Not many people know what to make of the Tar Heels in the 2018 season. Last year was an absolute catastrophe for North Carolina. As the old saying goes anything that could go wrong went wrong. UNC was one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation last year, and that inexperience showed. With 44 starts among players lost to injury, it was as if the starting line-up was makeshift all season long. This season the Tar Heels avoid Clemson, Louisville, BC, and FSU on their in-conference schedule. We project these 4 teams as the best in the Atlantic for 2018. So let’s take a look to see how the Tar Heels shape up to take on their favorable 2018 schedule.
Although the Tar Heels may be losing 4 seniors on the offensive line, they might just have the guys to step in to do get the job done. William Sweet will be returning from an ACL tear and has all the tools to be that anchor at LT. Mason Veal was also a highly touted recruit coming out of HS and with a few years under his belt, he could also contribute this year as well. The RT position has talent there as well with Charlie Heck. Heck is an NFL talent that will likely be drafted if he decides to forgo his RS senior season in 2019. Throw in true freshman William Barnes and the potential is certainly there for this offensive line. Barnes was an Army All-American last season, and could certainly play multiple positions if he is asked to.
The skill positions will be much improved in 2018, as there was virtually no experience coming in to last season. Last season the Tar Heels lost their top 4 rushers on the team and their top 3 receivers as well. Michael Carter showed some great promise at the RB position as a true freshman last season, and could very well have a break out season. He averaged nearly 6 yards per carry and had 8 touchdowns on the year. Jordon Brown will also be returning as the starter and could be deadly if the offensive line lives up to their potential.
Ohio State Transfer
Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams was cleared to play in the 2018 season. That means this RB stable could start to look like the stable the Heels had in the 2016 season with Elijah Hood and TJ Logan. Williams was ranked as the #7 RB in the 2016 class and brings a different kind of running style. He is known for knocking heads, as Brown and Carter have more of a scatback style. Freshman Javonte Williams also turned heads in the spring, and could very well see some action this fall, too.
At the WR position the Tar Heels are returning quite possible the most fun player to watch in the ACC. Anthony Ratliff-Williams came to Chapel Hill as a QB, but is now a sure-handed WR. Although the talented ARW only had 630 receiving yards last season, that number should increase with slightly more experience at the QB position. Beau Corrales and Dazz Newsome showed some promise as freshmen last season, and their experience last year will definitely help. True Freshman Dyami Brown was a name tossed around in spring as he enrolled early. His speed will stretch the field even more for the Heels. If TEs Carl Tucker and Brandon Fritts can be healthy, the quarterbacks will have plenty of options downfield.
At this point there is plenty of uncertainty in regards to the Tar Heel QB position. It seems that UNC has the perfect QB split between two guys in Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt. Surratt is extremely athletic and has the arm to make most of the throws that is asked for him. His stiff arm against Duke last season was absolutely incredible. Tar Heel faithful know the one we’re talking about:
Elliott seems to have everything put-together between the ears. Elliott is the son of a coach, and it shows with his understanding of defenses. Unfortunately, his physical short-comings might be his downfall. However, if neither of these QBs can get the job done in 2018, true freshman Jace Ruder might end up being the most popular guy in Chapel Hill.
The North Carolina defensive line looks to be one of the deepest that head coach Larry Fedora has had in his tenure with the Tar Heels. Jalen Dalton and Aaron Crawford stuff the middle at the DT position and can fill plenty of holes. Although Crawford is a DT he often finds himself in the backfield wreaking havoc among the QBs. Jeremiah Clarke and Jason Strowbridge will be spelling these two talents and could easily be starters themselves. These 4 should be rotating often throughout the game keeping them fresh.
Malik Carney will be the leader of the defense at the DE position as he had the best year of any Tar Heel defender last season. Tomon Fox will line up at the other DE position and has the tools to have a breakout season this year. Fox plays just how Fedora wants them to – Smart, Fast, and Physical.
Replacing Andre Smith
Although UNC will be missing the services of ‘backer Andre Smith, they are returning Cole Holcomb, Jonathan Smith, and some other familiar names. Jonathan Smith seems to be a little slow at times, but Cole Holcomb finds himself all of the field. Watch out for sophomore Malik Robinson as we project him to have a breakout year. Freshman Matthew Flint switched his commitment from Tennessee to UNC towards the end of the recruiting cycle, and has the potential to contribute immediately.
Secondary at Full Sail
The cornerbacks will be lead by juniors KJ Sails and Myles Dorn. KJ Sails is the type of player that you love when he is on your team, but hate when you play against him. The trash-talking kind of player. Fortunately for KJ, he is able to back it up most of the time. Dorn is a hard-hitting safety that is extremely athletic. With MJ Stewart out of the fold one of the trio of Patrice Rene, CJ Cotman, or Myles Wolfork will have to step up. The Tar Heels should be more than fine, as those 3 all showed promise in past games.
We’re sure that many Tar Heel fans are anxious to finally start the 2018 season and put 2017 behind them. If catastrophe strikes again they will most definitely be calling for Fedora’s head. However, UNC AD Bubba Cunningham does want to give Fedora a fair shot. So prepare to see him at the helm regardless in 2019, as he did accept the UNC job while they were under NCAA investigation.
However, we do not see the 2018 season playing out the same way that 2017 did. With all of the talent that the Tar Heels are returning we predict that they will be bowl bound. In some ways, the injuries of last year have increased their depth at various positions. If Surratt or Elliott can have a respectable season, they could even compete for a top spot in the Coastal. Beating Miami might be a different story.