If you've watched Larry Fedora's offense over the past two years, you know that a lot of different receivers get the football in the passing game. Some of that is the nature of the offense, some of it is UNC not having necessarily a star option save a certain vocal tight end last season. Whatever the case the nature of the offense means any number of receivers could end up with being pass targets.
In 2013, UNC offensive players caught a total of 283 passes. The top receiver was tight end Eric Ebron with 62 catches and almost a thousand yards. After Ebron there was Quinshad Davis with 48 catches, Ryan Switzer with 32 and a trio players with at least 20 in the persons of Jonathan "Bug" Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Sean Tapley. Almost three-fourths of UNC's receptions was split between five different receivers and one of those was a tight end.
Needless to say with Ebron now snagging passes in Detroit, UNC will need to fill a huge hole in the passing game both from the tight end position and in general. After all, Ebron functioned as more than just a traditional tight end. His speed and size made him a match-up problem that opposing teams had a tough time solving. Both Ebron's impact on the defensive game planning and his production will be sorely missed. With Ebron gone UNC's 2014 offense is bound to operate a little differently than it did a season ago. While tight end Jack Tabb can probably fill some of the void in Ebron's absence, he isn't the same caliber of player nor is he likely to produce the same kind of numbers.
Fortunately for UNC, there are options among the receivers and it starts with junior Quinshad Davis. While productive in 2013, it never really felt like Davis had a true breakout season. Perhaps he was overshadowed by Ebron but looking at the numbers, Davis was effective though not necessarily the #1 option in the passing game. Still, Davis did lead the team in receiving touchdowns with ten and piled up 730 yards on 48 catches for a 15.2 yards per catch average. That was second to Ebron among receivers catching at least 20 passes. With the departure of Ebron, this season marks a real opportunity for Davis to shine though that isn't always easy given how much the ball gets spread around in Larry Fedora's offense. That being said, for UNC to compensate for Ebron's absence and mount a successful air attack, Davis will need to step up.
Davis isn't the only Tar Heel looking to make noise. Sophomore Ryan Switzer would like to show the world that he can do more than return punts for a touchdown. As a part of the regular offense, Switzer had a quiet 2013 with just 32 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Of course that does not include an 82-yard touchdown reception by Switzer negated by one of UNC's many holding penalties last season. That play speaks to what Switzer is capable of as a receiver. Switzer is a dynamic player whose speed and elusiveness makes him a perfect counter to Davis' size. With Davis you can throw the ball up and have him battle a shorter defender for it. Switzer tends to be used for plays with maximize his speed. With Switzer, UNC has the ability to stretch the field by using his speed to pass downfield. The sophomore can also create yards after the catch on short passes near the line, a common play in Fedora's offense.
The qualities Davis and Switzer bring to the table give UNC some flexibility in the passing game. UNC also enjoys a little depth among the receivers with Bug Howard showing flashes last season and T.J. Thorpe(assuming he is healthy) giving the Heels another potentially solid option. Junior Damien Washington had a nice outing in the spring game which included a 48-yard reception. If the tight end position can produce between Jack Tabb and Eric Albright, the overall passing attack has the potential do serve as a balance to the rushing attack and get the Tar Heel offense moving.
From the skills position perspective, UNC has the talent. The hiring of Seth Littrell as offensive coordinator after Blake Anderson left for Arkansas St. will undoubtedly introduce some new wrinkles to an offense that could finally perform close to what Larry Fedora has in mind.