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The Daily Tar Heel

Beyond Sam Howell, a look at the depth in UNC's quarterback room

First year quarterback Jacolby Criswell (6) throws the ball at the football practice on Saturday Mar. 27, 2021 at Kenan Stadium.

In Mack Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill, he has transformed the Tar Heels from one of the worst teams in the ACC to a budding collegiate power, finishing No. 18 in the final AP poll in 2020.

An indispensable component of that success has been Sam Howell, one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and a Heisman favorite. He has thrived in the past two seasons operating under the system of offensive coordinator Phil Longo.

To continue their present upward trajectory, the Tar Heels will have to continue recruiting top quarterback prospects and developing them well. Howell has been the picture of consistency during his two years in Chapel Hill, never suffering from a major injury and playing 952 of 997 offensive snaps in 2020. That consistency, though, has left his talented-yet-inexperienced backups with little playing time.

Jacolby Criswell

Coming into the season as the most experienced backup on the team, Criswell was the favorite to secure the second spot behind Howell. A 247 Sports four-star recruit and Arkansas' second-highest prospect, Criswell was a standout player in high school, throwing for 2,869 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior in high school. 

At 6 feet and 220 pounds, Criswell’s build and play style has drawn comparisons to Howell, resulting in offers from Auburn and Arkansas University before committing to UNC. Criswell has shown himself to be a talented runner and has excellent improvisational skills that shine through when plays break down. 

As a true first-year in 2020, Criswell had four passing attempts for three completions and 16 yards and one interception. He added nine rush attempts for 26 yards as well. Criswell will be key as the backup with the most experience with the offense, should Howell be sidelined. He also holds natural gifts to be the starter in an emergency situation.

Drake Maye

Though he is a true first-year, Maye could be the most important player in the depth chart as Chapel Hill begins to look for an heir apparent to Howell for next season. As a junior in high school, Maye threw for over 3,500 yards and 50 touchdowns and only two interceptions en route to a 12-1 record.

A top-rated pro-style quarterback, the four-star prospect out of Charlotte was highly recruited by the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. His recruitment represents UNC’s rising ability to compete with powerhouse programs for top recruits, and the future of Chapel Hill’s program may rest on his shoulders. 

Maye is reportedly in a tight battle with Criswell for the second spot in the lineup and his continued success will be crucial as UNC builds a roster that can compete in the postseason.

Jefferson Boaz

The redshirt first-year was a three-star recruit out of high school, and was recruited by Appalachian State and Louisville before arriving to UNC. As a senior, Boaz threw for 4,615 yards and 65 touchdowns while leading his school to a state title. 

In his first year, Boaz was red-shirted and threw a singular pass for three yards against Western Carolina. Looking ahead, Boaz is expected to remain in the quarterbacks' room and continue his development as he aims to join the battle with Criswell and Maye to be Howell’s backup.

As the Tar Heels look to the nearing post-Howell future, much will depend on the current backups to lead the Tar Heels to continued success. 

@DTHSports | 

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