Larry Fedora brought in the 23rd ranked recruiting class nationally, which was good for 5th in the ACC. Normally a recruiting class doesn’t have an immediate impact on the following season. However, due to the NCAA rule change regarding redshirting (players can play in up to four games and not burn their redshirt year,) and a few undisclosed pair of Jordan’s, there are going to be a lot of freshman in this year’s class that get more opportunities than they normally would.
So let’s check out some incoming freshman who could seeing a lot of playing time on Saturdays for the Tar Heels.
William Barnes: Offensive Tackle; Apopka, FL
Barnes is widely considered (including by me) to be the best player in this recruiting class. Barnes choose UNC over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, and Duke among others. Barnes played both tackle spots in high school, but has the size and length to hopefully develop into a left tackle throughout his career. He actually pulled a lot in his high school offense, and even when he wasn’t pulling showed a real ability to get to the second level quickly. UNC is pretty set at both tackle spots right now, but Barnes is too talented not to get on the field in some capacity. I wouldn’t be shocked if he saw some action at guard, even if it’s only for four games to preserve his redshirt, but he could play guard immediately and then transition to tackle within a couple of years.
Antoine Green: Wide Receiver; Rockledge, FL
Green has football speed more than necessarily track speed. He’s never going to burn anyone down the field, but he creates separation from the defensive back so well that he doesn’t need 4.3 speed to get open. What really stands out watching Green, however, is his ability to high point the ball. He repeatedly shows a knack for getting the ball before anyone else can to the point where the one or two times he miss-timed I had to rewind the tape cause I thought I was watching a different player. He needs to get bigger, and he needs to improve his route running. However, with the suspension of Beau Corrales for the first four games, Green is going to see the field opposite Anthony Ratliff-Williams sooner rather than later. When you’re watching him make a jaw-dropping catch, just remember you heard it here first.
Javon Terry: Defensive Back; Wake Forest, NC
Terry is FAST. Just watching live he doesn’t seem super quick, but he’ll make some plays where he’s not even close to the ball. Some of that is he’s just out of position, but boy can he get himself in the right spot real quick. Terry’s ability to diagnose plays quickly and get to the ball carrier is what’s going to get him on the field faster than anything, though. In high school he played mostly strong safety, even some outside linebacker. He could, however, play either safety spot in college, and due to depth issues at nickelback I’d be surprised if he didn’t at least get some practice reps at nickelback.
Matthew Flint: Linebacker; Gurley, AL
Flint is one of the players who could see some playing time due to Sneakergate more than anything else. The linebacker position wasn’t affected a whole lot and the starting three linebackers are pretty intact, but the position that was affected probably the most was defensive end. Flint didn’t really play with his hand in the dirt in high school, so this a bit of a projection that he could line up at defensive end. More likely would be him playing as a third down linebacker, or a pass rush specialist while UNC’s best pass rushers are unavailable. He did show a natural pass rush ability from the weakside linebacker spot in high school. Another reason that I think he’s athletic enough to get snaps right away is he also played running back and wide receiver, and so he’s pretty much played all over the field. He’s more raw than some other players in this class, so more of a dark horse but due to depth issues I think he’ll get a shot this year.
Dyami Brown: Wide Receiver; Charlotte, NC
Brown is a player who was going to be on the field this year regardless of the redshirt rule change. Brown enrolled in January and really shined during spring football. Brown is an extremely polished route runner. Often players like Brown who are usually the most athletic player on the field in high school rely on athleticism more than pure route running to get open, but you can see it’s something he’s worked on. He also has really quick hands and footwork against press coverage, which is going to be crucial against the press coverage he’s going to see. The big thing that stood out to me was his ability to use his eyes to get open. Either on a head fake, or looking for the ball at the right time to not give the defensive back any indication he is a really intelligent receiver, which on top of his athleticism is why he has the chance to be a big part of Carolina’s offense all season.
Bryson Richardson: Defensive Back; Buford, GA
Richardson played mostly free safety in high school, but he enrolled early to advantage of being on campus for spring football. UNC cornerbacks coach Henry Baker has said multiple times that Richardson has shown he’s more than capable of being UNC’s starting nickel corner this season. Starting a true freshman at such an important position on defense says as much about Richardson’s talent as it does about UNC’s depth at defensive back, and I think that position is going to be the most interesting to watch this year. Even if he doesn’t end up starting at nickelback, his ball skills and physicality will allow him to see the field a lot this year.
Brant Lawless: Defensive Tackle; Nashville, TN
Lawless is the newest recruit to the class of 2018. The four-star defensive tackle actually signed a letter of intent with Tennessee over offers from Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma, Georgia and others. After the Butch Jones firing and the whole firing fiasco at Tennessee, he actually stayed committed when Jeremy Pruitt was hired. However, he received a release from his NLI last month, making him eligible to enroll at UNC. Defensive tackle is another position that the Tar Heels are pretty set at, but it’s another position where the defensive end issues are bleeding over. Lawless probably wouldn’t see any time at defensive end, but it’s possible someone ahead of him on the depth chart slides over to defensive end in some packages, allowing him some time at defensive tackle. It wouldn’t be the most ideal personnel fit, but at the end of the day coaches are going to do whatever they can do get the best players on the field.