UNC will have Sam Howell, who may turn out to be the best QB in school history, for 2 more years. That is what we in the sports world like to call a "championship window". I know what you're saying to yourself. "Man, UNC isn't gonna win any championship. No way can the beat Clemson and they certainly can't make it through a college football playoff !" I agree with you, but that doesn't make either of us right. If a top 5 QB in the nation, a Hall of Fame coach, and a team full of blue chips can't take down Clemson, then what can?
Let's look into what the Tar Heels brought in for the 2020 class that can help them live up to this year's hype. Because, contrary to what most of the media and twitter thinks, the class of 2021 will not be on the field this fall for the Tar Heels.
ACC Rank: 3
National Rank: 19
# of Signees: 26
Average Recruit Rating: 0.8849
Top Recruit: Desmond Evans, EDGE, Sandford NC, (0.9777)
Biggest Need: Offensive Line
UNC has wasted good talent in the past because they so often lack a consistent offensive flow. I'm looking at you, Larry Fedora. If you rely on big plays are sporadic formations, tempo, and identity, it's going to be tough to win football games at a high level throughout a season. Much of this issue is down to an offensive line that the coaching staff just doesn't trust. A good example with the current Carolina staff would be the game against Wake Forest last season, where Carlos Basham was in the backfield almost every play, but UNC had to pass almost every down because they were losing by multiple touchdowns and couldn't get a running game going. Sam Howell got benched in that game he was so bad, by the way.
For this season, and the next few seasons to come, to be the success that so many around the country are expecting, UNC will have to be a better blocking team.
In this class, UNC grabbed 4 linemen: Trey Zimmerman (0.8709), Jonothan Adorno (0.8626), Cayden Baker (0.8789), and Malik McGowen (0.8418). That's a pretty good haul. Zimmerman and Baker look like guys that could contribute right away, while Adorno and McGowen are good bets for the future. In my opinion, offensive line is the toughest position group to grade in highschool. You don't see these guys being tested very often. Most higher ranked linemen simply push the guy across from them to the ground every play, you don't see a real battle. Because of that, schools look to bring in 3-4 guys in every class nowadays. You never know which one will really succeed in the weight room and adapt well to the huge jump in speed of the game. Getting 4 3-star guys, 3 of whom being top 50 in the nation for their respective positions, has to be labeled as getting the job done.
Most Exciting Recruit: Josh Downs, WR, Suwanee GA, (0.9565)
In this class, UNC signed 7 wide receivers. That's good because all of those guys are high 3-4 star prospects. That can be bad because if you think that even half of those guys will play a snap for UNC you haven't been paying a lot of attention to college football recently.
Josh Downs will most likely be one to stick in Chapel Hill. The 5'10" speedster project to excel in the slot and shows really nice footwork at the line of scrimmage. He also has great catch radius for a player his size, which is why he was rated as a top 20 WR in the nation. He's a guy that can make an impact for Howell's offense in year one, if called upon.
Early Contributor: Kedrick Bingley-Jones, DT, Charlotte NC, (0.9335)
If there's a major weak spot with UNC this season, it most likely will be the defensive front 7. Outside of all-ACC linebacker Chazz Surrat, there's not much there. UNC lost two starting defensive tackles last season in Aaron Crawford and Jason Strawbridge, so an influx of talent is paramount.
Bingley-Jones comes in with the physical frame and athleticism to play this fall. He's light on his feet for a guy that's 6'4 265. That will allow him to drop back on zone blitzes as well as execute hard slants as a run stopper, both of which are major parts of the UNC defensive scheme.
Transfer Portal: Grayson Atkins, K, Furman
Tar Heels got one guy in the Portal, and it's a good one. Atkins is an all-american specialist from Furman. He does field goals, punts, and kick-offs.
Last season, Atkins was 48/50 on PATs, 13/15 on FGs (including a 55 yarder), and punted with an average of 43.5 yards with 19/69 ending up inside the 20 yard line. He had no kicks blocked last season. UNC likes to play in close games, and this guy could be a major player in their quest to win the Coastal and challenge Clemson.
Sam's Grade: A
It doesn't come as a shock that UNC is recruiting at a high level with the return of Mack Brown. I can go on a tirade about how brand recognition has taken over college recruiting, but I'll leave that for the comment section. I will say this, there's just something about that Carolina Blue that draws you in.
UNC is yet to prove anything. Last season, the only team they beat with a winning record was Temple in the bowl game. Sam Howell was spectacular down the stretch, but the gun slinger style of quarterback can catch up on you real fast.
UNC needed to get better in the trenches, and they did so with this class. Last season, UNC had issues with depth on the defensive secondary. 4 star safeties Cameron Roseman-Sinclair and Ja'Qurious Conley will help beef up that lineup on day 1. And Jacoby Criswell, the 4 star dual QB out of Arkansas, is in a perfect position to learn from Sam Howell over the next two seasons before taking the helm.
We'll see how well this staff does with roster management, as it seems like every offer they throw out there is getting an early commitment. That's great for momentum on the trail, but can make rosters a bit lopsided if the chips don't fall in the right way. For now, UNC is stockpiling talent in a division known for scrappy 3 stars.
Syracuse – C
Boston College – B
Pittsburgh – B+
Louisville – B-
Virginia – B-
Virginia Tech – C
Wake Forest – B
Duke – C+
North Carolina - A