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UNC Football 2020 Early Signing Day Primer: The Defense

A quick look at the 9 recruits for Jay Bateman’s defense.

South Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Yesterday, we gave a quick breakdown of nine players expected to sign with UNC when the Early Signing Period kicks off on Wednesday. That focus was on the offensive side of the ball, which included four ESPN 300 recruits. All nine also held a four-star ranking from at least one of ESPN, Rivals, or 247 Sports. That’s, uh, not bad.

Today we switch gears to nine players on the defensive side of the ball, which includes six ESPN 300 recruits. The defensive class for 2021 also currently has UNC’s only five-star recruit for the cycle. That’s a rather noticeable difference in incoming talent than what UNC fans have been accustomed to. Before we begin, here’s another reminder of UNC’s class by the numbers.

  • 18 verbal commits
  • 14 in-state recruits, tying an internet-era program record. (There’s a case to be made for 15, as WR Kobe Paysour committed when he was enrolled in North Carolina, but transferred to play his senior season in South Carolina).
  • 10 ESPN 300 recruits. That’s a program record.
  • 17 4-star recruits (from at least one of ESPN, Rivals, or 247 Sports)
  • 1 5-star recruit. (The other 5-star recruit, Tony Grimes, reclassified to 2020)
  • 38 of 67 recruits since Mack came back are from North Carolina (assuming nobody de-commits on Signing Day).
  • The 2021 class is currently nationally ranked 7th (ESPN), 9th (247 Sports Organic) 12th (247 Sports Composite), and 16th (Rivals).

Now, onto the players.

Secondary (3)

Dontavius Nash
6-2, 170
Hunter Huss HS, Gastonia, NC

Rivals: DB, 4-stars, NR (national), #25 (position), #14 (state)
ESPN: ATH, 4-stars, #258 (national), #21 (position), #18 (state)
247 Sports (organic): S, 4-stars, NR (national), #24 (position), #20 (state)
247 Sports (composite): S, 4-stars, #278 (national), #18 (position), #18 (state)

Nash was UNC’s first commitment for this cycle, making his announcement 18 months ago. An in-state recruit, Nash did not play this fall, but recorded 65 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. He’ll bring some versatility to a defensive backfield that’s still seeking the right combination of talent, depth, and experience.

Tymir Brown
6-0, 165
Jacksonville HS, Jacksonville, NC

Rivals: DB, 3-stars, NR (national), NR (position), #45 (state)
ESPN: CB, 4-stars, #206 (national), #13 (position), #14 (state)
247 Sports (organic): ATH, 3-stars, NR (national), #49 (position), #38 (state)
247 Sports (composite): ATH, 3-stars, #484 (national), #31 (position), #27 (state)

Also from North Carolina, Brown played both on both sides of the ball as a junior. At quarterback he threw for 634 yards and four touchdowns. He added 716 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. With the quarterback position well-stocked, he projects to join the defensive backfield. We gave some more insight when he committed back in March.

DeAndre Boykins
5-11, 200
Hunter Huss HS, Gastonia, NC

Rivals: RB, 4-stars, #72 (national), #3 (position), #4 (state)
ESPN: S, 4-stars, #230 (national), #11 (position), #16 (state)
247 Sports (organic): ATH, 3-stars, NR (national), #31 (position), #31 (state)
247 Sports (composite): S, 4-stars, #175 (national), #6 (position), #10 (state)

Another multi-positional player, Boykins can pick whatever position he wants to play at the next level. All signs indicate he’ll use that versatility in Jay Bateman’s constantly fluctuating scheme. As a junior, he racked up 48 tackles, six TFLs, and three interceptions. Also from North Carolina, his commitment gave UNC ‘s secondary three ESPN 300 commitments for the 2021 class. He’s also been committed since last March.

Linebackers (3)

Raneiria “Ra Ra” Dillworth
6-2, 200
Robert B. Glenn HS, Kernersville, NC

Rivals: OLB, 4-stars, #99 (national), #7 (position), #6 (state)
ESPN: OLB, 4-stars, #84 (national), #9 (position), #5 (state)
247 Sports (organic): OLB, 4-stars, #155 (national), #9 (position), #12 (state)
247 Sports (composite): OLB, 4-stars, #99 (national), #6 (position), #6 (state)

“Ra Ra” Dillworth will bring an immediate dose of athleticism and power to the outside linebacker position. Credited with a laughable 183 tackles, 21 TFLs, two fumble recoveries, and three blocked punts in his junior season, he has the potential to evolve into one of Jay Bateman’s scariest assets. Alabama made a strong push for the ESPN 300 recruit, but the in-state talent stayed close to home.

Power Echols
6-1, 210
Zebulon B. Vance HS, Charlotte, NC

Rivals: ILB, 4-stars, #155 (national), #12 (position), #10 (state)
ESPN: ILB, 4-stars, #154 (national), #2 (position), #8 (state)
247 Sports (organic): ILB, 4-stars, #157 (national), #8 (position), #13 (state)
247 Sports (composite): ILB, 4-stars, #126 (national), #7 (position), #7 (state)

Echols joins rising junior Storm Duck with one of the coolest names in college football. It’s also the perfect description of his playing style. As a junior, he was credited with 156 tackles, 22 TFLs, 14 sacks, and seven forced fumbles. That was enough to earn his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award in North Carolina after his junior season. He committed last January, most notably picking the Heels over Clemson.

Gabe Stephens
6-3, 205
Mountain Island Charter, Mt. Holly, NC

Rivals: OLB, 4-stars, #NR (national), #19 (position), #13 (state)
ESPN: S, 4-stars, NR (national), #20 (position), #23 (state)
247 Sports (organic): ATH, 4-stars, #117 (national), #5 (position), #8 (state)
247 Sports (composite): ATH, 4-stars, #227 (national), #11 (position), #14 (state)

In most other years for UNC, Stephens would be considered one of the headliners of the recruiting class. This year, he may be one of the most underrated. He played WR, S, and LB in high school, but seems likely to move to linebacker in Chapel Hill (at least initially). The last time he took the field as a junior, he finished with 85 tackles and 11 sacks. Committed since February, Stephens picked UNC over Virginia Tech, South Carolina, and Ohio State.

Defensive Line (3)

Keeshawn Silver
6-6, 275
Rocky Mount HS, Rocky Mount, NC

Rivals: SDE, 4-stars, #85 (national), #7 (position), #5 (state)
ESPN: DE, 5-stars, #8 (national), #3 (position), #1 (state)
247 Sports (organic): SDE, 4-stars, #32 (national), #4 (position), #2 (state)
247 Sports (composite): SDE, 5-stars, #32 (national), #5 (position), #2 (state)

Arguably the crown jewel of this class, Silver is the second consecutive top-10 ESPN recruit to commit to the Tar Heels. (Desmond Evans got that ball rolling last year). Silver is a high-floor/high-ceiling recruit, gathering 48 tackles and seven sacks in his junior campaign before COVID stunted his chances to really explode on the scene this fall. In March, he picked UNC over Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

Jahvaree Ritzie
6-5, 275
Robert B. Glenn HS, Kernersville, NC

Rivals: SDE, 4-stars, #138 (national), #9 (position), #8 (state)
ESPN: DE, 4-stars, NR (national), #32 (position), #21 (state)
247 Sports (organic): SDE, 4-stars, #68 (national), #6 (position), #4 (state)
247 Sports (composite): SDE, 4-stars, #143 (national), #11 (position), #8 (state)

Ritzie is another example of UNC’s embarrassment of riches in the 2021 cycle. Ritzie accumulated 74 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and 15 QB hurries in his junior season. Teammates with fellow commit Raneiria Dillworth (see above), the two will look to continue their reign of terror at the next level. Ritzie was one of the last UNC commitments, “waiting” until June to make his announcement.

Trevion Stevenson
6-5, 220
Phoebus HS, Hampton, VA

Rivals: OLB, 2-stars, #NR (national), #NR (position), #NR (state)
ESPN: DE, 3-stars, NR (national), #49 (position), #11 (state)
247 Sports (organic): WDE, 2-stars, NR (national), #130 (position), #72 (state)
247 Sports (composite): WDE, 3-stars, #1736 (national), #92 (position), #49 (state)

One of the last commitments for the Heels, Stevenson is the only out-of-state recruit on the defensive side of the ball. Though, as a 757/Tidewater product, the coaching staff considers him the same as in-state player. Looking to shore up some versatility at the LB/DE position in July, the Heels flipped Stevenson from ACC Coastal foes Pittsburgh. As our Michael McKay pointed out, that wasn’t exactly a hard decision for the Hampton, VA talent.