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Tuesday October 4th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Former UNC football players making early-season impact in NFL

<p>Virginia's Noah Taylor (14) tackles sophomore running back Javonte Williams (25) during the game in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. UNC lost to Virginia 38-31.&nbsp;</p>
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Virginia's Noah Taylor (14) tackles sophomore running back Javonte Williams (25) during the game in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. UNC lost to Virginia 38-31. 

Although the North Carolina football team did not have a game of its own last weekend, several former Tar Heels suited up for their respective teams in NFL action.

Here is a look at how each of them performed through two weeks of the new season, and how their roles can change moving forward.

Mitchell Trubisky

Following the retirement of longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Trubisky joined the Pittsburgh Steelers on a two-year deal in March with the hope of becoming the starting quarterback. After competing for the job with rookie Kenny Pickett throughout the offseason, Trubisky was named the starter just days before the team’s season opener.

In his Steelers’ debut, the former No. 2 overall pick tossed for 194 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 23-20 overtime win over the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. As the Steelers gained possession with just under a minute remaining in the extra period, Trubisky completed three passes for 45 yards to help set up the game-winning field goal.

On Sunday, though, Trubisky struggled against the New England Patriots and finished the afternoon with 168 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the team’s 17-14 loss.

Although Trubisky is still expected to start in the short term, his lackluster 76.1 passer rating might pressure the Steelers to give Pickett, the team’s first-round draft pick and reigning ACC Player of the Year, some valuable reps in the near future.

Javonte Williams

Less than two years removed from his days barreling through defenders in Chapel Hill, Williams is playing a physical brand of football in the Mile High City with the Denver Broncos.

After spending much of last season as the second running option behind former Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon, Williams has become the lead back this season and has already put up solid numbers.

In the team’s season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Williams registered 43 yards on the ground and added 11 catches and 65 yards through the air as a security blanket to new quarterback Russell Wilson. Williams took on a more traditional running back role in the Broncos’ 16-9 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday, tallying 75 yards on 15 carries. 

Through two games, the second-year back is averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry while his snap count percentage has increased from 51 to 62 percent. If Williams continues to get the bulk of the carries, he could be on his way to being one of the more productive backs in the NFL.

Michael Carter

The other former member of UNC’s potent running back room, Carter has carved out a solid role with the New York Jets.

A year removed from leading the Jets with 639 rushing yards, Carter has been equally productive through two games as a multi-purpose back this season with 83 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards.

Although the Jets drafted fellow college standout running back Breece Hall with the 36th overall pick in the recent draft, there seems to be room for both players to see the field, as Carter has still seen the field on 60 percent of snaps – a 10 percent increase from last season.

Robert Quinn

Coming off an All-Pro season with the Chicago Bears, Quinn continues to be one of the more dominant pass rushers in the game.

Despite not making much of a statistical impact in a rain-driven, run-heavy outing against the San Francisco 49ers in week one, Quinn bounced back to record a sack against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

With the Bears expected to hover near the bottom of the NFC standings for most of the year, Quinn could potentially become a prime trade candidate for a contending team looking to bolster its defensive unit, which could result in an uptick in performance as the games become more meaningful.

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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