When Larry Fedora brought the up-tempo spread offense to Chapel Hill it was only a matter of time until the wide receiver position immediately became one of focus. Coming off of a record-setting year, Fedora may have his most experienced and talented receiving group yet. Let’s take a look at some of the key members expected to make a jump in 2016.
Mack Hollins (Senior, 6’4”, 210)
Mack Hollins has embodied what a college athlete can be when he or she works hard. Hollins has gone from former walk-on to special teams captain to leading the NCAA in yards per reception (24.8 avg.) as a junior. Heading into his senior campaign, Hollins is the unquestioned top deep ball threat at the weak side receiver position. Hollins has also established himself as the vocal leader of the unit alongside Ryan Switzer. Last year, the Rockville, MD native struggled to get going in the first three games, only collecting three receptions, including a goose egg versus Illinois. There were some that worried that his breakout sophomore season may have been all that he would accomplish until Hollins returned in true Mark Morrison form to haul in two touchdowns from Mitch Trubisky, on in relief of a struggling Marquise Williams, in the rain against Delaware. Hollins became the first Tar Heel since 2011 to tally three touchdown receptions when he did so against Wake Forest. In total, Hollins compiled a team and career high with 745 yards receiving in 2015. Heading into 2016, Hollins should only see his production go up with Trubisky under center. The pair’s chemistry continued throughout the spring where Hollins highlighted the spring game with seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan Switzer (Senior, 5’10”, 185 lbs)
I remember watching highlight tapes of Ryan Switzer from his high school days in Charleston, WV and never did I imagine that he would become the player that he is today. Carolina’s version of Wes Welker—Switzer hates that comparison—-in his prime, has been best known throughout his career as a return man. Often ignored has been his consistency at the slot receiver position at Carolina during his sterling career. During his sophomore campaign, Switzer led the team in catches with 61, and receiving yards with 757. Switzer once again was tops in receptions with 55 catches last season while posting second-best 697 yards paired with six touchdowns. Switzer, like his counterpart Hollins, has the potential to become a 1,000-yard receiver if he is able to improve upon his previous seasons and take advantage of the skills of his roommate Trubisky. Once his time is done in Chapel Hill, Switzer will have been one of the most explosive offensive players in program history
Bug Howard (Senior, 6’5”, 210 lbs)
Howard is probably the most athletically gifted of the Tar Heel receivers, and this may be the year that we get to see his full potential on display. The former prep hoop star posted 455 and 488 yards receiving in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The departure of UNC all-time receiving leader, Quinshad Davis, should play a role in a potential breakout senior campaign. Like Davis, Howard will have a clear advantage over any defender that draws the assignment this season. Howard developing into a sure-handed possession receiver would instantly fill the void that Davis leaves behind.
Austin Proehl (Junior, 5’10”, 175)
The son of the 17-year NFL vet Ricky Proehl has played a minor role in the Tar Heel offense in his first two years on campus, despite appearing in 24 games. Proehl hauled in 15 receptions for 105 yards as a freshman, improving on the total yards mark in 2015, with 225 on just 12 receptions. Like in years past, Proehl will likely see the bulk of his playing time in four or five receiver sets, but could easily transition to a leading role when needed. Given his underrated speed, Proehl could provide to be a dangerous fourth option if opponents decide to focus in on the higher acclaimed Carolina wide outs.
Jordan Cunningham (Redshirt Junior, 6’2”, 190 lbs)
Cunningham enters his first year of eligibility in the program after siting out 2015 following a transfer from Vanderbilt. While at Vandy, Cunningham started in six games as a true freshman in 2013 before redshirting in 2014. Despite receiving for 150 yards as a Commodore, Cunningham has the potential to jump into the top of the receiving rotation. Wide receiver coach Gunter Brewer will hope that the addition of Cunningham proves to show dividends early. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Cunningham in the opening series versus his former SEC East foe, Georgia, as a half-game suspension awaits Hollins due to a targeting penalty, and subsequent ejection, carrying over from the second half of the Baylor game.
Brandon Fritts (Redshirt Sophomore, 6’4”, 245 lbs)
Carolina offenses over the past decade have been elevated by the ability of a skilled pass-catching tight end capitalizing on a linebacker mismatch. The likes of Zack Pianalto and Eric Ebron found success in the Tar Heel offense by exploiting that mismatch with their athleticism. Following a redshirt year in 2014, Brandon Fritts showed that same potential by bringing back a slight element of the tight end receiving game in 2015. Fritts showed flashes of that potential with his biggest impact in a three-reception, 63-yard performance in the overtime win at Virginia Tech. At times, Fritts disappeared from the offense last season. The hope and expectation is with Trubisky as the Tar Heels new signal-caller, the Mentor native should see more targets and build upon the already established relationship that he has with his former high school teammate.