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Monday December 5th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Former UNC athletes look to get healthy for the 2022 NFL season

<p>Former UNC running back Giovani Bernard (26) runs the ball against Georgia Tech in 2012.</p>
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Former UNC running back Giovani Bernard (26) runs the ball against Georgia Tech in 2012.

With Super Bowl LVI less than two weeks away, the former UNC football players in the NFL are looking to get ready for the offseason and focus on getting healthy before September.

UNC alumni and Tar Heel football legends have been successful in the NFL so far in their career, but with many of them suffering injuries this season, it has proven difficult for their true talent to shine.

Here is a look at a few North Carolina greats as they are on their road to full recovery.

Giovani Bernard

During his third day of practice at UNC in 2010, Bernard started his collegiate career with a torn ACL injury. After missing the 2010 season, he recovered and eventually became one of the best running backs the Tar Heels have ever seen.

In 2011, Bernard had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and was voted by the head coaches in the ACC to the all-conference first team.

To say Bernard had a successful recovery at UNC was an understatement, as he was a dynamic athlete who was drafted 37th in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Before being released by the Bengals in 2021, Bernard finished his eight-year career in Cincinnati with 3,697 yards.

After being signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on April 14, 2021, Bernard was able to be a key factor in the Bucs' impressive season. Unfortunately, the running back was put on injury reserve at Week 14 after dealing with an issue regarding his MCL and hip. Bernard had knee issues earlier this season that caused him to sit out for several weeks.

But he did not let injuries stop him from playing in the Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. With the Bucs dominating performance, Bernard had the second-most targets, seven, on the team. He also had a touchdown and 83 yards in their win.

With Tampa Bay’s season ending after their game against the Los Angeles Rams, the Tar Heel legend will go into unrestricted free agency. During the offseason, Bernard must focus on recovery in the hopes that Tampa Bay will be interested in keeping him on their roster.

Eric Ebron

After playing three seasons in Chapel Hill, tight end Eric Ebron ended his collegiate career in 2013 as first team All-ACC and was chosen as a finalist for the John Mackey Award. This prestigious award is given to the nation’s current top tight end. He recorded 1,805 yards in his career as a Tar Heel. 

In 2014, Ebron decided to leave UNC and make the transition to the NFL, where he was drafted 10th overall pick by the Detroit Lions. From 2014-17, Ebron struggled with injuries, missing a total of eight games. He was let go by Detroit in 2018, but was signed by the Colts soon after that.

After his brief stint in Indianapolis, the Steelers signed Ebron and he started off very successful in Pittsburgh. Soon enough, the injuries caught up to him. He was placed on the injury reserve list on Week 11 this season, but he was able to bounce back. 

It will make a huge difference if Ebron takes the time during the offseason to focus on his health to prevent future injuries that will hurt his career.

Javonte Williams

Denver Broncos rookie and all-star UNC football player Williams never had any injuries that have slowed his game down. With North Carolina, Williams played for three seasons. He was one of the two players named to the 2020 Pro Football Focus First-Team All-America as a running back.

In 2021, Williams signed a four-year contract with the Broncos. Williams had a great season with the Broncos, but to ensure a longer career, he must recover from his knee injury.

Staying healthy is one of the major keys to success in the NFL, a truth these stars must keep in mind during the offseason.

@dthsports |

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