The 2022 recruiting cycle officially came to a close last Wednesday, as the Tar Heels closed out a consensus top ten class, one of, if not the best in school history. The attention will now turn to building on that in the 2023 class, one where the state of North Carolina will be key once again. Here is a look at my ten most wanted Tar Heel targets in this 2023 cycle.
10. 4✮ DL Joel Starlings- Benedictine (Richmond, VA)
Starlings is the physical type of player that the Tar Heels could really use in the middle of their defensive line. One of the biggest issues for the team this past season defensively was that they simply couldn’t get off of blocks, especially the defensive line, and finding those guys that can fight through blocks and double like Starlings can needs to be valued going forward. He combines that physical nature with some nice athleticism that allows him to rush the passer along with clogging the run lanes. The state of Virginia isn’t nearly as loaded as it was in this past cycle, but Starlings is one that the Tar Heel staff should be prioritizing.
9. 3✮ WR Kevin Concepcion- Julius L. Chambers (Charlotte, NC)
It took a while, but the Tar Heels finally popped the offer on the top slot receiver in the state last week and my hope is that the Tar Heels will make a serious push here. Concepcion does a lot damage with the football in his hands, mainly due to his top end speed that simply allows him to pull away from defenders. He isn’t as polished of a route runner as some of the recent guys that the team has signed in recent years, but he still does a good job of creating separation and combines that with reliable hands to make him an effective option in the slot. Slot receiver might not be the biggest need for this team, but it’s always good to have added depth here, especially if it is as talented as Concepcion is.
8. 4✮ IOL Markee Anderson- Dorman (Spartanburg, SC)
The Tar Heels are still a work in progress on the offensive line and Anderson could go long way towards helping to build that. Size would not be an issue for him at 6’4, 305 lbs. and his frame allows him to simply overpower people with his upper body strength. He invites the physicality, which is what this Tar Heel offensive line needs and he shows some nice athleticism and pull block ability on film. He plays in a run heavy offense and doesn’t have nearly as many pass protection reps as run blocking reps, but his physicality alone should allow him to succeed if they look at him as someone that will kick inside to guard. Anderson needs to be Searls biggest focus inside of the recruiting footprint in this class.
7. 4✮ EDGE Desmond Umeozulu- Charles Herbert Flowers (Upper Marlboro, MD)
As I said above, the Tar Heels are in search of guys who can get off of blocks and make plays in the backfield and Umeozulu can do just that. His film was one that really surprised me, as he is a very technically sound pass rusher that uses his length extremely well to create shed offensive linemen and create havoc plays. Umeozulu has a physical edge, as well, and while it may not be the way that he wins most often, he does have that power aspect to his game that could be expanded upon when he gets to the next level. He also has some solid speed off the edge and while he doesn’t win a ton of reps off of it, it does allow him to contain the edge on running plays, which is needed for this Tar Heel defense. This might not be a name that Tar Heel fans know a lot about, but this one to become familiar with, especially is he continues to take visits to Chapel Hill.
6. 4✮ WR Noah Rogers- Rolesville (Rolesville, NC)
Rogers is the top rated wide receiver in the state, but I do not have him as my top most wanted receiver on this list. This is more about the need at the position than the comparison of talent with the guy that I have above him on this list because there is a lot to love about Rogers. He is definitely the most polished route runner of the group of receivers that the team is targeting in this class and his catch radius is simply outstanding, as he catches just about anything that is thrown anywhere close to him. With the ball in his hands, Rogers is dynamic and shifty, allowing him to pick up yards after the catch and he has pretty good speed to go along with it. He is not afraid to go up and get the 50/50 balls, even at 6’1. There is so many different ways that you can use Rogers, as well, which could allow him to get on the field early on. The biggest reason that he isn’t higher on the list is that the Tar Heels will need that speedy deep threat on the outside in this class and that is not really a role that Rogers can fill.
5. 4✮ S Michael Daugherty- Grayson (Loganville, GA)
Daugherty is a player that the new staff has really turned the heat up on since arriving to Chapel Hill and for good reason. One of the biggest priorities for Charlton Warren when it comes to rebuilding this defensive backfield has to be to upgrade the overall talent in the at the safety position and this would go a long way toward doing that. Daugherty is one of the more complete safeties in this class in large part because of his tremendous speed. He has the short area quickness that you need on the backend to be able to make plays on the football in coverage, something that the team desperately needs back there. He is an outstanding run defender, as well, something that Warren really valued in his safeties the first time he was in Chapel Hill. Watching his film, his ability to help in run defense might actually be his biggest strength because of how physical he is and just how strong of a tackler he is. The Tar Heels seem to be in a good spot him after his recent visit to campus and this would be a huge one for this class.
4. 4✮ WR Christian Hamilton- Hickory Ridge (Harrisburg, NC)
As we said above, one of the biggest needs for the Tar Heels in this upcoming class is a receiver that can take the top off of opposing defenses. Hamilton has that ability and his tools are comparable to Dyami Brown, something that this offense really missed this past season and may really miss again in 2022 if Antoine Green can’t become more consistent. Not only does he take the top off, but he does show the ability to climb the ladder and win the 50/50 balls and he has a nice catch radius that allows him to haul in most of the passes thrown his way. Hamilton provides some versatility that allows him to play in the slot or on the outside just like Rogers, but his skilllset is a more natural fit on the outside, which is what this team needs.
3. 4✮ EDGE Rico Walker- Hickory (Hickory, NC)
Walker is one of the most unique prospects in the class and is the most important in-state target for the team in this class. The team is in need of pass rushers, especially ones that fit the more physical 4-3 scheme that the team will run under Chizik. Walker is exactly that and more as he is one of the more physical defensive end that I’ve seen on tape starting with his extremely powerful hands. When he hits you, you feel it because he simply explodes through the ball carrier. The Tar Heels need those guys that can shed blockers and Walker has the speed and physicality to do just that and he is a very sure-handed tackler, which has allowed him to rack up the tackles for loss. This is a must get for the Tar Heels in this cycle, especially with how positive things are in the early going for them.
2. 5✮ CB Aaron-Joshua Harris- Central (Phenix City, AL)
The Tar Heels have had a lot of success on the recruiting trail at the cornerback spot and they will hope to continue that success in this class with their biggest target outside of the footprint. Mack Brown has said that they will only go outside of the footprint for guys who are special players and that is exactly what Harris is. He might very well be the best zone corner in this class. He has tremendous closing speed and makes smart breaks on the football that allow him to break up a lot of passes in his area. He hasn’t pulled down many interceptions, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t able to make plays on the football. This is one of the most purely talented defensive prospects in this class and the Tar Heels have a shot in this one. Hopefully the combination of Dré Bly and Charlton Warren can work to land the team’s second 5✮ corner in the last three years.
1. 5✮ S Caleb Downs- Mill Creek (Houschton, GA)
There should be no doubt about who the most wanted target is for the Tar Heels in this class with the talent of Downs and the need at safety. He can cover space in the blink of an eye and can make just about any play in coverage. He has no trouble being put in one-on-one coverage situations, showing fluid hips and handling himself extremely well in those situations. He has no trouble coming down into the box and playing the run, handling himself like a linebacker in those situations with how aggressive he is and how well he tackles. This is the most complete target that the Tar Heels are pursuing in this class and would give them the type of talent they need on the backend of this defense. With his brother currently playing and thriving under Mack Brown and his staff, his uncle (Bly) being his main recruiter and Georgia losing their defensive backs coach, Jahmile Addae, the Tar Heels should have a real shot here.