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UNC Football: Preseason All-ACC Honors

Nine Tar Heels made Phil Steele’s list of top performers expected to turn heads this season.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Steele has released his picks for every conference’s preseason teams. Nine Tar Heels have made the All-ACC team, headlined by first team preseason All-ACC wide receiver Josh Downs.

The total number of preseason picks is down from last season, when Steele selected 12 UNC players, three of them first team (Sam Howell, Joshua Ezeudu, and Ray Vohasek).

While 2021’s preseason All-ACC picks were spread evenly between offense and defense, this year’s selections skew towards the defensive side of the ball. The secondary is represented by junior cornerback Tony Grimes and senior safety Cam’Ron Kelly. Super senior Ray Vohasek returns, this time as a fourth team pick, along with last season’s standout defensive lineman Myles Murphy and Virginia transfer Noah Taylor, who will play the “Jack” position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker that will hopefully blow up quarterbacks while Vohasek stuffs the line.

Josh Downs’ wideout partner Antoine Green is a third team pick, along with Miami transfer center Corey Gaynor, who’s listed as a fourth teamer. Long snapper Drew Little on the second team rounds out the preseason selections, an upgrade from his fourth team preseason selection last season. We rarely discuss Little, so that means he must be doing a good job.

Just as things got tricky for first team preseason All-ACC quarterback Sam Howell last year, playing without a bevy of NFL talent in the skill positions, Josh Downs will have a lot to prove with a new quarterback throwing him the ball. Nothing has come out of the football program about who will be the likely starter. Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye continue to train and compete. Both quarterbacks understand the importance of feeding Downs, though, as both tossed him a touchdown in April’s spring game.

While Downs develops chemistry with whomever is under center, Gene Chizik’s revamped defense will have to shoulder a greater load of responsibility if Carolina wants to make it to a fourth straight bowl game. With a simplified scheme and uber athletes recruited in Mack Brown’s first two classes coming of age, now is the time to show the ACC that Carolina’s defense is ready to take the program to the next level.