The focus of the Tar Heels football program this week is on one of the best recruiting classes in program history that it will sign on Wednesday morning, but on Monday the focus shifted, at least momentarily, to two members of the 2021 Tar Heels and their futures with the team.
As first reported by both Inside Carolina and Tar Heel Illustrated shortly after noon on Monday afternoon, cornerback Kyler McMichael would be opting out of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and focusing on his future. Originally, the thought was that he was pursuing a transfer opportunity to finish out the remainder of his eligibility, but it was later confirmed by both outlets that he was instead opting out to focus on his pursuit of an NFL career. McMichael, who played in 20 games for the team over the past two seasons, finishes his Tar Heel career with 44 total tackles, one interception and seven pass breakups.
About an hour later, offensive tackle Jordan Tucker. confirmed in his press availability that he was sticking with his decision to head to the NFL after a five year career in Chapel Hill. Tucker is a longtime veteran of the Tar Heel offensive line, playing in 43 career games and starting 34 of those since 2018. He did say that he is focused on the bowl in that presser, as well, meaning that he will likely add one last start to those career numbers before he pursues that career at the next level. This has been a bit of an up-and-down season for him, but still graded out rather well according to Pro Football Focus, posting a 75.5 pass-blocking grade, a 71.1 run blocking grade and a 73.4 overall grade.
Neither of these moves are entirely unexpected with both guys having participated in Senior Day festivities back on November 20th. At cornerback, McMichael had lost his starting job with Storm Duck returning to the lineup late in the season and was splitting reps with Don Chapman, who kicked out from the nickelback spot, in a couple of games prior to that. With Duck announcing that he will be back next year, this is a unit that is still in good shape heading into next season, especially if DeAndre Hollins returns again and the team can add a corner in the transfer portal, something that the team has been rumored to be looking into in the past couple of weeks.
As for the tackle spot, this is a blow to the experience, but opens the door for some new faces to step up and potentially help this unit take a step forward after a rough 2021 season. William Barnes, who was Tucker’s primary backup this season, is the one that will likely get the first crack at replacing him, but Cayden Baker will have a shot there. Guys like redshirt freshman Eli Sutton and true freshman Zach Rice could also get a look here. This also could heighten the focus of the staff to get a tackle with some starting experience in the transfer, something that the team was already rumored to be looking at.
Neither of these moves are devastating to the Tar Heels 2022 outlook, especially since these were expected moves, but this is a blow to the experience on this team. At corner, this doesn’t really feel like a big deal, but this could be a big deal for the offensive line, especially if Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan follow Tucker to the NFL.