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UNC Football: A look at the path ahead for the Tar Heels’ NFL draftees

Getting drafted is step one. What kind of path forward do the four new UNC draftees have to playing time?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The NFL Draft didn’t go quite as most Tar Heel fans expected. If forced to wager, most would have bet that quarterback Sam Howell would be the first UNC player selected, likely on the second day at the latest. In a surprise pick, versatile offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu was the first Carolina player off the board.

Three more Tar Heels would get drafted, all in the fifth round. Howell went to Washington, Ty Chandler went to Minnesota, and Marcus McKethan joined Ezeudu in the Giants O-Line room.

So now they’re drafted. That’s a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself. But what kind of path forward do they have on making it onto a field on Sundays? Let’s take a look at how these four Tar Heels can get a regular spot in their squads.

Sam Howell

Five quarterbacks, including some jabroni named Bailey Zappe, were drafted before Howell. I can understand drafting Kenny Pickett if you’re Pittsburgh. He’s biggish, like Ben Rothlisberger. Wears gloves. You don’t have to pay much to relocate him.

I can understand drafting Liberty quarterback Malik Willis if you’re just dying to see what his raw potential will evolve into.

Anyone else? I suppose scouts focused on this past season and completely forgot what Howell looked like with talent surrounding him.

Ironically, Washington picked Howell up after loading up on some intriguing offensive weapons beforehand. Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson and Alabama running back Brian Robinson will give the Commanders some oomph with the ball.

Howell will have to beat out new quarterback Carson Wentz, who was run out of Philadelphia and Indianapolis in consecutive seasons. Can he regroup in Washington? Sure. Could he get Covid over and over again, putting his team in a bad spot? You betcha. As long as Wentz is the #1, Sam Howell will have a chance.

Ty Chandler

This is an intriguing spot for Ty Chandler. Dalvin Cook is the unquestioned starter, but had a considerable downturn in production last season. Cook saw statistical decreases across the board in 2021: 63 less rushing attempts, 398 less rushing yards, 10 less receptions, 137 less receiving yards, and 11 fewer touchdowns. Add to the fact that in his five year NFL career, Cook has never played a full 17-game schedule.

Ty Chandler is currently projected as fourth on the Minnesota running back depth chart, but the two veterans in front of him are nothing special. Alexander Mattison is mid and Kene Nwangwu—a fourth-round pick from Iowa State last year who only had 13 rushing attempts in 11 games—cannot feel good that the Vikings drafted another running back in a similar spot to him one year later.

If Chandler can impress in camp and preseason, he has a chance to move up the ladder. Once he’s seeing a few snaps in live action, he merely needs to bide his time until Dalvin Cook misses time again this season.

Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan

I’ve lumped these two together since they’re both off to the New York Football Giants in order to sabotage Daniel Jones in his make-or-break year.

I’m only kidding. Kind of.

Last season, Pro Football Focus had the Giants ranked #30 of 32 teams (better only than Carolina and Miami) for offensive line play. The Giants pass protection was offensive.

Besides drafting two Tar Heels, the Giants grabbed Alabama tackle Evan Neal with the seventh pick in the first round, and signed Max Garcia (who has played all interior line positions in the NFL) from Arizona, right guard Mark Glowinski from Indianapolis, and center Jon Feliciano from Buffalo.

Based on salary and reputation, Ezeudu may have an easier time breaking into the O-line at left guard than McKethan will at right guard. First off, left tackle Andrew Thomas is a nailed down starter, and Garcia is the shakier of the two new guards. McKethan will add depth. In any event, they’ll have to protect a non-athlete in the pocket, so escape really isn’t an option if they allow pressure too easily.

Probably more exciting for Ezoudu and McKethan is the prospect of pulling down the line for a repaired and refreshed Saquon Barkley. The Giants star running back should make a return next season, and he’ll surely enjoy the same kind of success that Michael Carter and Javonte Williams enjoyed running behind the UNC duo.

I don’t know how much winning Ezoudu and McKethan will get to enjoy. Daniel Jones is suspect—the Giants did not pick up his option and they can part ways with the former Duke quarterback after next season—and he likely will not be able to do enough to make New York a realistic playoff contender.