In the wake of last Friday’s news that Antonio Williams was eligible to play in 2018, the Tar Heel Blog staff was understandably giddy. Williams represents the highest upside/experience combination among skill position players wearing Carolina Blue heading into the season.
After some banter, I downplayed Williams’ impact because I am an unapologetic Michael Carter fanboy. It led me to prompt the staff with the question: who are your ‘dudes’ for the 2018 season? After much deliberation among my esteemed peers, I have answers.
Carl Tucker and William Sweet. Tucker because he’s going to be getting his first opportunity to start at TE and his injury came right after a 100-yard game. With more stability on the offensive line but a QB whose ability to hit his WRs might be questionable, I can see Tucker becoming our quarterback’s best friend pretty quickly.
Sweet because he shut down the Louisville end across from him all game long and he just looks like an elite lineman when he plays.
Chad’s thoughts: really good picks here. Tucker offers experience as a safety net, and clearly has great rapport with Chazz Surratt as evidenced by the numbers Akil cited. Sweet is a prototypical NFL left tackle if he can stay healthy, and with the emergence of Charlie Heck should provide the Heels with two nice bookend tackles.
Defense: LB Jonathan Smith is my guy to watch. He missed the second half of his freshman year with an injury in 2016, but the rising junior played in 11 games in 2017. He earned four starts along the way, and finished the year with 19 tackles in the final two games. Originally a top-20 inside linebacker, the Heels need him to be a force in the middle of the field.
Offense: RB Jordon Brown may be the most well-rounded guy in the backfield. Michael Carter had more yards per carry, but Brown led UNC in rushing yards. He was also second on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards. If Larry Fedora doesn’t forget about his running backs, then Brown’s pass catching ability will keep him on the field during key moments.
Chad’s thoughts: Smith may be the most important piece of the puzzle on the defense, given the attrition at linebacker. With experience under his belt, he could make us forget that Andre Smith left us after just two years + two games in 2017. Brown emerged as a surprisingly steady option behind a patchwork OL last year, and has demonstrated ability to shake tackles in the backfield and turn negative plays into explosive ones. Good picks. (Note: all picks are good picks.)
If there is one thing UNC Football wasn’t last year, it was fun. However, cornerback KJ Sails managed to bring entertainment to an otherwise completely forgettable year on the field for the Tar Heels. Sails finished the season with 30 tackles and was ranked ninth in the ACC in pass breakups with 13.
With MJ Stewart on to more lucrative pastures, the team will need another guy to step up and excel in his former role. Sails seems like the guy for the job, and he can do it while visibly having the best time. That’s the kind of fun that makes less-than-stellar seasons tolerable. Hopefully they give KJ something to dance about more often than not this year.
Chad’s thoughts: Sails is in the Tre Boston camp as a DB— both immensely talented and moderately infuriating. His play began to back up his antics as the season wore on, and he looks to step into a shutdown corner role for the Heels as he becomes a veteran presence.
Hey everyone, meet new contributor Jacob! Based on his picks, I’m excited to talk football with him.
Myles Wolfolk should be the starting nickelback this year for the Tar Heels, which in 2018 means he’s a starting defensive back. Especially against teams like Miami and Virginia Tech, who are usually in 3 or 4 receiver sets, Wolfolk is going to be crucial for Carolina’s defense. Wolfolk is a redshirt sophomore who started 4 games last year, and saw action in 10. Despite limited playing time he was tied for the team lead in interceptions. He’s a big cornerback and a really good tackler in space, almost playing a box safety position at times. He doesn’t have burner speed, but good enough closing speed to hang with quick slot receivers, and his ball skills allow him to make plays despite being behind the receiver at times.
Beau Corrales is an offensive player I’m keeping an eye on this year. The sophomore receiver from Texas only played sparingly last year, but he’s a physical receiver who has really good body control in the air, which makes him a mismatch Fedora can take advantage of all over the field. Because of his unique skill set he should get a lot of opportunities, especially playing opposite Anthony Ratliff-Williams who will draw a lot of attention. At the very least expect some red-zone packages specifically for Corrales.
Chad’s thoughts: DEEP CUTS FROM THE ROOKIE! Wolfolk may have the best ball skills in the secondary, which makes up for a slight lack in measurables. I argued that he may be better suited for a safety role, but he’ll be on the field in some capacity. Corrales’ emergence corresponded with Nathan Elliott’s playing time, as they developed a rapport on the scout team. He is definitely the de facto ‘big’ receiver, and if Carolina chooses not to use its impressive tight end depth, a 4-wide package with Corrales, ARW, Dyami Brown, and (pick your favorite slot receiver from Toe Groves, Dazz Newsome, and Thomas Jackson) would be fun.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams: one of the few stars from last year who wore down because it became clear he would be the focus, he should benefit from having new talent line up beside him and in the backfield. He’s also continuing the tradition of UNC return men, and something tells me he’s not going to settle for this new rule of taking a touchback anywhere behind the 25. With defenses having to look at multiple people I will be excited to see what he can do.
Malik Carney: led the team in sacks last year, another Iron Man who played all 12 games, which should get him a patch on his jersey considering the attrition from last year, and teamed up with Tomon Fox creates a real problem for offenses. It’s his senior year, and he’s going to look to make All-ACC and get his NFL stock up.
Chad’s thoughts: Good picks, as Carney is criminally underrated by Carolina faithful— he’s a beast. I’d make the argument that ARW’s late season numbers (namely against Pitt and State) are more impressive as he was the focal point of the offense. If he’s more consistent, look out. Al picked the two guys most likely to appear on All-ACC lists and shoot up draft boards, and you can’t go wrong there.
Michael Carter: where have we seen a smallish running back from Florida with exceptional body control battle injuries as a freshman and turn into a superstar before? He was my dude last year as soon as his third career carry went 50+ yards against Cal and (briefly) ignited the Carolina offense.
Tomon Fox: I’m a sucker for toolsy rush ends, and Fox has tools for days. With attention shifted to Carney, Jalen Dalton, and Aaron Crawford, Fox, should see a lot of 1-on-1’s in passing downs. That bodes well for Carolina’s typically suspect pass defense.
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Who are your dudes for 2018? There are plenty more to choose from, though my colleagues made great choices. Comment below and justify your picks, get weird with it!