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UNC Football: Position Preview - Wide Receivers

Who will be Drake Maye’s primary targets this season?

North Carolina v Appalachian State Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

UNC lost Josh Downs and Antoine Green following the 2022 season, which left a massive hole in production for Carolina’s offense. Downs and Green accounted for roughly 65% of the Heels’ receptions last season, which means that Mack Brown will have to look for some new faces to step up in 2023.

“We need six quality guys at receiver,” Brown said. “We’ve got that, but they need to play good. And they’ve got to play every snap.”

The good news is that Brown indeed has a wide receiver group that should be more than capable of helping out Drake Maye this season. While there are a few old faces that will be returning, there are quite a few new faces that have a mix of proven production and the potential to succeed under Chip Lindsay’s offense. Let’s take a look at what the Heels’ wide receiver room will look like this fall.

Key Losses

No surprises here: Josh Downs and Antoine Green were indeed the biggest losses following the end of the 2022 season. These two players combined for 1,827 yards, 18 touchdowns, and both were the only true wide receivers to log 500+ yards individually.

Downs was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the NFL Draft, and has already received a lot of high praise for what he brings to the field. There are numerous videos floating around Twitter (I will continue calling it by its Christian name) of him torching defenders during practice, making his transition to the pros look like child’s play. The Colts are going to be a weird team to watch after last year’s quarterback catastrophe, but if they can find someone that can actually get him the ball, Downs will likely turn a lot of heads in 2023.

As for Antoine Green, he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the draft. Here is what Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had to say about what he’s seen from Green so far:

“Oh yeah, Antoine showed up,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “I think he had some reps with Jared (on Tuesday), and that’s a product of we’ve got a couple guys dinged up and not practicing. But same thing like Sam, talking about Sam earning that right (to play with the starters). Green has earned that right to get a couple reps. And so he’s starting to develop a little bit of trust, he’s playing faster than what he was in the springtime and that’s his biggest challenge right now. He’s a 4.4 guy, he needs to play 4.4 every single snap, and when he does that, he shows an ability to get open.”

While Downs was the star of the show in the wide receiver room last season, Green was hard to ignore every time he lined up on offense. Both of these guys should find success in the NFL, though their absence with the Tar Heels will be really hard to ignore this season.

Key Returnees

While Josh Downs and Antoine Green saw most of the production before they both went down with injuries, Kobe Paysour and J.J. Jones were able to step up and keep the offense running in their place. Both players will be returning for the 2023 season after combining for 758 yards and six touchdowns last year.

I could be wrong about this, but the most intriguing player between the two in my opinion is J.J. Jones. He will be entering his junior season with UNC, and was the best receiver last season not named Downs or Green. His best performance of his sophomore campaign was against Miami, finishing with 2 catches, 80 yards, and a touchdown. What’s interesting about Jones’ productions was that he didn’t record a lot of catches in any particular game, but he was one of the more explosive players on the field. I’d expect him to be the same type of weapon for Maye this season, and hopefully he will see the ball more in the process.

Key Additions

The best wide receiver on the field this season could be a guy that didn’t suit up in Carolina blue at all last season. Devontez (Tez) Walker will be entering his junior season as a transfer from Kent State University. He finished his sophomore campaign with a team-best 58 receptions, 921 yards, and 11 touchdowns, and averaged 15.9 yards per catch. He was selected to the preseason All-ACC team last week, and he’s a guy that the coaching staff seems really high on so far.

Another guy worth mentioning is Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum. The senior transfer had a relatively quiet first two years with the Yellow Jackets, but he made quite a leap during his junior season. He finished the 2022 season with 60 receptions for 655 yards, three touchdowns, and averaged 10.9 yards per catch. It’s also worth noting that McCollum is a punt returner, so there is a chance that we will see him on special teams quite a bit if Mack Brown opts to go that route.


It is always nerve-racking when two of your best wide receivers leave campus, because finding the next man up always has a chance of not working out. Thankfully Chip Lindsay and Mack Brown have surrounded Drake Maye with a good group of pass catchers that have a chance to make this offense special. It’s difficult to say who will stand out in the pack, but also that’s a very good problem to have. Maye will inevitably find “his guy,” but we could see him throw the ball all over the field with little to no issues moving down the field. I can’t wait to see what Maye is able to do with this group of guys, and hopefully they are good enough to help launch him right into the heart of the Heisman conversation.