was battling for reps at the safety position in the spring, looking to earn back a starting job after missing all but two games last season recovering from an ACL and MCL tear suffered at the end of the 2021 season.
In his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, Conley was a major contributor to the defensive backfield. He made his first career start in the Orange Bowl to close out the 2020 season but finished that year with 35 total tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one pass breakup. In 2021, he made the move to safety before the season and started ten of the eleven games that he played in before suffering his major knee injury against Wofford on a kick return. He finished the season with 46 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
This might be the most significant loss to the transfer portal this entire offseason for the Tar Heels. When healthy, Conley showed in 2021 that he has what it takes to be a very solid safety and he was tremendous in the reps that he played in the nickel spot. When you couple his departure with fellow veteran safety Don Chapman, this unit is going to be relying on the transfers they added to that group this offseason to contribute heavily.
Those exits mean that four players are left battling for roles at the safety positions. Will Hardy and Giovanni Biggers are the incumbents from late last season and look to be in a prime position to start there again this season. Georgia Tech transfer Derrik Allen, who was with the team in the spring, and Georgia State transfer Antavious Lane, who will join the team in June, will be pushing them, although Lane could be splitting time between safety and nickel.
This one stings, especially knowing that Conley’s career trajectory could have been much different if he doesn’t suffer that injury on a meaningless kick return against an FCS opponent.