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An update on UNC Football’s early departures

After Sam Howell’s declaration of candidacy for the NFL Draft, a few of his teammates are following him out of Chapel Hill

NCAA Football: Duke’s Mayo Bowl-South Carolina at North Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The timing of this is a little off, because much bigger news regarding UNC Football has come and gone since the last player who’s leaving made his announcement, but it’s still worth covering. After Sam Howell announced that he would be leaving for the NFL Draft, a short rash of announcements from his teammates followed — some following him to the draft, some deciding to transfer or grad transfer from Chapel Hill after not seeing their careers play out like they’d wanted. I’ll give those all a brief run-down here.

Joshua Ezeudu: Declared for the NFL Draft

After a bit of deliberation, Ezeudu declared on January 4th that he would be putting his name in for the draft. Ezeudu had been UNC’s best and most important offensive lineman for 3 years running, shifting up and down the line at every position but center based on injuries and the positional fits of the rest of the roster. He spent most of his time at left guard, but spent a fair amount of time at either tackle spot and also briefly played right guard due to injuries elsewhere. He’s got solid size and elite feet for his size as well as good technique with his hands, and understands how to block no matter where he’s lined up — he’s a very smart player. He’ll have to unlearn some bad habits that he developed later in his career, mainly a tendency to reach early, but he’s already a very good player with a good chance to be a fine NFL player.

Marcus McKethan: Declared for the NFL Draft

McKethan had started at right guard for the Heels for three years before announcing his decision just after the New Year. There was a lot to be excited about after his first year starting, thanks to his already NFL-ready combination of size and athleticism, and he remained a consistent presence on the line, rarely getting injured and playing more snaps than any other UNC offensive lineman in 2021. He won All-ACC Honorable Mention honors in both of the last two years. His draft prospects aren’t fantastic as things currently stand; his technique has regressed in each of years playing and he seems to have played ~20 pounds overweight. Those are things he can show to have fixed in the draft circuit, and once upon a time he was a legit draft prospect, but offensive line isn’t really a position where non-live action can make a huge difference, so he’ll need some luck and a coach willing to invest in uncoaching him.

Jordan Tucker: Declared for the NFL Draft

Tucker had started alongside McKethan at right tackle for the past three years, and their Tar Heel careers have been mirror images of each other for a while. Tucker actually declared for the draft before UNC’s bowl game, but did play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl after this declaration. Tucker, like McKethan, appeared on the scene with drool-worthy size and athleticism and just oozed potential as a future NFL lineman, but also never quite got there, developing lazy habits with his hands, frequently reaching when he didn’t have to, and appearing to play ~20 pounds overweight for what would have been optimal. He’s got the traits to fix all those things, but like with McKethan, it’ll probably take a stroke of luck for him to land with an NFL team, and some good coaching once he gets there so he can unlearn a lot of what he apparently learned in Chapel Hill.

Trey Morrison: Graduate Transfer

After starring as a nickel back as a true freshman, Morrison was moved to safety to accommodate the rest of UNC’s roster with the arrival of Mack Brown and Jay Bateman, and had a pretty up-and-down journey since then, more often than not looking like he was playing out of position despite a few good plays from the safety spot. With one year of eligibility remaining, Morrison has elected to enter the transfer portal as a graduate transfer and try to raise his profile with a fresh start, possibly with a shift back to his natural position. There’s buzz connecting him with Louisville, which would be a good landing spot for him.