After the departures of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, possibly the two best running backs in UNC history, to the NFL, the UNC coaching staff was in a bit of a pickle. None of the guys behind that pair in 2020 ever got much playing time, and they were staring at relying on inexperienced underclassmen to fill in for a record-breaking rushing attack at UNC.
The outlook got significantly brighter after they recruited Ty Chandler as a grad transfer out of Tennessee, and Chandler quickly seized the reins in the running backs room as the starter and did pretty well for himself, easily setting career highs in yards (1092), per-carry average (6.0), and touchdowns (13). In doing so, he got himself on the NFL’s radar, and now looks very likely to be drafted in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. Let’s break him down for fans of whichever team gets him:
Chandler’s measurables are listed here in RAS (Relative Athletic Score, via Kent Lee Platte) and Mockdraftable spider chart form. They’ll be referred to in the points below with some explanation of what the miscellaneous stuff means.
- Speed: Chandler ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, and his tape absolutely backs that up. As you can see from the RAS card, Chandler not only had an elite (green) 40 time, but also elite 10-yard and 20-yard splits, and that’s reflective of his tape as well. Chandler has fantastic long speed, but also accelerates very quickly and hits holes hard, often making something out of holes that are only barely open due to pure speed.
Once he’s in the open field, he destroys pursuit angles with ease and is a home-run hitter when he gets in space, with 19 carries of 15-plus yards and 5 for 30+ just last season. Many of his touchdowns were of the “get him on the edge in the red zone and let him race defenders to the goal line” variety, and he beat them way more often than not. This speed carries over to his receiving game as well; he’s much better as an intermediate-deep route runner than he is running typical backfield routes because he uses his straight-line speed to separate downfield. He’d do well in an offense that asks running backs to split out to the slot.
- Toughness: Even though he’s a speed back, that doesn’t make him frail or soft. Chandler’s happy to churn his legs and push his offensive linemen for a few yards when a hole isn’t there, and while he won’t move a pile, he doesn’t go down easily, either, and he consistently finishes runs the right way. He has good contact balance at all levels and will run through arm tackles, especially at the second and third levels, occasionally pulling out a respectable stiff-arm to put a leaping tackler on the ground. And he’s also a very willing pass protector who looks for work and throws his body at oncoming defensive linemen, which will immediately endear him to coaches.
- Hands: Chandler’s got sure hands as a runner and as a receiver. He fumbled just once across 182 attempts as a Tar Heel and and dropped just 5 of his 91 career targets in the passing game for his career. He doesn’t have natural hands as a receiver; he’s more of a cradler than a plucker, but he is able to hang on to balls through contact and usually makes something happen after the catch.
- Patience: Chandler’s fast, but you’ll rarely see him outrun his blockers. If the second or third level is congested, he’ll give his blockers a second to engage and create situations where he can create leverage to the inside or outside before taking off.
- Consistency: Chandler had a few games, namely against Wake Forest, Miami, and Virginia, where all of his positive attributes worked in concert and he looked like one of the better running backs in the country. But it didn’t always happen for him — those three games accounted for nearly half of his rushing yardage for the season. In five games, he ran for better than his season average of 6 yards per carry. He had an equal number of games at worse than 4 YPC, where some of his weakness as a runner would rear their head and he wasn’t able to get the yards with acceleration and toughness that he should have. This wasn’t just something that scaled with opponent, either — Georgia State, for example, held him to 3.9 yards per carry.
- Agility: Elite speed isn’t the only thing that the measurables got right about Chandler; his poor (red) 3-cone and shuttle times for his position also show up when you watch him play. Chandler is pretty firmly a one-cut-and-go runner; he’ll wait for a hole to develop, reset, and then run through it. He doesn’t have much wiggle at all in the hole or in broken field situations; he’ll make you miss by blowing past you or not at all.
He’s more prone to bending his route than using a jump cut to change trajectories, which hurts his ability to press the line of scrimmage to set up defenders and leads to some runs being blown up when he should have the numbers to get to the second level pretty routinely. At the second and third levels, he takes far too long to change directions, which leads to him getting caught from behind far too often for a player with his speed.
- Vision/Creativity: This is the trait that separates most great runners and the ones who can become NFL mainstays from the rest, to my mind, and Chandler just didn’t show enough of it during his time in Chapel Hill. Almost all the time, it felt like he was predetermining what route he’d take to the line of scrimmage before he took a carry based on what holes should be developing.
But UNC runs a primarily zone-based run scheme, which depends on a running back making the right read to bounce (take it outside the playside tackle), bang (take it through a lane that develops inside the tackle), or bend (cut back to the weakside). Because of this, Chandler’s season is littered with examples of him not taking advantage of playside or (especially) weakside lanes because he’s already determined where he’s going. This tendency also hurts his creativity; he’s not going to create holes that don’t exist with either his movement skills (the aforementioned agility deficit hurts here) or by taking advantage of his blockers’ leverage.
Chandler’s not a player that anybody should be looking at to become a featured running back or to turn your team’s run game from bad to good. But you shouldn’t confuse that with his being a bad prospect! It just means that he’s probably not going to be worth a premium pick during Draft weekend. But on Day 3, when teams are looking for complementary pieces who can help them win without being stars, Chandler’s the type of running back a lot of teams should be looking for.
His receiving ability, pass protection, and route-running versatility make him available to come in on any play without giving the defense a hint as to what he’s going to do, and his speed will allow him to absorb some touches from teams’ featured speedsters who might need a break — the Tyreek Hills, Deebo Samuels, and Jaylen Waddles of the NFL. All he needs an offense and a coach who understands how and where he’ll thrive, and he can be a valuable part of a winning team. Any team taking him with a 5th-round pick or later shouldn’t be disappointed.