There is no other skill position at Carolina that is returning the production and potential for even more than the tight end room this season.
Last year, UNC’s tight ends combined for 79 catches, 1,087 yards, and eight touchdowns. Compare that to 2021, when Sam Howell only hit his tight ends for 51 catches and 567 yards. The difference is notable, and with another year gaining familiarity with Drake Maye, the tight ends are only going to get better.
Mack Brown added 3-star freshman Julien Randolph to the squad. But unless Carolina is blowing out teams and puts him in the fourth quarter, don’t expect to see too much of Randolph. The snaps are going to be gobbled up by the returning three-headed monster of Kamari Morales, Bryson Nesbit, and John Copenhaver. Let’s take a look at each of them.
The 6’2”, 245 lbs super senior from Florida will look to put a bow on his Carolina career, with a third consecutive year of improvement. Last season, he improved his receptions total, yards, and yards per game and per catch. The only thing standing in his way from All-ACC consideration is two other tight ends of equal stature.
Reliable when targeted and stout enough to block, Morales can be an every down tight end for the Heels. He has the luxury of being able to go hard every snap while not worrying about subbing out, since his platoon is so deep.
Expect Morales to keep piling on catches and first downs, though touchdowns may be harder to come by, especially if the running game becomes more reliable in the red zone. Drake Maye’s multitude of receiving choices could also limit scoring opportunities.
Bryson Nesbit is the youngest tight end in the starting mix, but he’s also the most interesting pro prospect. A tweener at 6’5” 235 lbs, Nesbit has the length, hops, and catch radius to grab just about anything within five yards of his body and stride. He has the size to catch over defensive backs, and the speed and slipperiness to evade linebackers.
Drake Maye forged a strong bond with Bryson Nesbit in his second year on the squad, hitting him on seam routes for tons of yards after catch. He was the third leading receiver on the team with 507 yards, after All-ACC wide receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green.
With even more time getting stronger and in sync with Maye, expect Nesbit to have a monster season, especially in the early non-conference portion of the season.
Some may dismiss Copenhaver as the “third” tight end, but the 6’3”, 240 lbs junior from Georgia has quietly become one of the most dangerous, and reliable weapons in Drake Maye’s arsenal.
Copenhaver, despite receiving the least amount of targets among the active tight ends, had the highest yards per catch average at 14.8, edging out the more heralded Bryson Nesbit by 0.3 ypc! He had the second highest ypc average on the team after Antoine Green’s 18.6 ypc, which was the product of a lot of go-route catches.
More of an endurance type runner than an explosive, fast-twitch athlete, Copenhaver has shown steadiness and reliability. But last season, he showed that he can also make the “wow!” play as well:
Copenhaver is so highly thought of on the team that he accompanied Drake Maye and Cedric Gray to ACC media day, a sure sign of his high status:
As long as the offense continues to pile on points, expect the tight ends to be at the heart of that production. With the wide receiver position down after the departure of Josh Downs and Antoine Green, and the running back room stocked but without a decided hierarchy, the tight ends will be a crutch for Drake Maye to lean on.