Top 10 returning players at North Carolina are led by WR Josh Downs

    The top 10 returning players at North Carolina are led by 1,000-yard WR Josh Downs, as he'll aid the new QB in Chapel Hill.

    The North Carolina Tar Heels return a solid foundation of college football talent in life after Sam Howell. North Carolina’s top returning players are heavy on one side of the ball, but WR Josh Downs will heavily aid in the transition from Howell to a new quarterback in 2022.

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    Top 10 returning players at North Carolina

    We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to North Carolina.

    10) Asim Richards, OT

    A young offense will at least bring back a talented offensive tackle as Asim Richards returns in 2022. Richards, who will stick at left tackle for whoever wins the signal-caller job, is a dependable asset. He presents a sound base with great power in his lower body to fend off strong rushers. Richards also moves well, both in pass protection and in the run game.

    9) Kaimon Rucker, EDGE

    Forcing havoc off the edge, Kaimon Rucker has the luxury of two dominant defenders on the inside. Rucker finds those free rushing lanes or favorable matchups as he moves around the edge well. He’ll push past tackles with his blend of speed and power, as he finished with 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks a season ago.

    8) Storm Duck, CB

    One of the standouts from UNC’s 2019 season, Storm Duck hasn’t quite capitalized on his terrific freshman season. Yet, Duck presents a player with star potential if he can stay healthy and in the lineup. In Gene Chizik’s system, Duck should be able to man the outside and build on what he showcased down the stretch of last season. He made multiple plays on the ball over the final few weeks and seemed ready for bigger things when the season finished.

    7) Antoine Green, WR

    The bigger target for the UNC passing attack, Antoine Green finally had his moment last season. Green finished with 612 yards and five touchdowns as the 6’2″, 207-pounder had a terrific complementary season to Downs. Handling the business as a No. 1 wide receiver on the outside, Green bodies smaller defensive backs and has great skills at the catch point.

    6) Cedric Gray, LB

    Leading the team in tackles is one thing. Finishing among the top of your teammates in tackles for loss and sacks is another. Cedric Gray racked up 100 total tackles to lead the Tar Heels, while his presence in the backfield paved the way for multiple top marks in tackles for loss and sacks. He’s a dominant three-down linebacker at his best when he’s moving towards the ball, whether running the alley or blitzing the quarterback.

    5) Raymond Vohasek, DT

    Rushing his way to the quarterback, Raymond Vohasek was a dominant nose tackle in 2021. The position is often thankless and seldom talked about as it’s a position of grit, power, and tenacity. There isn’t much that is sexy about the position, yet Vohasek made it look good in 2021. He finished with four tackles for loss and a single sack. Still, his thankless efforts allowed for favorable matchups on the outside because Vohasek required multiple blockers to stop him up the middle.

    4) Tony Grimes, CB

    Back for another year of limiting receivers in his coverage, Tony Grimes returns to give North Carolina an edge on the outside. Grimes is long and physical, playing a unique brand of football on the outside. He stays with receivers very well and limits big plays. Despite that physicality, there’s enough burst in his game that allows him to make plays on the ball look easy.

    3) Cam’Ron Kelly, S

    The defense in Chapel Hill will be tasked with forcing more turnovers. Cam’Ron Kelly returns as the leader in takeaways after intercepting four passes last season and should be a leader under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Kelly has great size at the safety position, enough to cover tight ends from the box while presenting speed and quickness to cover backs out of the backfield all the same.

    2) Myles Murphy, DT

    A star in the making, Myles Murphy is back to prove he’s not just “the other Myles Murphy” in the ACC. Murphy stands 6’4″ and 300 pounds yet moves like a nimble defensive end. He’ll rush from all over UNC’s defensive line and have similar success. He’s a massive man to handle but an even more taxing defender to figure out as he has power and speed in his arsenal.

    1) Josh Downs, WR

    Whoever wins the job at quarterback will have one of the nation’s top pass catchers at his disposal as Josh Downs is back for North Carolina. Downs exploded onto the scene with 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago. He wins from the slot, so his young quarterback should look his way often in 2022. His ability to get open is unmatched at the position this season, as Downs can flip his defensive backs around in the blink of an eye. Downs is a magician in the open field and should be considered a home-run threat whenever he touches the ball.

    Honorable mention players returning to UNC in 2022

    • Ja’Qurious Conley, S
    • Don Chapman, S
    • Quiron Johnson, G
    • William Barnes, OT
    • Ed Montilus, G
    • Power Echols, LB

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