It’s time for another installment of the Heel Tough Blog’s offseason series. The series will place the top players in Tar Heel football history at each position group into five different tiers to determine their standings in Tar Heel history. The series will continue today by looking at the five tiers of Tar Heel wide receivers.
Tier 1: Ryan Switzer, Hakeem Nicks, Quinshad Davis, Octavus Barnes
Tier 1 gives you four different types of receivers. The most recent of the group, Ryan Switzer, kicks the group off. Switzer came to Chapel Hill in the fall of 2013 and left behind one of the biggest legacies in Tar Heel football history, beginning with his freshman season. Although most will remember Switzer more his phenomenal career as a punt returner, Switzer is the program’s all-time leader in receptions (243) and receiving yards (2,903). Although he only finished one season with over 1,000 yards (2016: 96 rec, 1,112 yds, 6 TD), his last three seasons all concluded with Switzer catching 50+ passes for 650+ yards. His 19 receiving touchdowns also fourth in program history.
We go from Mitch Truisky’s go-to-receiver to T.J. Yates’. Although only on campus for three seasons, Nicks sits second in program history in receiving yards (2,840) and receiving touchdowns (21). Nicks never had a season with less than 660 yards receiving and his 15.7 yards per reception is a strong number for someone with the number of receptions he has (181). Nicks’ senior season still stands as the best in school history (68 rec, 1,222 yds, 12 TD).
One of Switzer teammates joins him with our next Tier 1 selection. Quinshad Davis never reached the 1,000 yard mark in a season, but he was a constant redzone threat in each of his four seasons, allowing him to set the record for career receiving touchdowns with 25. Davis ranks second in Tar Heel history in receptions (205) and third in receiving yards (2,614). Davis best success came as Bryn Renner’s go-to-receiver, catching 109 passes for 1,506 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013 and 2014.
The final member of the first tier was the best receiver of the first Mack Brown era. Octavus Barnes, like Davis, did not have a 1,000 yard receiving season while he was on campus, but still put together four very solid seasons. Barnes would rack up 2,398 yards, which ranks fifth in program history, and 19 receiving touchdowns, a number that ties him with Switzer for fourth. The most impressive statistic and one of the main reasons that he is a top tier receiver, is the fact that he produced those yards and touchdowns on just 129 catches. His 18.6 yards per catch ranks second in program history amongst receiver with over 50 receptions, trailing only Mack Hollins, who find later on in this list.
Tier 2: Dwight Jones, Mack Hollins, Sam Aiken, Bob Lacey
Tier 2 begins with Dwight Jones, who has the best case of anyone in the second tier to be a first tier receiver. Almost all of production came in the final two seasons of his career, headlined by his 2011 season (85 rec, 1,196 yds, 12 TD). Jones’ 2,163 receiving yards rank seventh in program history and he adds 16 touchdowns, which are currently sixth most. One may wonder where on this list Jones could have been if he had one more year of eligibility left following the 2011 season.
We go from one what-if to another. Mack Hollins caught 20 career touchdown passes on just 81 career receptions, giving him a ridiculous touchdown percentage of 24.7%. Hollins also ranks first in yards per catch for a receiver with at least 25 receptions, as he averaged a gawdy 20.2 yards per catch in his four seasons on campus. Hollins 24.8 yards per catch in 2015 led the nation and he never finished a season averaging less than 17.0 yards per catch. The what-if for Hollins: what-if he doesn’t miss the final six games of his senior season because of a collarbone injury?
Sam Aiken is the next one of the group of four that are part of the second tier. His 2,195 receiving yards ranks sixth in school history, while his 15 receiving touchdowns are tied for seventh. Aiken improved upon his number of receptions and receiving yards in each of his four seasons on campus.
Bob Lacey is the only player from the 1960’s that will appear on the list and while his numbers may not be mind blowing, the numbers are fantastic for his time period. Lacey was as dominant as any receiver in the ACC in 1962, finishing second in the conference in receptions, while holding the top spot in receiving yards (668) and receiving touchdowns (5). He would follow that up with another strong season in 1963, where he would finish second in the country in receptions (52) and fifth in the nation in receiving yards (568). Those numbers would lead the ACC in both categories. Although his numbers today barely hold on to top 20 spots in the Tar Heel record books, Lacey is deserving of being a member of this second tier.
Tier 3: Corey Holliday, Erik Highsmith, Na Brown, L.C. Stevens, Bug Howard
Many people may be asking where Corey Holliday is at this point. His 2,447 yards sit fourth in school history and his 15.8 yards per reception are second among Tar Heel receivers with over 100 receptions. Holliday never had a 1,000 yard receiving season, but never had less than 488 receiving yards in his four year career. So you may be asking, how did Holliday fall this far? The issue for Holliday, and the reason he leads off Tier 3, is the fact that he hauled in just seven touchdowns in his four year career. Only three other receivers who have reached the 1,000 yard receiving mark have less touchdowns than Holliday. Still, Holliday is one of the better receivers to touch the football in Chapel Hill and has a quality resume that will likely create some debate among Tar Heel fans.
One of the lesser talked about receivers on this list, Erik Highsmith finds himself as a solid Tier 3 member. While he was never considered a true No. 1, Highsmith still racked up 2,086 receiving yards (T-8th in program history) and 15 touchdowns (T-7th) on his 167 receptions (5th). Those are some solid numbers for a receiver who never had a season with more than 54 receptions or 726 yards in a season.
Mack Brown-era receiver Na Brown is the next receiver that has to be talked about in Tier 3. Brown was another three year production guy, catching at least 50 passes in each of his final three seasons and recording 500+ yards in those final three seasons. Brown finished with 2,086 receiving yards, which at the time was third in school history and now sits tied for seventh, while his 14 receiving touchdowns are still in the top ten.
L.C. Stevens was another member of the mid-late 90’s receiving corps. Stevens’ 2,002 yards rank tenth in the program’s history and his 13 receiving touchdowns is a solid number. His 16.7 yards per catch place him only behind Mack Hollins, Ocatvus Barnes and Anthony Ratliff-Williams amongst receivers with 50+ career catches. Stevens’ best season came as a sophomore (44 rec, 771 yds, 7 TD) and his numbers tailed off to close out his career. That is really the only reason that he is here in Tier 3 instead of Tier 2.
The final member of Tier 3, Bug Howard, is another receiver who battled through a loaded receiving corps to put together a good career. At one time, Howard was part of a receiving corps that contained Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis and Mack Hollins. Even with that, Howard managed to catch 124 passes for 1,770 yards and 14 touchdowns in his four year career. Howard improved his receiving yard and touchdown totals in each of his three seasons in which he caught a pass. Howard closed his career in 2016 with a strong season (53 rec, 827 yds, 8 TD).
Tier 4: Kory Bailey, Earl Winfield, Jimmy Jerome, Jarwarski Pollock
The first member of the fourth tier is running mate of Sam Aiken, Kory Bailey. Bailey fell just shy of reaching the 2,000 yard mark in his career, but improved upon just about every major receiving statistic in every season of his career in Chapel Hill. Bailey caught 14 touchdowns in his career, which ties him for nith in school history. His finished his career strong with his best statistical season of his four year Tar Heel career (44 rec, 608 yds, 6 TD).
Tier 4 is the first time that we turn the clock back to the Dick Crum era and Earl Winfield is the first name to appear on the list. Winfield managed to piece together a nice career despite playing during the period where the Tar Heel backfield was simply loaded, finishing his career with 1,603 yards and 11 touchdowns, the prior of which was a school record until Corey Holliday arrived on campus. Winfield closed his four year career with 81 catches for 1,223 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final two seasons, breaking the records that the were previously held by the next member of the fourth tier.
Jimmy Jerome was another receiver ahead of his time, as he put together a strong three year career from 1972 through 1974. Jerome would set the record for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns at the time and all of those numbers remain in the top 20 in program history. Jerome’s senior season saw him lead all ACC receivers in receptions (49) and receiving yards (879) during the 1974 season.
Jarwarski Pollock is the final member of Tier 4. The best receiver of the John Bunting era ranks eleventh in program history in receiving yards, while his 177 receptions rank fourth amongst Tar Heel receivers. The reason that Pollock is not higher on the list is because of his number of touchdown receptions. Despite his 177 catches, only nine of them resulted in the touchdowns. Following a freshman season where he caught four touchdowns, Pollock would never finish another season with more than two.
Tier 5: Mark Smith, Jesse Holley, Eric Strearter, Marcus Wall
Another early 80’s receiver leads off the fifth tier. Mark Smith was the program’s record holder in career touchdown receptions with 14 until Octavus Barnes would break it during the 1997 season. Smith’s 14 touchdowns still rank in the top ten and his 1,434 receiving yards are still ranked in the top 20.
Jesse Holley lands in Tier 5 after a solid four year career in Chapel Hill. In each of his final three seasons, Holley would catch at least 30 passes for 450+ yards, finishing with 1,760 career receiving yards, a number that puts him 15th in school history. Holley would never have more than two touchdowns in any of his four seasons, though, which prevents him from being higher on this list.
Mark Maye’s go-to-receiver, Eric Streater, lands in Tier 5, as well. Streater put together a solid three year career, finishing all three seasons with more than 300 yards and exactly four touchdowns. His consistency is enough to grab him one of the last spots on this list.
The final member of the illustrious Tar Heel wide receiver list is another playmaker who’s all-around game helped land him on the list. Marcus Wall was a dynamic threat as a returner, but he also had a solid career as a receiver for the Tar Heels from 1992 to 1995. His 1994 season, where he led the ACC in yards per catch (19.6) and was second in the conference in touchdown receptions (9), is one the main reasons he helps to round out this list.