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Tar Heels in the Pros: A look at the UNC players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft

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Sophomore quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs drills at Football Pro Day in the Koman Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

Three former UNC football players were selected in the 2024 NFL Draft this past weekend.

Here's a look at where each player will begin their professional career and how they may impact each team moving forward.

Drake Maye, New England Patriots, 3rd overall

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UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs with the ball during the homecoming game against Duke in Kenan Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. UNC beat Duke 47-45.

During the 2023 NFL season, the Patriot’s offense amassed just 276.2 yards per game — 30th in the NFL — and tied the Carolina Panthers for a league-worst 13.9 points per game. As a result, Maye will likely take charge of the offense from day one. 

The Huntersville, North Carolina native brings a surge of excitement to an otherwise lackluster quarterback situation. Last season, quarterbacks Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe split snaps throughout the year, resulting in only 16 passing touchdowns and 21 interceptions combined.  

To aid Maye in reviving this dormant Patriot offense, New England drafted a pair of wide receivers and offensive linemen in later rounds. Wideouts Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker will catch passes from Maye, while linemen Layden Robinson and Caedan Wallace will bolster a pass protection front that allowed 48 sacks the year before. 

Maye’s selection as the third overall pick groups him with former Tar Heel quarterback Mitch Trubiskyselected second overall in 2017 — as the only UNC quarterbacks to be selected in the first round of any NFL draft.

Cedric Gray, Tennessee Titans, 106th overall

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UNC senior linebacker Cedric Gray (33) defends against the Campbell offensive linemen during the football game against Campbell on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kenan Stadium. UNC beat Campbell 59-7.

The Titans looked to fill a number of holes this offseason, with Gray and other draft picks adding young talent to the rebuilding organization. Despite finishing last in the AFC South standings last season at 6-11, Tennessee’s defense fell near the middle of the pack for the entire league.

After losing its leading tackler Azeez Al-Shaair to free agency, Gray’s arrival in Nashville will be one of many new faces in the Titans linebacker room. At 6 feet, 2.5 inches and 235 pounds, the former high school wide receiver might just have the athleticism to make special plays at the next level.

The do-it-all linebacker recorded five interceptions, six forced fumbles, 18 passes defended and 30 tackles for loss during his four years in Chapel Hill. Yet, if Gray is unable to work his way into an immediate role at the linebacker position, it is likely his experience on special teams will help him get snaps during his rookie season.

Gray is joined in the Titans’ 2024 draft class by fellow ACC defenders in cornerback Jarvis Brownlee Jr. from Louisville and safety James Williams out of Miami.

Tez Walker, Baltimore Ravens, 113th overall

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UNC junior wide receiver Tez Walker (9) jumps toward the endzone during the football game against UVA in Kenan Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. UNC fell to UVA 31-27.

Walker fell just seven picks behind Gray in the fourth round. The explosive pass catcher was a value pick for the Ravens on the draft's third day.

Walker will add a deep-ball threat to a talented offense in Baltimore, potentially working his way into a group of established wide receivers Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor and Rashod Bateman, as well as tight end Mark Andrews. With a 4.36 second 40-yard dash, Walker can stretch the field for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to air it out. 

Yet, despite posting over 370 yards per game last regular season, the Ravens’ offense is largely reliant on its run game. Averaging the most rushing yards in the league at 156.6 per game, the addition of Walker’s speed could pay dividends in RPOs — run-pass option plays — as well. 

As the final Tar Heel selected in the draft, Walker rounds out a UNC class from which all top three prospects hail from Charlotte — Maye (Myers Park), Gray (Ardrey Kell) and Walker (West Charlotte).

Undrafted Free Agents

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Following the conclusion of the draft, North Carolina announced five undrafted free agents who signed with NFL teams.

Linebacker Amari Gainer and defensive tackle Tomari Fox signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, defensive tackle Myles Murphy is headed to the Arizona Cardinals and running back British Brooks joined the Houston Texans. Rounding out UNC's class was offensive lineman Spencer Rolland, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

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