National Signing Day has arrived and with the official announcement by UNC of 22 signees for the 2014 recruiting class. GoHeels.com has a full Signing Day Central page with profiles on the newest Tar Heels. Later today, Larry Fedora will address the media concerning the 2014 class.
Without further ado, here is the class with their position rank as determined by the four major recruiting services.
Elijah Hood, RB, Charlotte(NC) Catholic HS
Hood originally committed to Notre Dame before changing his mind and deciding to go to college closer to home. He is a consensus top ten player at his position and was named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Hood enrolled at UNC starting in January and will be available for spring practice.
Bentley Spain, OT, Charlotte(NC) Providence HS
Spain fills a major position of need for UNC and is an elite talent to boot. Ranked between 8th and 14th at his position by the major recruiting services, Spain will likely see the field immediately given UNC's offensive line issues during the 2013 season. Like Hood, Spain was named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and enrolled at UNC in January.
Freeman Jones, K, Bunn(NC) HS
It is not often that getting a kicker is a big deal but in UNC's case, landing Jones might be one of the most important commitments in the class. For two seasons UNC has been using walk-on Thomas Moore for the kicking duties with very mixed results. Jones, a U.S. Army All-American, could challenge for the starting job at kicker as a freshman.
Caleb Henderson, QB, Lady Braddock Secondary(VA)
One of UNC's four U.S. Army All-Americans and another quality quarterback recruit in the pipeline. The addition of Henderson ensures UNC to be set at the quarterback position into the foreseeable future.
Areas of Need
Since eight of the 22 commitments are either offensive linemen or secondary positions, it is clear those two were focal points in this class. And anyone who watched those two units play in 2013 would agree that was a wise move on the part of the Tar Heel staff. UNC has four offensive linemen coming in anchored by the aforementioned Bentley Spain. Josh Allen grades out as a consensus top 30 pick at his position and Jared Cohen is ranked top 30 in three of the four services. Cohen was a late pickup only recently committing to UNC after previously being attached to Maryland and Penn State. UNC's offensive line needs depth and players who can effectively block. This class ensures the former while the latter remains to be seen. In the secondary UNC is losing Tre Boston, Jabari Parker and Terry Shankle so clearly help was needed. Allen Artis and M.J. Stewart have already enrolled at UNC and will be in the mix this spring fighting for playing time.
Obviously Larry Fedora's focus has always been on the offense and along those lines he has secured two elite prospects. Elijah Hood gives UNC another elite running back to go along with T.J. Logan and Khris Francis. Caleb Henderson puts another quality prospect in the quarterback pipeline behind Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky. In all likelihood Henderson ends up redshirting this season since Williams is the presumptive starter and Trubisky his backup with Kanler Coker third on the depth chart. When Williams does depart after the 2014 season, it could set up a battle between Trubisky and Henderson for the starting job in 2015.
On the receiver front, UNC did not bring in any highly touted wide receivers but did pick up a pair of tight ends. Avery Edwards and Brandon Fritts will undoubtedly go against Jack Tabb to see who will fill the spot vacated when Eric Ebron left for the NFL Draft. Ebron was the most productive tight end in UNC and ACC history setting career marks for receiving yards. Filling his shoes to that level is not expected but given that ever receiver on the field has value in Fedora's offense, finding a suitable replacement will be key.
Overall this is a solid class ranking as high as 20th(Rivals) and as low as 30th(ESPN). The scholarship limits stemming from UNC's NCAA penalties continue to prevent Larry Fedora was signing a much bigger class. That plays havoc with the depth since the Tar Heels are leaving 3-4 players on the table in every cycle. The good news on that front is the scholarship limit will be lifted for the 2015 class allowing Fedora and his staff to bring in more players. As it is now, UNC got some elite offensive prospects and filled some needs on the offensive line and secondary.
As is always the case, this is but one step in the much larger process of program building. Talent matters and teams that secure a deep roster of established talent it helps. In UNC's case the bag is always more mixed which means maximizing the potential of every player while relying on coaching to fill some of the gap. It will also help when the scholarship restrictions are finally lifted and Fedora has a wider field to play with as he recruits. Until then there will be a little "making do" and for the most part it would appear the UNC staff is doing well in that regard.