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How does UNC’s potential 2017 draft class stack up to past years?

Before the 2017 class hears their names called, let’s look back at some of the greatest classes in UNC history.

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of number of players taken, the upcoming 2017 UNC NFL draft class could end up being one of the most prolific in school history. As many as nine players seem to have at least decent chances of getting drafted this year, and there’s a high probably Carolina will have a first round quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. With the potential for the 2017 Tar Heel draft class as high as it is, where might it stack up in North Carolina history?

If nine players are drafted this year, it would match the 2011 draft. The infamous 2010 Tar Heels team certainly had plenty of talent, as evidenced by what happened in the draft. That team obviously got derailed for, well, reasons.

Robert Quinn was the first former Tar Heel off the board, going at #14 in the first round to the Rams. After two Pro Bowl appearances, he turned out to be the only player in that class to have had any major success in the NFL.

Marvin Austin won a Super Bowl ring in 2013, but hasn’t had much NFL success. T.J. Yates won a playoff game as a starting quarterback, and is still around and getting gigs. Da’Norris Searcy signed a multi-year deal with the Titans not that long ago. The 2011 draft class may have been record-breaking, but it hasn’t been that fruitful. If just one or two players from 2017 live up to their potential, it will probably end up much better than 2011, nine players drafted or not.

Another one of UNC’s high-volume draft classes was 1998, when there were seven Tar Heels chosen. The headliner that year was Greg Ellis. After he was selected eighth overall, Ellis went on to have a 12-year NFL career, making one Pro Bowl.

Also in that class were Brian Simmons and Vonnie Holliday. Both Simmons and Holliday had 10-year professional careers. The other four players in that class never reached those heights, but all played in at least 15 NFL games.

The 1981 class had just five players but is high up on the list, thanks mainly to one person.

Two of the five former Tar Heels played a combined total of just 23 NFL games. One of those two was Amos Lawrence, who would win a Super Bowl with the 49ers. Donnell Thompson played 11 seasons after going 18th overall. Rick Donnalley and Ron Wooten both had multi-season careers as offensive lineman.

However, the 1981 class also produced Lawrence Taylor. Taylor won two Super Bowls, an MVP award, and made 10 Pro Bowls in his NFL career. He is a Hall-of-Famer, and is one of, if not the best, defensive players in football history.

The 1965 UNC draft class consisted of just two players. However in terms of hit rate, it’s arguably the school’s best.

Fullback Ken Willard was taken second overall by the 49ers in the ‘65 draft, which is equal with Taylor as the highest any Tar Heel has gone. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, and ran for over 6000 yards in his 10-year career.

The other player taken in ‘65 is the only other Pro Football Hall of Famer to come out of Carolina besides Taylor. Linebacker Chris Hanburger went in the 18th round, but would go on to have an extremely fruitful pro careers. Hanburger had a 14-year professional career, making nine Pro Bowls. He was also a six-time all-pro, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

The 2017 North Carolina draft class might not produce and Hall of Famers. It might not produce any Pro Bowlers, or even any long pro careers. However, it has the potential to go down as one of the best in school history.