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UNC Football: Tar Heels in the NFL Week 5

Needing a check in on what former UNC standouts are doing at the next level? You’re in the right spot.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Is anyone else itching for some Carolina football? It has felt like an eternity since we could wake up and be excited for UNC on a Saturday. Lucky for all of us, we are just minutes away from kickoff in Kenan Stadium, where the Heels will take on the Syracuse Orange. Not so fast, though. It has not been a complete dry spell of Heels on the gridiron during these couple of weeks. A healthy handful of former Carolina football stars are making their way onto the field on NFL Sundays. Maybe you have kept up, or perhaps you have not, but let’s check in on who has been making some noise at the professional level.

  1. Sam Howell (Washington Commanders)

Stats (5 Games):

(2-3) Record, 1349 Pass YDS, 101 Rush YDS, 6 TD, 6 INT, Average QBR of 86.0.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for those following Sam and his young NFL career. Starting with wins in Week 1 and 2, including an 18-point comeback against the Denver Broncos, Sam Howell looked to be the emerging star that we knew all too well in Carolina blue. In Week 3, the wheels fell off for Sam and the Commanders. Four interceptions and a 37-3 loss took Sam Howell believers all the way back to square one. Fear not, Sam orchestrated a significant bounce back in Week 4 taking the undefeated Eagles to overtime and leading a beautiful two-minute TD drive to tie things up in regulation. Thursday night, in a game the Commanders were heavily favored, they could not overcome a disastrous first half and fell to the Chicago Bears behind nearly 400 YDS and 2 TDs from Sam Howell.

Sam has shown flashes of being elite, but is unpolished, as you should expect from a second-year QB. Also, the rest of the Washington Commanders have yet to help a first-time starter out. On both sides of the ball, the supporting staff has been underwhelming. So, all that to say, Sam will be just fine in this league if he continues to play as he is. He still shows the elite touch and pure toughness outside the pocket that we used to admire in Chapel Hill. Regardless of the record, I am super proud of Sam and relieved he is getting the shot he deserves. Hopefully, the complete unit can improve around him.

2. Josh Downs (Indianapolis Colts)

Stats (4 Games):

17 REC, 158 YDS, 39.5 YPG

There is not as much to report about Josh and his rookie campaign. Still, early implications suggest that he has solidified himself as the WR2 in Indianapolis and has created a connection with first-year QB Anthony Richardson. Like what Tar Heel fans know, Josh has continued to specialize in finding the soft spot in the defense and being so tough to take down after the catch. It is clear his future is bright in the NFL.

3. Cole Holcomb (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Stats (4 Games):

25 TCKL, 2 Forced Fumbles, 2 TFL

Those who have kept up with Tar Heels in the NFL know that Cole Holcomb has solidified himself as a consistently valued defender in the league. In 2023, he has shown no regression, being a crucial part of an elite Steelers defense. An essential part of his 5th NFL season has been the two forced turnovers in Weeks 1 and 2. It has been an offensive nightmare for Pittsburgh so far, increasing the significance of Cole’s creation of turnovers.

4. Javonte Williams (Denver Broncos)

Stats (4 Games):

38 ATT, 138 YDS, 11 REC, 51 YDS

A large question mark surrounded Javonte Williams as he entered his 3rd NFL season, returning from an ACL tear that sidelined him for all of 2022. It has mainly been anticlimactic through four weeks. He has been a part of a committee-style backfield, and there is clearly some hesitation to let Javonte be the workhorse in a pass-first Denver offense. Unfortunately, he suffered a hip injury in Week 4 but looks to be in line to play this weekend. Personally, I know what Javonte Williams can do at his best, so I hope he can get past this injury strand and become the electrifying RB we know and love.

Early season work from Mack Hollins, Michael Carter, Ty Chandler, Marcus McKethan, and Dyami Brown, amongst others, can not go unnoticed as well. No matter how some of these guys find their way onto the field, many have made instant impacts and are names to watch as the season progresses. All across the league, the Tar Heels are representing on Sundays.

Seeing guys like Sam and Josh take the field with their teams when the lights are the brightest has been super refreshing. After all the memories and moments we remember from their time in Chapel Hill, you cannot help but be excited about getting their shot in the pros. Here, they are continuing to thrive on the national stage. I continue to increase my investment in their product on the field. Best of all, it gives me something to be engaged in on Sunday afternoons. I will continue to wish these UNC guys the best of luck and hope we can continue to see their success in the NFL.