NEEDS: The Tar Heels lost nearly all of their offensive playmakers through graduation and early entry into the NFL draft, putting an emphasis on restocking the skill positions with particular attention to wide receiver and running back since their quarterback of the future (Chazz Surratt) is already in the program. Defensively, the most pressing concern is deepening the talent pool and adding depth up front, especially at end, where coach Larry Fedora will have to replace both starters next season. UNC is also in need a new placekicker with the graduation of reliable Nick Weiler.
EARLY ENROLLEES: UNC welcomed seven new players at the start of the spring semester, led by a pair of highly-rated defensive linemen with the potentially to step in and contribute right away. Tackle Xach Gill is an All-State and Shrine Bowl selection who led Wake Forest to the 4AA state championship while end Jake Lawler is an elite pass rusher rated as the No. 3 player overall in North Carolina and top 10 nationally. On the other side of the ball, the early arrivals include running back Michael Carter, the Florida Offensive Player of the Year, wide receiver J.T. Cauthen, a four-star prospect from Waxhaw, N.C. rated as the No. 2 player in the state at his position, offensive lineman Jonah Melton, North Carolina’s top-rated guard and Tre Shaw, a four-star cornerback who led his team to the Georgia Class AAA state title. The other mid-year additions, all of which are eligible to participate in spring practice, are late-blooming defensive tackle Jordon Riley from Riverside and preferred walk-on Quiron Johnson, an offensive lineman from Reidsville.
OUTLOOK: The stars of Fedora’s uptempo offense are its quarterback and wide receivers, three of which from last year’s team have been invited to the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine. But as flashy as those players might be, their effectiveness is largely dependent on the blocking of their less-heralded teammates up front. It’s a reality Fedora reinforced by signing five offensive lineman, the most of any position group in his 20-man class. It’s a haul led by four-star early arrival Melton and a pair of massive prospects 6-foot-6, 330 pound Marcus McKethan of Barnwell, S.C. and 6-6, 335-pound Jordan Tucker of Roswell, Ga. In addition to the big guys, UNC addressed its other offensive needs with a pair of wide receivers and two freshman running backs to go along with incoming graduate transfer back Stanton Truitt from Auburn. Defensively, the Tar Heels improved their pass rush with the addition of four-star linemen Gill and Jake Lawler. They also deepened the talent pool throughout the unit by signing three linebackers and four defensive backs, including three-star Virginia native Dazz Newsome a late pickup who announced his decision Wednesday. The class was completed with the addition of Noah Ruggles, the heir-apparent to Weiler in the kicking game. The one glaring omission from this year’s class is a quarterback, a need that came about too late in the game to fill because of Mitch Trubisky’s decision to pass up his final year of eligibility for the draft. Don’t be surprised if Fedora decides to add a grad transfer to the mix sometime in the coming weeks.
Player, Position, Height, Weight, Hometown (School)
Michael Carter, RB, 5-9, 185, Navarre, Fla. (Navarre)
J.T. Cauthen, WR, 6-1, 220, Waxhaw, N.C. (Cuthbertson)
Xach Gill, DT, 6-4, 260, Wake Forest, N.C. (Wake Forest)
Jake Lawler, DE, 6-3, 220, Charlotte, N.C. (South Mecklenburg)
Jonah Melton, OT, 6-3 305, Mebane, N.C. (Eastern Alamance)
Jordon Riley, DT, 6-5, 300, Durham, N.C. (Riverside)
Tre Shaw, CB, 6-1, 180, Ellenwood, Ga. (Cedar Grove)
Billy Ross, OL, 6-5, 315, Huntington, WVa. (Huntington)
Noah Ruggles, PK, 6-3, 180, Odessa, Fla. (Steinbrenner)
Kanye Roberts, ATH, 6-3, 200, Greenback, Tenn. (Greenback School)
Jordan Tucker, OL, 6-5, 335, Roswell, Ga. (Roswell)
C.J. Cotman, ATH, 5-10, 175, Clearwater, Fla. (Central Catholic)
Marcus McKethan, OT, 6-6, 330, Barnwell, S.C. (Barnwell)
Antwuan Branch, RB, 6-0, 205, Clarksville, Tenn. (Kenwood)
Malik Robinson, LB, 6-0, 225, Snellville, Ga. (South Gwinnett)
Brian Anderson, OL, 6-3, 290, Montgomery, Ala. (Montgomery Catholic)
Jeremiah Gemmell, LB, 6-1, 210, Sharpsburg, Ga. (East Coweta)
Caleb Rozar, DB, 6-3, 195, Clarksburg, Tenn. (Dickson County)
Beau Corrales, WR, 6-4, 205, Georgetown, Tex. (Georgetown)
Dazz Newsome, DB, 5-11, 175, Hampton, Va. (Hampton)