While yesterday’s big news for UNC football was obviously the announcement of two-year starting quarterback Drake Maye’s departure for the NFL Draft, he’s far from the only player on UNC’s 2023 roster to have declared they’re leaving Chapel Hill, whether it be for the draft or for greener pastures via the Transfer Portal. There have been too many announcements for us to post for each one without clogging the front page, so now, a week and change out from the Transfer Portal being open, let’s recap all the movement we’ve seen so far, both out of and into the program. I’ll note before we start that this by no means represents anything but an arbitrary point at which to compile the information we have; that is, we aren’t at a stopping or cooldown point for announcements of any kind.
- OUT: Tight end Kamari Morales entered the transfer portal near the end of November as a grad transfer. The relatively undersized Morales was a chain-moving machine for the Heels last year, but after starting this year as one-third of an ostensible three-headed monster at tight end, ceded most of his snaps to his colleagues, Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver, as the year went on. In his UNC career, he caught 67 catches for 761 yards and 10 touchdowns. Morales is the only portal entrant out of Chapel Hill who’s found his home for next year, and he’ll be staying in the ACC: he announced last week that he has committed to Boston College.
- OUT: Defensive tackle Kedrick Bingley-Jones announced his entry into the transfer portal, pending his graduation this winter, at the same time that Morales did. Bingley-Jones was a much-hyped recruit in UNC’s 2020 class, the first one that established that Mack Brown was going to be recruiting at a different level than UNC fans were used to. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury soon after he got to campus derailed his development, and even in limited action, he never looked like he trusted his knee while playing in the two years following. This past year, in a few backup snaps, he looked a little more fluid and disruptive, which gives hope that he might be able to recover the traits that gave him that pedigree in high school.
- OUT: Third-string quarterback Jefferson Boaz will also enter the transfer portal as a grad transfer. Boaz has UNC bloodlines, as his father Jay played under Mack Brown’s first regime in Chapel Hill, and that probably influenced his decision to come to UNC in the first place with offers on the table from teams that could have used his services at quarterback more. He was UNC’s emergency quarterback for four years, behind a combination of Sam Howell and Drake Maye (first team) and Cade Fortin and Connor Harrell (second team), and never saw much field action. Interestingly, his brother Folger is now a freshman pitcher for the Diamond Heels who’s already generating some buzz in fall practices and will probably pitch significant innings, maybe even start, for the team this spring.
- OUT: Former starting running back Elijah Green has entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer. Green snagged the role of starter in the middle of last year after a combination of injury (British Brooks, Caleb Hood) and poor performance (Omarion Hampton, George Pettaway) from the guys above him, and performed pretty well, rushing for 558 yards and 8 touchdowns on 131 carries. This year, with Brooks healthy again and Hampton making a Doak Walker finalist-sized leap as a sophomore, Green was pushed to the back of the depth chart again and saw little action.
- OUT: Kicker Ryan Coe came to UNC as a graduate transfer with two years of eligiblity after a college career that spanned Delaware and Cincinnati, and will use that final year of eligibility elsewhere after announcing his departure from Chapel Hill. Coe started the year as the Heels’ starting kicker and hit his first three field goal attempts and first 8 extra points, but missed a potential game-winning field goal against Appalachian State in the second game of the year. He didn’t dress for a single game the rest of the year, reportedly dealing with an injury he’d sustained heading into the App game but also clearly having lost his job to Noah Burnette, who went on to be the most accurate kicker in the ACC this year.
- OUT: D.J. Jones came to UNC in 2020 as a running back and ably backed up Ty Chandler in 2021 before taking a backseat to last year’s influx of talent at the position. This year, he switched positions to defense and started the first game at nickel corner/”Star,” where results were mixed — he played well in run support but clearly hadn’t quite gotten his instincts up to speed in coverage. I can’t confirm that he’s a grad transfer, as unlike everybody else on this list he announced his transfer portal entry after the portal opened (grad transfers did not have to wait), but given that he arrived to UNC in 2020, it seems likely. Presumably unlike most of his teammates who have entered the portal, Jones has announced that he is planning on practicing and playing with UNC for its bowl game.
- IN: UNC’s only incoming player through the transfer portal, grad or otherwise, thus far is former LSU and Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson, which we reported when it happened. We’ll talk about him more as we get into the football offseason.
I’ll be briefer here, because most of these guys haven’t done much in UNC jerseys.
- OUT: Wide receiver Andre Greene, Jr. announced his entry into the transfer portal soon after it opened. Greene was a big-time recruit but didn’t get on the field much and, outside of last year’s bowl game, failed to make much positive impact when he did. Hopefully another year of maturation and new scenery and coaching will help him out.
- OUT: Fellow redshirt freshman wide receiver Tychaun “Doc” Chapman also entered the portal. Chapman’s entry was a little bit more of a surprise, as he was beginning to earn more snaps as last year went on as well as making an impact in the return game: he’ll be remembered for a sequence against Georgia Tech where he took a kickoff return 53 yards across midfield and then caught a 35-yard touchdown just a couple snaps later.
- OUT: Unlike the previous two, Tayon Holloway isn’t a receiver, but he is also from Virginia, a recruiting ground that UNC pretty well dominated during the three years that Brown was able to recruit at a high level. Holloway began the season starting at cornerback as a redshirt freshman, and showed both promise and greenness, playing good coverage but frequently getting beaten at the catch point. His snaps declined as the season went on, but it’s still a little eyebrow-raising to see a young, erstwhile starter decide to leave.
- OUT: Running back George Pettaway, who earlier this year decided to redshirt and not play more than four games, also entered the portal, as most who redshirt mid-season are wont to do. Pettaway was anticipated to be the lightning to classmate Hampton’s thunder, but things didn’t really come together for him in Chapel Hill despite a couple of flashy plays as a freshman.
- OUT: After getting buzz in the spring, redshirt freshman linebacker Sebastian Cheeks started the year injured and apparently got passed on the depth chart by Amare Campbell, though that was kind of a formality with how little linebackers not named Cedric Gray and Power Echols played this season. Cheeks saw some snaps in garbage time towards the end of the season, but apparently saw that he wasn’t really in line for more PT going forward, so he’s announced his intent to transfer.
- OUT: Cheeks isn’t the only backup linebacker who’s leaving, as Randy “Deuce” Caldwell also announced his entry into the transfer portal. We didn’t see much of Caldwell outside special teams, where he was at times an impact player.
- OUT: And finally, backup offensive lineman Justin Kanyuk entered the portal after not seeing the field at all for UNC over two seasons, having redshirted last year and started this year with an injury. Kanyuk was recruited as the succession plan at center under Stacy Searels, but that was two offensive line coaches and a bunch of recruiting classes, transfer and high school, ago.
- The headliner is of course Drake Maye, who you can read more about here.
- Maye’s #1 target for the last two-thirds of the year, wide receiver Devontez Walker, will also enter the draft and opt out of playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Walker, after a protracted fight with the NCAA that involved seemingly the entire UNC administration, the NC governor, and the NC Attorney General just so we could see the right thing happen, absolutely shined on the field, catching 41 balls in 8 games for 699 yards and 7 touchdowns. His game against Miami in particular was legendary — in his second game back and first as a starter, he caught 6 balls for 132 yards and 3 scores, absolutely dominating the Canes. He’s already accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, which already signals how far he’s come as a prospect from not really being on draft radars at the beginning of the season. He’s still got room to rise, too.
- On the other side of the ball, Cedric Gray, UNC’s stalwart linebacker the past three seasons, also announced that, after graduating this semester, he is entering the NFL Draft and will not play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Gray probably would have been drafted last year but came back to try and get the disappointing taste of last year’s conclusion out of his mouth and refine his skills playing off-ball. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much of either happened, but he’s still a heck of a player, coming second in the ACC in tackles this year after leading the conference last year while basically never coming off the field. He wasn’t just a tackling machine, though, adding 5 sacks, 4 pass defenses, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception this year. That all adds up to a career stat line of 368 total tackles, 29 for loss, 8.5 sacks, 13 pass defenses, 5 picks, 5 forced fumbles, and 5 fumble recoveries.
- Joining Gray as a defender announcing his candidacy for the NFL Draft is defensive tackle Myles Murphy. Murphy looked like a budding star as a sophomore in 2021, and I even put him as a sure thing to be drafted the following year after the 2022 NFL Draft. Since then, though, he’s struggled putting consistent effort on tape and got out-leveraged and out-physicalled more often than not. He made a few impressive plays over the year that reminded you how good he could be, and maybe an NFL team takes a swing on that ceiling in late rounds or in free agency, but he doesn’t quite have the film of an NFL pick right now. Murphy has announced that he intends to play in UNC’s bowl game, which could be an opportunity for him to motivate himself and put a full, consistent, impactful game on tape.
Who we’re waiting on:
Mostly, fans will be looking for three things: impact players getting poached, transfers coming in, and more NFL Draft declarations. I think the risk of the first is way overstated; despite what a curmudgeonly contingent of college fans would have you believe, today’s players aren’t ruled by money so much as a simple desire to get on the field, the difference today being that it’s easier to act on that desire than it was with the introduction of the no-penalty transfer (that doesn’t make it easier to fulfill that desire, mind you, just to act). Sure, there’s money out in the open where it wasn’t before, but the vast majority of that is for quarterbacks, and even then only for a few. Players like Omarion Hampton and Marcus Allen have probably received offers, sure, and probably better financial ones than UNC can offer — but not nearly enough to move them from the teammates they’ve connected with, the degree they’re making progress towards, and the playing time they know they’re getting.
The past couple of years, we haven’t really known who UNC is targeting in the transfer portal basically until those players have announced it, so guessing who’s coming in is a fool’s errand — but given how active they’ve been in looking to the portal to find starters rather than finding them in previous years’ depth, expect the transfer portal haul to be substantial, if smaller than last year’s given the size of this year’s recruiting class.
And finally, there are three players I’m really looking at as far as NFL departures are concerned. Maye, Walker, and Gray were the three givens, and Murphy makes sense just in the sense that he’s played four years and might well just feel done with college football. Tight end Bryson Nesbit, after being good but not outstanding for most of the year 2022 and the first half of 2023, really came onto the scene as this year went down the stretch, getting open more often and playing to his size more effectively. I don’t think he’s quite draft-ready yet, but he could easily bet on himself to get drafted with his physical tools and talent and to continue developing at the next level. Defensive back Alijah Huzzie was an absolute stud playing outside cornerback in his first two games before the roster situation forced him into playing nickelback/Star instead, where he was still pretty awesome, though his play declined slightly as the season wore on. He’s a little smaller than the prototypical professional DB, but the NFL will draft small corners who can play, and he definitely can. I could see him coming back just to get a full year at one position, but I also think he’s pro-ready now and wouldn’t be shocked at all to see him declare his eligibility to be drafted. Huzzie and Rucker have been ruled out of the bowl game with injury, for what that’s worth. And finally, edge rusher Kaimon Rucker broke out as a starter this year with 8.5 sacks on a line that generated absolutely no pressure outside of him. His size makes him a bit of an NFL tweener, but he’s talented enough to be a late-round pick for a team that runs a 3-4, and he pretty much is who he is at this point as a multi-year starter for the same team.
We’ll have another one of these, I’m sure, in due time, after more movement has occurred.