When Anthony Ratliff-Williams declared for the NFL Draft in December, he left North Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver spot up for grabs in his wake.
Through one week of spring practice, two players have emerged as the presumptive favorites to fill in that spot for the 2019 UNC football team: Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown.
Newsome, a rising junior, had a productive 2018 season as the Tar Heels’ clear second option behind Ratliff-Williams. Brown, a rising sophomore, didn’t have a huge year statistically, but he saw action in 10 of 11 games as a true first-year.
Although their UNC careers up to this point have been different, Brown still said he and Newsome becoming leaders could be a huge boost to the wide receiving corps.
“Us stepping up … it’ll get everyone in line with us,” Brown said on Thursday. “And us taking that role — having to be better, every day — it’ll just bring the whole group together.”
Newsome, who wasn’t available for an interview on Thursday, was one of North Carolina’s biggest surprises last season. He came to Chapel Hill as the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the state of Virginia, but he began working with the wide receivers in 2017 training camp. Newsome flashed his playmaking ability as a first-year, averaging 10.7 yards per touch.
But he broke out in full as a sophomore. Newsome racked up 1,013 all-purpose yards: 96 rushing, 506 receiving, 286 punt return and 125 kick return. He led the team in catches, with 44, and was one of just seven players in the country to score touchdowns via rush, reception and punt return in 2018.
“His reputation stands by itself,” head coach Mack Brown said of Newsome, “because he’s fast, he’s athletic, he can make plays in space.”
With opponents focusing in on Ratliff-Williams, the 5-foot-11 Newsome thrived in a secondary role. He developed a knack for ripping off big plays, too: a 47-yard catch against Pittsburgh; a 43-yard pass against Virginia Tech; a 75-yard punt return touchdown against Syracuse; an 84-yard rushing touchdown against Duke.
Dyami Brown, a four-star recruit from West Mecklenburg, conceded that “the numbers weren’t too big” for him in 2018. The 6-foot-1 receiver caught 17 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown, which came against Pittsburgh. But, he noted on Thursday, he was still getting experience and playing.
“Dyami, the No. 1 thing he has is speed,” Mack Brown said. “He can really run.”
All of UNC’s wide receivers are getting adjusted to a new offensive scheme — the air raid brought in by new offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Although former head coach Larry Fedora preached speed in his spread offense, Brown said Longo’s pace was still a noticeable uptick.
“The signals were going way faster, and we were like, ‘Oooo,’” Dyami Brown said. “It got kind of freaky. We just took our time. We met with Coach Longo, so we got the tempo down. Once we got the tempo down, we were going way faster.”
Dyami Brown (17 catches, 173 yards and TD last year) also said he's ready to to step up and lead the wide receiver group, along with rising jr Dazz Newsome.
In Longo’s scheme, Mack Brown said, a lot of quick passes will serve as quasi-run plays. That puts an increased importance of holding onto to the ball. UNC's new head coach said the wide receivers, as a whole, need to become “more consistent catchers.”
“We’re still dropping too many balls,” Mack Brown said. “I’ve told them, ‘We should never have a ball against air be dropped.’ Quarterbacks should be accurate enough to get it to the receivers, and receivers should be good enough that they catch every ball.”
There are other intriguing prospects among UNC’s 2019 wide receivers, including redzone threat Beau Corrales and speedsters Rontavius Groves and Antoine Green. But at this point, Newsome and Brown look like the headliners for an offense looking to get back on track.
“We’re ready to just air it out,” Dyami Brown said. “With the athletes we have in the receiver group, it just works much better, and it fits.”