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Heel Tough Blog: Tar Heels Starting OT Heading to the NFL Draft

Reinhold Matay- USA Today Sports

In Mack Brown’s media availability in Chapel Hill prior to the trip out west for the Holiday Bowl, he mentioned that two Tar Heel players besides the already declared Josh Downs were looking into their NFL Draft stock. On Wednesday morning, one of those two announced that he will be foregoing his final season of eligibility and heading to the next level.

As first reported by Inside Carolina shortly before 9:00 AM this morning, senior offensive tackle Asim Richards will skip his extra season of eligibility to head to the pro ranks. Richards was a third team All-ACC honoree this season after starting all fourteen games for the Tar Heels and grading out as the team’s best pass protector and second best overall lineman according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed a career low three sacks this season and gave up the second fewest pressures on the team with 20, all but three of which came in the team’s final six games of the season. Even with some late season struggles, the Philadelphia native still showed major progress from a year ago, where he allowed five sacks and 19 total pressures according to PFF in just a little over half the amount of snaps that he played this season. Richards finishes his four seasons in Chapel Hill with 15.0 sacks and 70 pressures allowed in 48 career games, 38 of which were starts.

This is an interesting decision by Richards to say the least. Clearly, the staff did their research when helping him to make the decision, but it seems like it is far from a guarantee that he will be drafted in April. As of right now, he is not a part of a single draft board among the major draft sites, but with him now officially turning pro, he might start appearing on some moving forward. The good news is that Richards did receive an invite to Mobile to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which he accepted today. He will have a great chance to establish his status as a draftable prospect down there in a few weeks.

As for how the Tar Heels replace him, it feels like the answer is pretty obvious. The hope is that second-year tackle Zach Rice, a former 5✮ prospect, can make that leap in his second season and take over the starting job. Rice received rave reviews early in spring camp last year from Brown for the skillset he brings, but he just wasn’t able to earn a rotational role this season despite pushing for one late into fall camp. If he can continue to build strength in the weight room, he will be hard to beat out for the job because of just how much pure talent he has. Others who could factor in here, though, could be Spencer Rolland, who could kick over from right tackle, and fellow second-year freshman Trevyon Green

The team will now wait on the decision of center Corey Gaynor, who is not only weighing his NFL Draft stock, but also waiting for a decision on his waiver to play next season from the NCAA. Regardless of what happens there, the Tar Heels are now searching for protection on the blindside for star quarterback Drake Maye.


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