The North Carolina football team has two massive holes to fill at the running back position this offseason. The program saw Michael Carter and Javonte Williams – its dynamic one-two punch – follow each other out the door to pursue careers in the NFL.
But head coach Mack Brown and company have used some of the NCAA’s newest rule changes to their advantage to find what they hope is a viable replacement.
Ty Chandler was the starter at Tennessee in 2018 and 2019 before slowly losing his role to a younger player. After gaining another year of immediate eligibility due to the NCAA’s new COVID-19 policies, the graduate transfer will suit up in Carolina Blue in hope of reclaiming a feature role on an upstart Tar Heel team.
There will be questions surrounding Chandler during the offseason on whether he can fill the shoes of Carter and Williams. It'll be almost impossible to make up for the all-purpose production that UNC's duo put together last year with a combined total of 3,113 yards. Still, Chandler ranks fifth all-time in Tennessee's career all-purpose yards list.
Chandler brings a unique combination of size and speed to the position. At 5-foot-11 and 205 lbs, he can bounce off tackles, reminiscent of Williams. He doesn’t do it to the extent of Williams, who trucks players with relative ease, but he has shown the ability to make defenders miss with his strength.
He also possesses Carter’s versatility. He totaled 465 receiving yards during his time in Knoxville in a program that has lacked a passing game recently. Chandler has good hands and can turn a short screen into a big gain. Like Carter, he also served as his team’s kick returner during his first three years. It shows his ability to make plays in the open field and potentially addresses another need for the Tar Heels with wide receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown also declaring for the draft.
On paper, his running stats don’t jump off the page. He was never a workhorse at Tennessee, only having two games with over 20 carries. He was also in a conference full of consistent national powers and playing for a program where subpar quarterback play was one of the few continuities during his four-year tenure. It was easy for Chandler to get hidden behind the elite talent around him.
Chandler will get a prime opportunity to show his talent, as he is expected to slide into North Carolina’s starting running back position. He will be behind an offensive line returning all of its starters and will receive passes from Sam Howell, who is set to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football next year.
He may also come in as a 1A option with another Tar Heel back sharing carries. It would mimic the running game they used this past season, where the Tar Heels built their foundation from the ground game.
It all depends on who else can step up to join Chandler, who has something no one else really has in the team’s current rotation: experience. UNC would need either senior British Brooks or junior Josh Henderson, who each showed flashes in the Orange Bowl, to make huge steps in their development. Incoming first-years Kamarro Edmonds and Caleb Hood could rise up the depth chart if they impress in training camp. D.J. Jones and Elijah Green are the other names to take note of if they make a significant leap going into their sophomore seasons.
Either way, Chandler should find it easier for him to stand out. But if one of these players is able to break away from the pack and assume a 1B spot in the rotation, it’ll make the Tar Heel offense much more potent.
Chandler didn’t come to Chapel Hill to stay on the sidelines. He will come in with a lot to prove on a team with high expectations.
While there’s no replacing Carter and Williams, a strong season from Chandler will make the transition a whole lot easier, as the Tar Heels prepare to contend for the ACC Championship.
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