After UNC’s loss to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, most fans had the same thought, more or less: The situation at running back next year is definitely not going to be what we’ve quickly gotten used to under Mack Brown, with Michael Carter and Javonte Williams both headed to the NFL Draft and their presumptive replacements being decent, but definitely underwhelming, in relief duty. Some wondered if the incoming freshmen, Kamarro Edmonds (excellent running back name) and Caleb Hood (who’s reportedly run a 4.5 forty-yard dash at something like 230 pounds) would earn primary running back duties early, while others worried that the group was going to lack big-time experience and lead to a let-down in what’s expected to be a season where the Heels challenge for an ACC Championship. . That latter group’s worries can be alleviated now, because Mack Brown and his staff quickly secured the graduate transfer commitment of former Tennessee running back Ty Chandler, who played four years for the Volunteers and has decided to use the blanket extra year of eligibility that the NCAA has given college football players to finish out his career in a new setting.
Chandler leaves Knoxville as the program’s fifth-leading all-time yard-getter, with 3,291 through his four seasons, and was the program’s primary running back in 2018 and 2019 (leading the team in rushing both seasons) before taking a backseat to young star Eric Gray towards the end of this past year as Gray got settled into college football. He finished his career with 421 carries for 2046 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns, averaging between 4.3 and 5.5 yards per carry all four of his seasons, which is remarkable consistency and not at all a bad efficiency rate. It’s not elite, as a quick comparison between his stats and those of UNC’s departing running backs will tell you, but it’s more than serviceable — especially given how awful Tennessee’s offensive line has been the past several years. As evidenced by his all-purpose yardage, he also served as an able receiver, with 58 receptions in his career for 465 yards, and returned kickoffs his first three years with a 22-yard average, which may be called for with Michael Carter’s departure.
Chandler has repeatedly been described by people who cover Tennessee sports as somebody who operates best in space, with track-star speed and the ability to string moves together in the open field. At 5’11 and 205 pounds, he’s not a scatback, but it seems to be a consistent theme that his speed is his greatest asset and that he relatively struggled running between the tackles and through contact. Looking at highlights (which I’ll embed at the bottom), it doesn’t look like he lacks strength, but it’s possible that he’s inconsistent with applying it. We saw something similar with T.J. Logan while he was at UNC, and he had a breakout season when he had somebody alongside him to do the bruising work and was allowed to get out in space and outrun defenses — and then he started finding space to operate between the tackles as the offensive line gelled. Chandler isn’t as fast as Logan, I don’t think, but I could see a similar trajectory for him as he shares snaps with the more bruiser-heavy running back room in Chapel Hill behind an offensive line that returns all its starters from a line that just blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers.
While I don’t think UNC recruited Chandler out of high school, the staff now is fairly familiar with him thanks to the two former Tennessee assistants on staff: Tommy Thigpen, and, crucially, Robert Gillepsie, who coached Chandler as running backs coach in Knoxville for a year in 2017. That familiarity has to have played a part in Chandler’s decision to come to Chapel Hill, to a program I don’t think he’s ever visited to this point. With the uncertainty in the running backs room right now, where British Brooks, Josh Henderson, D.J. Jones, and the two incoming freshmen all seem to have had a chance this spring to earn the lion’s share of snaps, Chandler should immediately compete for a starting spot and a good amount of playing time, though adjusting to an Air Raid offense after playing for Tennessee’s I-formation offense might take some time. He definitely adds a known and positive quantity to the running backs room, though, which is worth appreciating. Have a look at some highlights, and welcome Ty Chandler to Chapel Hill!