A new era for North Carolina begins as life after Sam Howell kicks off with this look at their 2023 NFL draft prospects. The Tar Heels will be led by a new signal-caller for the first time in three seasons, but they’ll have pieces on defense returning that should strike fear in opponents this fall. There’s also a pretty dominant receiver in Josh Downs for their offense to run through.
North Carolina prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
UNC will be led by someone other than Howell for the first time since 2018. Whether it’s upperclassman Jacolby Criswell or one of the highly-touted freshman quarterbacks leading the way, one thing is for sure: North Carolina’s Josh Downs is a star. Here’s an early look at their draft prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft.
British Brooks, RB
In just four games on offense a season ago, British Brooks averaged over nine yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. That’s not bad considering he played behind 1,000-yard rusher Ty Chandler. Brooks was also named the program’s special teams MVP and captain for the second season in a row. That willingness to see the field is one of his most admirable traits.
D.J. Jones, RB
A missed tackle waiting to happen, D.J. Jones’ elusiveness should give him a heavy increase in workload this season. He’s also set to be a valuable contributor in the passing game. In the open field, Jones is a hard man to bring down and an even harder man to catch.
Antoine Green, WR
North Carolina’s downfield threat, Antoine Green is back for his fifth season in Carolina Blue. Green is a master at the catch point and understands how to use his size to his advantage over smaller defensive backs. Honing his craft after the catch will be key, but he already averages nearly two first downs per reception over his career.
Josh Downs, WR
A slot machine, Josh Downs is arguably one of the nation’s top returning receivers. Whether coming over the middle or breaking towards the sidelines, Downs wins at every level of the field. He’s a danger with the ball in his hands and a threat to take it the distance every play with his mix of elusiveness and speed. Downs could crack the first round with another dominant season like he had in 2021.
Asim Richards, OT
The lone full-time starter returning to the UNC offensive line, Asim Richards is the anchor up front. Richards isn’t the biggest offensive tackle at a lean 6’4″ and 320 pounds, but he certainly has a play strength that overcomes that. He also has plenty of lateral movement in his feet to contend with speed rushers to boot.
Ed Montilus, G
With 15 career starts under his belt, Ed Montilus is in line to be the next Tar Heel guard to hear his name called in the NFL draft. Montilus is as strong as an ox and a terrific blocker on the move in the run game. He is no slouch in pass protection either and should help anchor a new starting lineup to his right.
Corey Gaynor, C
A Miami transfer, Corey Gaynor is back for his sixth season of college football. He was a three-year starter before exiting the Hurricanes. Gaynor played in three games a season ago but had a multitude of starts prior. Best when given a chance to set his feet and pass protect up the middle, Gaynor provides valuable experience to the Tar Heels in 2022.
William Barnes, OT
William Barnes enters his senior season with the Tar Heels in 2022. Dating back to high school with fellow offensive lineman Ed Montilus, Barnes is also likely set to hear his name called in the NFL draft with a dominant showing this year. Like Richards opposite him at left tackle, Barnes isn’t the biggest right tackle at 6’3″ and 312 pounds, but he plays much stronger. He’s willing to contribute on special teams and is a student of the game.
Chris Collins, EDGE
Playing UNC’s “JACK” role off the edge, Chris Collins flashed brilliance at times a season ago. At 6’4″ and 255 pounds, Collins put forth a show against rival NC State. That happened to be right after he garnered his first start of the season as the confidence started to roll in with more snaps. Sound in all facets, Collins is at his best when he can pin his ears back and rush the passer.
Noah Taylor, EDGE
A longtime Virginia standout, Noah Taylor has transferred in for one final college football season. Taylor is long at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, using his reach to influence the run game and bat passes at the line if he can’t get to the quarterback. He also comes with full positional versatility, as he excels when dropping out into coverage. This is a make-or-break year for Taylor in terms of the NFL draft, but he’ll be a great addition to the Tar Heels’ defense in 2022.
Myles Murphy, DT
Out to prove he’s not just the other Myles Murphy in the ACC, UNC’s Murphy is set to turn the corner in Year 3 in Chapel Hill. Murphy is a big man at 6’3″, 300 pounds. But he moves much quicker and faster than you’d expect. There’s a suddenness to his game. And it pays dividends when he’s rushing the passer. He also clogs rushing lanes and disrupts gaps with pleasure. Be warned: The breakout year is coming.
Raymond Vohasek, DT
If last year didn’t tell you all you needed to know about Raymond Vohasek, then get ready for 2022. No center in the ACC is going to want to go up against the big man from Illinois and the one-time top-ranked JUCO transfer from the state. A student of the game, Vohasek had more influence over the passing game than general box scores will dictate. He pushed the line with ease and made quarterbacks uneasy with his ability to disrupt the interior of the pocket.
Cedric Gray, LB
An absolute tackling machine, Cedric Gray racked up an impressive 100 tackles a season ago. But that was only half of his impact on the game. Gray was sound in coverage with three pass breakups and two interceptions. He recorded 2.5 sacks and multiple QB pressures. And he finished the season on a tear with double-digit tackles in five of their last eight contests.
Tony Grimes, CB
Tony Grimes possesses elite reach — partially because of his size but more because of the combination of long arms and quick closing burst that allows him to never be out of a play in coverage. Grimes lived up to his five-star billing during his sophomore season in 2021. And if all indications are to be believed, he’s only going to get better.
Storm Duck, CB
Though he missed half the season with injury, Storm Duck quietly returned to form following a shortened 2020 year. At his best, Duck is a shutdown cover corner with elite coverage skills both in man and zone defense. Duck has also proven to be a terrific tackler, and his ability to read and react allow him to move off receivers and pursue ball carriers with ease.
Don Chapman, CB
It’s hard to pick just one position for Don Chapman to evaluate. After all, he’s started games at cornerback and both safety positions throughout his career. Either way you slice it, however, Chapman always comes out with positive grades as he’s a sound cover man wherever he is on the field. That versatility also allows him access to multiple run stops and tackles for loss throughout his career.
Ja’Qurious Conley, DB
Versatility is the name of the game for Ja’Qurious Conley. With experience playing a true free safety role as well as in the box as a strong safety, his coverage prowess against a variety of receivers is impressive. He also chips in with multiple roles on special teams. Covering the middle of the field well, Conley recorded two interceptions a season ago and should be looked at as a major contributor this fall.
Giovanni Biggers, S
Playing a full-time role for the first time in his career, Giovanni Biggers quietly had a great season last year. In addition to his ability to shut down rushing lanes from his safety spot, Biggers showcased an ability to close space in coverage zones all the same. He’s also a valuable special teamer and led the nation with two blocked kicks in 2021.
Cam’Ron Kelly, S
At the right place at the right time more often than not, Cam’Ron Kelly feasted on quarterbacks last season. With four interceptions and a handful more forced incompletions, coverage was the name of the game for him. When allowed to roam free, Kelly is at his best as he can use his keen instincts to find the ball incredibly well both in the run game and in coverage.
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