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Two UNC football players have been invited to the NFL Combine

Neither is who you would have expected to be most likely, though

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NCAA Football: Western Carolina at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

As football fans across the country turn their attention to NFL Draft season, the NFL Scouting Combine is foremost in everybody’s mind. How will prospects test athletically? Can they show off technical ability through positional drills? Will they raise any red flags medically or personality-wise? The Combine is the place for all of these things to be tested in as objective an environment as you’ll get, and getting invited to the event is a very positive step in NFL hopefuls’ journey to the big leagues.

Two of UNC’s players from the 2018 season have been invited to take this step, and defensive end Malik Carney and offensive tackle William Sweet will represent UNC in Mobile, Alabama as they try to prove that an NFL team should take a chance on them:

Both had excellent seasons for UNC in a dismal year for the program as a whole. Carney absolutely lit up the stat sheet as a pass rusher, recording or tying a career highs with 6 sacks, 12 total tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a return touchdown, and 60 total tackles... and he did it in four fewer games than he was supposed to get. Carney, at 6’2 and 245 pounds, is a little undersized to continue playing with a hand in the dirt as he did at UNC, but has good size for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, where his ideal future probably lies.

Sweet, as an offensive lineman, didn’t show up on box scores the way that Carney did, but for people tracking OL stats, he shone bright:

Pro Football Focus, through their combination of advanced stats and proprietary player grades, named Sweet one of their First-Team All-ACC offensive tackles in a conference that included Mitch Hyatt, Tyler Jones, and Sweet’s own teammate, Charlie Heck. To have done this with one of the worst starting quarterback situations in the country is nothing short of outstanding. And Sweet, unlike Carney, will have no size questions, clocking in according to UNC at 6’6 and 300 pounds. His strength will be examined, though, as he gained a reputation as more finesse blocker than power guy. He should shine in positional drills with his excellent footwork.

It’s way too early for a lot of draftniks to have really evaluated either player, but initial impressions are that both look like Day 3 picks. Carney picked up some steam at the Shrine Game and its practices, garnering attention from the Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions (who typically aren’t seen talking to players on the field in these events), New York Giants, and Jacksonville Jaguars, and possibly others. Some independent analysts have taken notice too:

Sweet will have to wait until the Combine to raise eyebrows, not having been invited to any all-star-type events in the meantime.

In addition to the two invites, UNC also had a particularly notable snub in receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams. It obviously smacks of homer bias any time a school’s fans claim their player was snubbed or overlooked, but this observation has been confirmed by plenty of non-UNC fans, so I feel okay saying it: Ben Solak and Joe Marino, both of The Draft Network, Nick Farabaugh of our sister site for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and several others have named ARW as one of the biggest Combine snubs of the year (not including those excluded for personality/legal issues). Ratliff-Williams may not have lived up to the hype that program insiders built up for him before the season, calling him unguardable and a sure first round pick, but he did work tremendously at his release at the line, high-pointing the ball, and short-area route running in order to become a legitimate, complete receiver prospect with some questions about his hands and deep separation. He is a 3rd-4th round talent at least, a top-15 receiver in this fairly weak class, and definitely deserved to be invited. He is facing some exposure issues now, and will have to hope for a regional Combine invite a la Austin Proehl and more exposure at UNC’s Pro Day than we saw last year in order to get some attention from NFL teams. Running back Ito Smith was snubbed from the Combine last year and was drafted in the 4th round (ahead of where he was usually being mocked), so there is hope that Ratliff-Williams can similarly be valued appropriately despite not getting a chance to shine in Mobile.

We’ll let you know about these former Heels’ draft processes as they continue on their journey to play on Sundays, so keep following along!