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Carolina Football: 5 Breakout Candidates for 2018, Based on Spring Depth Charts

151 days ‘til football season, baby!

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Spring practice is the worst. It serves as a gentle reminder that, while there is football happening on college campuses across America, there are still five months before you learn anything of value.

The receiver coming out of nowhere and dominating skeleton drills? Probably more of an indictment of your secondary than the light just switching to ‘on’. The freshman defensive end with 5 sacks in the spring game*? He was going against a walk-on.

*- Narrator: they didn’t have a spring game

So, who is turning heads for the Tar Heels in spring practice? Who is putting the pieces together and fighting, unexpectedly, for more snaps in 2018? Trying to glean anything of value from spring ball is a fool’s errand — so let’s do just that!

Tre Shaw, sophomore DB

Shaw came to campus with plenty of hype as a 4-star recruit and just outside the top 300 players in his class, but was largely a special teams participant as a true freshman. Though he played in all 12 games, he amassed just 9 tackles — a number he may best before Carolina dons their home blues this year.

Shaw is the heir apparent to M.J. Stewart’s vacated nickel spot, and has basically been running unchallenged to take over there. The Georgia native has some big shoes to fill, but he also has the pedigree to do it.

Dyami Brown, freshman WR

I tried really hard to avoid listing any freshmen here, but Brown has arguably turned the most heads of anyone in spring camp. Though he is the least-heralded of the Heels’ shiny new trio of blue-chip receivers, Brown is the only one on campus— and has taken the opportunity to do nothing short of blow folks away with his speed/size combination.

The main knock on Brown was that he was raw as a receiver, but the 1st and 2nd team reps at A-back in the spring can only help.

Malik Robinson, sophomore LB

At some point, Carolina has to catch a break at linebacker...right? Cayson Collins and Andre Smith are gone, and Cole Holcomb is not practicing during the spring, so the youth movement at ‘backer is 100% underway.

Robinson has largely joined Jonathan Smith and Dom Ross— two breakout candidates in their own right— with the first defense, and apparently looks quicker and meaner. Someone I talked to said he had a great grasp of what he was supposed to do, and to “watch out” for number 42.

Between Robinson, Smith, Ross, Holcomb, and hyped freshman Matthew Flint, there is talent at UNC’s most-maligned position in the past few years.

C.J. Cotman, sophomore CB

Yep, another young defensive back/second-year defender. The departures of Donnie Miles and Stewart leave an obvious talent and experience gap in the backfield, and Cotman at least provides the talent to bridge to the next era.

His standout trait is his speed— you will be hard-pressed to find someone who is going to beat #20 deep. As the spring has developed, he has taken more and more reps from incumbent field corner K.J. Sails.

Beau Corrales, sophomore WR

This may be cheating a little bit, but my alternatives were incumbent starters such as Tomon Fox and Michael Carter, or injured players such as William Sweet or Jay-Jay McCargo. Listing either type of player here defeats the purpose of this exercise, so here we are.

Corrales emerged as Nathan Elliott’s go-to target late in the season, and the imposing receiver from Texas was excellent down the stretch. He caught 3 TD passes in the final four games, and has now emerged as the starter opposite Anthony Ratliff-Williams.

While he’ll face some stiff competition when Jordyn Adams and Antoine Green arrive in the summer, Corrales has the inside track (and the track record) to lock down one of the outside WR spots.