With 31 of 32 NFL teams attending the North Carolina football team’s Pro Day on Monday, the Tar Heels took another step in the right direction — albeit a much more subtle one than reaching an Orange Bowl and hauling in consecutive top-15 recruiting classes.
In order to maintain that same level of recruiting and continue its ascent towards becoming a perennial powerhouse, UNC has to get players to the next level.
And that’s just what head coach Mack Brown and his staff are doing.
With running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, wide receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome and linebacker Chazz Surratt all gearing up to hear their names called in next month’s NFL Draft, Monday supplied a hint of what Brown is talking about when he discusses elevating the level of the program.
“It means a lot to have the NFL Network here, and especially (former NFL wide receiver) Steve Smith,” Carter said. “Just the overall impact of the guys in the locker room and the work ethic that we’ve had, the player leadership that we’ve had. It means a lot that we got it back up to where we should be.”
When it comes to next year’s team, it will be impossible to replace the offensive production that Carter, Williams, Brown and Newsome are leaving behind.
The two halfbacks were one of the deadliest duos of collegiate backs in recent memory, with the pair combining to go for 2,385 yards on the ground last year.
Despite the success of quarterback Sam Howell and his vertical weapons, Brown and Newsome, UNC’s one-two punch on the ground created one of the most well-balanced offensive attacks in the country.
Still, with a variety of highly touted weapons — such as four-star running backs Kamarro Edmonds and Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler — beginning practice for the Tar Heels this spring, North Carolina looks set to reload.
“The team next year — I got to watch them practice the other day,” Carter said, “they’re gonna be special. They’re gonna be a really great team. We’re just headed in the right direction.”
Carter and Williams could both hear their names called in the first two days of the draft, with each being in the top four of most pre-draft big boards for their position group. But Williams, who finished the 2020 campaign with the highest grade of any collegiate running back in the history of Pro Football Focus, could find himself in the discussion for RB1 alongside Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne.
“It just felt like old times,” Williams said of having his Pro Day with Carter. “It’s things we always did, just week in and week out, always competing with each other.”
Carter finished the day with a 4.50 40-yard dash and some impressive times in the short shuffle and 3-cone drill, where he came in at 3.98 and 6.87, respectively. The latter two show Carter’s strengths as a horizontal mover out of the backfield — an important trait for any shifty back at the next level.
On the other hand, Williams projects as a power back. While the explosion and pass-catching ability are there — as he caught 305 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year — Williams is at his best when he has the opportunity to barrel through would-be tacklers.
Newsome and Brown were also impressive in their respective Pro Day appearances, adding to the offensive firepower the Tar Heels have entering the league.
With the receiving duo aiding Howell in his ascension to being one of the top returning quarterbacks in the country — combining for 1,783 receiving yards last year — both will likely be late-round options in one of the deepest wide receiver classes in recent memory.
“It goes to show you how dangerous we were,” Newsome said. “We just had really a dangerous group on offense.”
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