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UNC Football Position Previews: Wide Receivers

UNC has a lot of production to replace after losing two of the program’s most productive receivers ever

Capital One Orange Bowl - Texas A&M v North Carolina Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

When you think about what the Tar Heels have lost on offense, the easiest place to look is over at the Running Backs. It’s true that Javonte Williams and Michael Carter leave a huge hole in the backfield and that the team will likely need some time to sort that out, but all it takes is one glance at the team’s top receivers of 2020 to realize Phil Longo has some work to do there, too.

Carolina’s top two receivers, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, are currently in NFL training camps trying to play on Sundays. On top of that, the aforementioned Carter and Williams accounted for 572 yards in the air themselves, meaning that four of the top six receivers for the Tar Heels are no longer going to be on the field. It’s not exactly easy to replace 2,355 yards just with a snap of the fingers... or is it?

It might just be. Thanks to Brown deciding to opt out of the Orange Bowl in January, the staff got a chance to test out different players in top roles, and out of those Josh Downs made the most of it. In case you forgot what Josh Downs was able to do:

Come on, tell me listening to that doesn’t get you hyped for the season.

This play was one of two touchdowns for the rising sophomore Downs, as he led the team with a total of 91 yards on the night. That said, the lack of Brown was noticeable for the Tar Heels, as while Newsome put up a workmanlike 6/68 statline, Howell didn’t really have any reliable threats on the outside. Not only does the UNC offense need to find somebody to replace the dependability of Newsome (which could be Downs, as they’re both slot receivers), it is in need of somebody who can consistently beat cornerbacks and get open deep for the way Phil Longo’s offense is supposed to run. Both of those roles are important, and they’re both at least somewhat unknown going into the season.

Here’s what the Wide Receiver Room will look like in 2021:

2021 UNC Wide Receivers

Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown and High School
Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown and High School
0 Emery Simmons 6-0.75 190 Jr. Parkton, N.C. / South View
1 Khafre Brown 6-0 185 So. Charlotte, N.C. / West Mecklenburg
2 Gavin Blackwell 5-11.5 185 Fr. Indian Trail, N.C. / Sun Valley
3 Antoine Green 6-2 205 Sr. Rockledge, Fla. / Rockledge
5 J.J. Jones 6-2.25 200 Fr. Myrtle Beach, S.C. / Myrtle Beach
8 Kobe Paysour 6-1.5 180 Fr. Kings Mountain, N.C. / Kings Mountain
11 Josh Downs 5-10.25 180 So. Suwanee, Ga. / North Gwinnett
12 Stephen Gosnell 6-1.75 205 So. Pilot Mountain, N.C. / East Surry
13 Tylee Craft 6-4.25 205 So. Sumter, S.C. / Sumter
15 Beau Corrales 6-3 210 Sr. Georgetown, Texas / Georgetown
20 Brooks Miller 5-11.5 180 Fr. Duluth, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian
28 Cyrus Rogers 5-11 170 Fr. Raleigh, N.C. / Rolesville
29 Jeffrey Saturday 5-10.5 175 So. Dacula, Ga. / Hebron Christian Academy
35 Carson Burgess 5-11 170 Jr. Greensboro, N.C. / Southeast Guilford
83 Justin Olson 6-2 200 So. Huntersville, N.C. / North Mecklenburg
85 Landon Stevens 6-2 200 R-Fr. Danbury, N.C. / East Surry
86 Thomas Flynn 6-2.75 205 Fr. Charlotte, N.C. / Providence Day
89 Gray Goodwyn 5-8 160 Jr. Charlotte, N.C. / Episcopal (Va.)

The sneaky name on the list that Howell may rely on for the dirty yards is Corrales. He of the great Twitter handle that earned him an NIL endorsement from North Carolina’s favorite chicken establishment took advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA in response to Covid and will be a “super senior” for the Heels. A lot was expected for him last year after a 500+ yard campaign in 2019, but injuries kept him out of the lineup for the latter half of the season, and because of this and how brilliant Dyami Brown was on the other side, he’s easy to forget about. If you want to know what he can do for you, though, look no further than his effort at FSU last year, in a game we’ve all tried to forget:

Howell and the Heels are extremely fortunate to have Corrales back, and if he can replicate catches like that effort against the Seminoles, the rest of the corps will be tough to contain simply because no one else can be doubled. In short, a healthy Corrales will lead to many good things.

As far as the other returning players are concerned, the traffic jam in front of Emory Simmons didn’t create a lot of opportunities for him to show out, but when he showed, he showed. In his sophomore campaign, Simmons only had 15 catches, but racked up 201 yards in those 15 catches. That meant an eye-popping 18.3 yards per catch, including one 51-yarder. Simmons is set to become a bigger part of the offense, and is also poised with Downs for a breakout season.

Khafre Brown also has a chance to take a major step forward, as his stats look similar to those of Simmons. He played in 12 games and only had 15 catches, yet racked up 337 yards in those 15 catches for 28.1 yards per catch. One catch was this amazing touchdown that goes down as a 76 yarder, when maybe 12 of them were in the air.

Thus, with Downs, Corrales, Simmons, and Brown the Tar Heels may not be brining in a ton of previous production, but they are bringing up some experienced players who Howell is comfortable throwing to and should be ready to fill the voids of Brown, Newsome, Carter, and Williams. Only one, Corrales, is a senior, something to make you even more excited for life after Howell in 2021.

Something else to make you excited would be the incoming talent. Carolina brings in three players from the 2021 recruiting class, 4-star Gavin Blackwell and 3-Stars Kobe Paysour and JJ Jones. As you’ve seen, the sheer depth of just the returners mean a lot won’t be asked of the new guys this season, but in order to take advantage of tired defenses and the four game red shirt rule, don’t be surprised to see any of them out on the field getting a catch from Howell at some point. Howell’s high school teammate Blackwell, especially, as you can see in this 24/7 film, has the speed to leave tired defensive backs in the dust, and it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll hear from him at some point in the season.

The depth at the position, playing alongside the experienced Howell and offensive line should provide plenty of opportunities for more highlight catches this season. This should also help take pressure off the running backs to the point where you don’t need another Carter/Williams tandem, and its possible the air numbers for the team will be significantly higher due to the increase in weapons and shift in experience. The question will be how defenses adjust, knowing the team is more likely to pass, can the talent overcome the increased pressure?

It’ll be fun to find out.