In Tar Heel Blog’s lead up to the NFL Draft, I’ve so far done profiles on UNC’s two most likely draftees, Charlie Heck and Jason Strowbridge. You can find those here and here, if you’re doing homework on guys your team might be considering early on Day 3 - Both went to the Combine and most evaluators have both Heck and Strowbridge as top-200 players in the draft and worthy of drafting. The NFL is made of a lot more than draft picks, though, and that’s where this group comes in. Particularly with the COVID-19 situation having cancelled in-person workouts, pro days, and team visits, the probability of players being taken in the draft who weren’t at the NFL Combine is much lower this year than it has ever been, because there’s no opportunity for somebody to wow with their measurements at a Pro Day, or make a team fall in love with them through a local workout. There are three Tar Heels whom I feel had the opportunity to do that with a real pre-draft process, and so I will briefly profile them here now as well.
Myles Dorn, Safety
Dorn is the most well-known of these three prospects to NFL evaluators, who have been eyeing him for a while now thanks to his NFL-ready frame of 6’2’’ and 205 pounds by the time he was a senior, and his holding on to a starting spot since his freshman year. With The First Pick actually named him a Combine snub at the safety position, so that kind of tells you that people at least know his name outside the Chapel Hill fandom.
- Really versatile player who has lined up for UNC as a free safety, strong safety, and nickel back over the course of a four-year career. At his best playing free safety/centerfielder, which is a relative rarity among prospects nowadays.
- Usually plays with phenomenal instincts, especially in pass coverage. Reads the quarterback’s eyes and knows where he’s going with the ball if it’s going deep.
- Solid open-field tackler with a ball carrier in front of him - has the body to thump without taking damage but also will wrap up. Not afraid to get into the box.
- Decent ball skills - 6 PDs and 2 picks last year.
- Doesn’t play out of control
- A near-debilitating lack of pace as a free safety - compensates by reading the backfield, but just might not have the range to be able to get it done in the NFL.
- Doesn’t read angles the best in run support: has allowed some very easy cutback lanes but overpursuing runs to the outside.
- Trusts his eyes too much at times - long mesh points and extended play actions will get him deep out of position. Slow to adapt in-game.
NFL players who compensate for pace with instincts are rare, but definitely there, at the linebacking position. It’s a lot harder in the backfield to stick if you can’t run with some of the fastest players in the league, even with a head start. Dorn wasn’t able to test at a Pro Day, so we don’t have a 40 time for him, but that’s ultimately the question, I think, that will decide if he can hang on to the end of a roster as a special teamer and backup defensive back: does he have enough speed to play in the NFL, and if so, can it be coached into the work he does on the field? If so, his instincts and centerfielding ability will be pretty valuable and he might carve out a journeyman career.
Aaron Crawford, Nose Tackle
Crawford was repeatedly lauded by UNC’s coaches old and new as either UNC’s best or second-best defensive player. He lost his junior season to injury amid high expectations, and came back to his senior year hoping to make good on those expectations. The 6’2, 290-pound lineman did just that, anchoring UNC’s defensive line in the middle and starting all 13 games while collecting 50 tackles, 3 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss. He was named honorable mention for the 2019 All-ACC Team.
- Excellent at holding and then destroying the point of attack in run support thanks to good functional strength, natural and technical leverage, and advanced hand technique. Ranked 5th among Power Five interior defensive linemen in Pro Football Focus’ “stops” stat, and graded as PFF’s best interior DL run defender thanks to these attributes.
- Plays hard, frequently seen pursuing run defenders down field well into the second level of the defense.
- Can one-gap or two-gap, but at his best two-gapping.
- Flashes a good first step, which when combined with his leverage in pass rush can get him cheap sacks
- Not much to offer in pass rush right now beyond his first step and natural traits: not too many pass-rush moves or plan on display.
- Not an elite athlete: has some explosion, but less speed and labored change of direction even for his size. Probably not a versatile enough athlete to play a position that isn’t 1-tech or 0-tech.
- Some injury history to be wary of: two knee injuries during his college career. Probably not a big deal and I never tag players as “injury-prone,” but without the ability to do medical homework, teams are going to be extra careful about medical risks.
Crawford is a very good, but one-dimensional player whose strength is unfortunately a dimension of the game that is valued less and less each year in the NFL. It’s hard to be a valued player who only plays the run, the way the game is going. His sticking in the NFL is probably going to be contingent on learning some pass-rush moves and being able to stay on field for more than a down or two, but there’s no questioning that what he does, he does at an NFL level.
Antonio Williams, Running Back
Williams transferred from Ohio State back to his hometown UNC for the year of 2018, where he was able to play immediately after being granted a hardship waiver. The 5’11, 215-pound bruiser immediately became the primary member of the Heels’ three-headed beast at the position, totaling the most carries on the team and taking his 91 opportunities for 504 yards at a healthy 5.5-yard average. His role took a backseat last season, however, to Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, excellent 2021 prospects in their own right. He played well when he played, though, taking 48 carries for 322 yards at a 6.7 yard per-carry average. He was a great teammate all year despite the demotion, constantly praising his running back teammates and hyping up their success.
- Hits the hole hard and heavy. His size gives him contact balance and strength to run through tight spaces while staying on his feet and he has enough burst to attack holes before they close. Can also just push the pile for a few yards when needed.
- Good enough long speed for the position, though footraces aren’t his strength. Had a few long touchdowns, like against ECU, in 2018. Reported a laser-timed 4.52 40-yard dash in a virtual Pro Day.
- Nose for the end zone: five of UNC’s rare touchdowns in 2018, and 3 touchdowns on just 48 carries in 2019.
- Adapts to defenses over the course of a game, identifies how they are playing certain looks and adjusts to maximize the next play. Intelligent player.
- Three-down back. Relishes pass blocking and will lay out blitzers, okay enough receiver.
- Notably excellent teammate.
- Good-not-great vision. Gets what is blocked for him and what his assignments say he should get. Good at adding to a play but not at improvising or going to plans B or C.
- Won’t catch out of frame or run sharp routes like an elite back or 3rd down back nowadays has to.
- Unknown as a zone runner - didn’t have to read a ton of keys in UNC’s spread or in his limited time in the 2019 Air Raid.
I like Williams a lot for what he is, but it’s really hard to stick as a running back at the next level. His best bet may be a similar path to what Elijah Hood tried to take, though he’s got more pop in his step than Hood did as a prospect - show off his strength in run blocking and pass protection and try for a fullback/H-back role. I think he has the strength and mentality for it, and it’s probably his best chance to stick - in the NFL, he’s just not a particularly special tailback.