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North Carolina Football: Surprises from the NFL Draft

There were both serious rises and serious falls for Tar Heels in the NFL Draft

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft took place from April 27th to April 29th, and over those three days, six Tar Heels were drafted. This in and of itself is a big deal for the program, as this is the highest number of Heels drafted since 2011, when nine Heels were drafted.

The six draftees give UNC Football the fifth-highest total of all schools represented, as well as tying for second in the ACC with Clemson (Miami had 8). After several years of having little representation in the NFL Draft, hopefully this year sets UNC on a much more fruitful path both in collegiate production and translation to the pro level.

The six players drafted were widely seen to be the six most likely players to be drafted: Mitch Trubisky, Nazair Jones, Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan, and Elijah Hood. However, only a couple of them were actually picked as expected. The rest...

The Highs:

  • Mitch Trubisky didn’t have to wait long at all to hear his name called on Thursday. It had been pretty much accepted that he would probably be the first quarterback off the board, but most predictions had him being picked anywhere from 6th to 12th overall; people didn’t like this quarterback class much.

Instead, not only was Trubisky taken 2nd overall, the Chicago Bears traded up for him, giving up 2 third-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up one spot and get their quarterback. Out of the several potential landing spots for Trubisky that had been discussed, the Bears are one of the more enigmatic.

As previously discussed here on THB, the Bears have a good offensive line but almost no proven receivers to throw the ball to. On the other hand, Trubisky may be able to sit for a year or two behind Mike Glennon and take his time to adjust to the NFL instead of being thrust immediately onto a bad team.

  • Nazair Jones was the second Heel off the board, going in the late 3rd round (102nd overall) to the Seattle Seahawks. This was especially surprising given Jones’ mediocre workout numbers and Seattle’s famous preference for elite athletes across the board. Jones is a player, but one would be forgiven for thinking that a more old-school organization like the Tennessee Titans or the Washington football team would take a chance on him before an analytics-driven squad like the Seahawks.

Seattle has made a name for themselves not only with their secondary, but with their defensive line in recent years, so their trust in Jones is very intriguing. Jones will fit into the defensive line rotation alongside fellow Seattle rookie defensive lineman Malik McDowell.

  • Mack Hollins, to many observers’ surprise, was the first Tar Heel receiver off the board. While Hollins’ NFL fit is obvious as a big, fast receiver who was also his team’s special teams captain for four years, the thought was that his lack of route running ability and his injury-plagued senior year would push him down teams’ draft boards.

However, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to take a chance on him in the 4th round (118th overall), presumably based on his junior year when he led the nation in yards per reception. Philadelphia has a lot of potential at wide receiver but very little proven talent and a lot of inconsistency, so a guy like Hollins who has mastered his admittedly limited craft certainly has a place there.

The Kind-of-Lows:

  • TJ Logan was one of the hottest late-round names around in the pre-draft process. Despite his secondary back status at UNC, Logan’s speed (proven at the Combine with a 4.37 second 40-yard dash), agility, and receiving ability all raised eyebrows at his Pro Day, and in the lead-up to the draft, Logan was being talked about as a 4th-round pick who could even sneak up into late Day 2.

Instead, Logan fell to the bottom of the 5th round to the Arizona Cardinals, where he will have a chance to back up one of the best running backs in the league in David Johnson. He will also have a chance to prove himself as a kick returner after being one of the best in the NCAA last year.

  • Elijah Hood, the other Tar Heel running back, had to wait a long time to hear his name called, finally being picked in the 7th round (242nd overall) by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders don’t have much at running back after losing Latavius Murray to free agency, so this is an excellent spot for Hood to be able to prove himself.

Hood’s stellar sophomore year showed that he could be a feature back in the NFL; now the onus is on him to regain that form and earn a spot in the rotation. This spot was not extremely surprising for Hood after his injury-plagued junior year and the Heels’ overall regression from 2015, but for a player thought of as a Day 2 pick after his sophomore year, this slide is still notable.