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UNC Football 2019 Position Preview: Receivers

Ratliff-Williams may not be suiting up, but Carolina returns their next six leading receivers from a year ago.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 North Carolina at Duke Photo by Michael Berg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A year ago, the biggest question mark at receiver was could the secondary receivers for the Heels be enough of a threat so that Anthony Ratliff-Williams wouldn’t get double teamed on every play? This season, the question seems to be how will offensive coordinator Phil Longo split the reps with all the receivers? Players I’ve spoken to in the program say that the receiving corps goes eight guys deep in terms of game ready players.

The GUY

While every receiver is going to see the ball, Dazz Newsome is the number one receiver. Earlier in the year I wrote about why Dazz Newsome is such a special talent. I went in-depth in that piece and I’d recommend reading it, but the highlights are he’s among a growing trend of shorter number one receivers who are changing the game.

His return game ability makes him even more important to Carolina. Anytime he touches the ball he’s a threat to score, including out of the backfield. He will be the most valuable non-quarterback on the Tar Heel’s offensive roster this season. I think he’ll finish the season All-ACC as either a returner or a reciver.

Starters

Starter is a relative term when it comes to receivers, especially in the type of offense Phil Long is running. I’m looking at the players that I think are going to get the most snaps. Any conversation has to start with my guy Beau Corrales. He’s another receiver I wrote about this offseason and unbiasedly recommend reading his piece as well. He’s a two sport athlete that also played basketball in Georgetown, TX, and it shows up on the football field.

Receiver screens are one of the easiest ways to get playmakers the ball in space, and they were a big reason Corrales was so successful in high school. Bubble screens when he’s lined up inside are going to allow him to take advantage of mismatches against smaller defensive backs on the outside.

Here’s a link to an in-depth article behind the philosophy of bubble screens, but I posted a couple examples below as well.

Watch how the slot receiver arcs out so he can stay behind the line of scrimmage and maintain forward momentum when he catches the ball

Tunnel screens allow the outside receiver to work back towards the middle of the field and involve more blocking. Normally the same side of the offensive line as the screen will spring out and block the defensive backfield/linebackers.

Watch the Broncos receiver at the top of the screen burst off the line to get the defensive back moving backwards, then work back inside behind the offensive line.

Receiver screens also act as a pseudo extension of the run game and stretch the defense horizontally. Look for Corrales to be creatively involved in the offense this season.

Dyami Brown played in ten games last season as a true freshman and came in as one of the more highly touted players in the 2018 recruiting class. He’s 6’1 and has maybe the best footwork on the team, and he high points the ball really well. I like him playing inside where he’s matched up on a linebacker or safety when, at the risk of sounding repetitive, he’s a dangerous deep threat up the middle of the field. He’s dangerous across the middle of the field, and explosive after the catch.

Antoine Green was maybe my favorite player from the 2018 class. He tracks the ball like Ken Griffey Jr.’s days in center field at Safeco Field. I’m excited to see Green’s route tree development in his second year in the program. In high school, he was such a talented deep threat that most of his production came from down field routes.

Which is a skill in and of itself. Just because you’re fast doesn’t mean you’re a capable deep threat as a receiver, there’s a reason that NFL teams aren’t lining up to sign Usain Bolt. There are so many little things that go into beating a defensive back down the field. Often times you have to be able to beat press coverage and still stay “on time” with the quarterback. Once your down field there are slight movements with your hips and shoulders you can use to get the defender off balance while still maintaining your top speed. When the ball actually arrives, you have to wait until the last possible second to put your hands up, because if the corner is behind you he’s going to be reading your hands and your eyes to know when to make a play on the ball.

Green does all those things well and those skills translate to college. After playing in five games last season, he’ll have a much more expanded role in his sophomore year.

I’d be remiss not to mention tight end Carl Tucker in this section. Throughout his career, Tucker has averaged about fifteen yards a reception, albeit in limited action. He was used somewhat sparingly as a receiver last season, and it’s possible that trend continues under new OC Phil Longo.

In his last season as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, rebel tight end Dawson Knox had slightly less than 300 yards receiving, but he averaged over eighteen yards per reception. He was also drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft the Buffalo Bills. I think Knox is a bit of a better athlete than Tucker, but 300 receiving yards and over fifteen yards per reception is extremely realistic, and that would be a big win for the offense he if can produce like that. Even if the raw numbers aren’t huge, Tucker is going to have his stamp on some big games this fall.

Contributors

Last year at Ole Miss, only six players players had fifteen receptions or more. Three of those players were taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, however, and Carolina has a much more balanced receiver group than the Rebels did last season. There are lot of names you’re going to know by the end of the season.

Junior Rontavius Groves flashed explosiveness in limited playing time last season. Jake Bargas is another tight end who will be on the field when Carolina uses “12” personel (one running back, two tightends). Roscoe Johnson is another big wide receiver who can create mismatches. Corey Bell Jr. switched from cornerback to receiver in the spring to add depth, so you have to feel the coaching staff has a plan for him.

Khafre Brown, little brother of Dyami, was a top-300 player nationally and could make an impact as a true freshman. Another true freshman, Justin Olson, I think will end up redshirting but due to the new NCAA redshirt rules we could see him in some games this year as well. (Not relevant to the story, but both players are Charlotte natives.)

Last season was all about Anthony Ratliff-Williams and who could fill in behind him. 2019 is all about the depth in the receiver room. Whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job is going to have a lot of talented playmakers to distribute the ball too.