Football season is fast coming upon us, and with it comes all its necessary elements: Cheap domestic beers, halftime pizza orders, entire Sundays spent hollering at the screen, and of course: Fantasy Football Drafts.
Some amongst us have already completed this ancient ritual, some are yet to do so. I myself will draft this Saturday (much to my chagrin: I am firm believer in waiting until AFTER Week #3 of Preseason), and I have the 4th overall pick, (which means I am googling the status of Ezekiel Elliot’s holdout at the top of every hour. Gag me). Good fortune to us all!
In the spirit of this time-honored tradition, let’s rank those NFL players who have worn Carolina blue. For those of you already weary of perusing Fantasy Rankings, never fear: This list will be short, since most of UNC’s pros are defensive players.
We start with...
#1 - Eric Ebron (TE, Indianapolis Colts)
There was once a time when a fantasy picker would have laughed heartily at Eric Ebron not only being the top of this list, but being a prized pick in general. I remember that time well, because it was this time last year.
Ebron struggled mightily in his years in Detroit but he has found new life in Indianapolis: A tight end-friendly QB in Andrew Luck and a far more advantageous system designed by Frank Reich helped #85 to a bounce back season that ended with a Pro Bowl selection. Ebron scored 14 total touchdowns, 13 receiving, one rushing, and also had career highs in receptions and yards.
Indianapolis will be one of the best teams in the AFC this year (provided Luck stays healthy) and Ebron will be a big reason why. Jack Doyle will presumably be back to full health this time, so don’t expect Ebron to match last season’s totals, but he’ll still be a big time weapon and lethal red-zone threat in one of the best offenses in the NFL and a TE1.
#2 Mitchell Trubisky (QB, Chicago Bears)
The arrival of Matt Nagy and his high-octane offense did wonders for Mitchell’s development after a rookie season to forget under a less-than-supportive John Fox. Trubisky threw for 24 touchdowns and over 3,200 yards, finishing with a 95.4 QB Rating. His running ability helped him become the #11 QB in fantasy points last year and he’ll likely be given even more responsibilities in this his third season under center.
That’s the good. The bad is that Trubisky as a pro has struggled with pass accuracy and that wasn’t something that changed immediately Nagy stepped in: His off-target rate was 20% in 2017 and was 19% in 2018, both in the bottom third in the league. His 2.8% interception rate isn’t too good either. He had moments of sheer brilliance (like his 6 TD performance against Tampa Bay) and moments to forget (like his horrendous performance against the Rams).
Two years in, it feels like this could be the defining year for Mitch: If he continues to improve and cleans up his inconsistency, he’ll be a big time QB on a terrific team, propelling him into at least middling QB1 status as far as fantasy is concerned.
#3 Giovanni Bernard (RB, Cincinnati Bengals)
The Tar Heel mainstay and slayer of Wolfpack pups is ready for another NFL campaign. Bernard has long been one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, but in recent years his workload in Cincy has tapered off, partly due to a rash of injuries and partly due to the ascendence of Joe Mixon. Last season was the first time that Gio didn’t finish in the Top 20 of Yards per Touch in the NFL (which is pretty remarkable when you think about it). There are also rumors that the Bengals have him on the trading block.
Despite all that, this is a pass catchers’ league and Gio has been doing it for as long as any. He won’t crack anyone’s starting lineups at the beginning of the year, but he’ll still be a contributor no matter where he is. He’s too good not to use, and he’s both one of the most valuable handcuffs in the league and an occasional RB3/4 in his own right. He’s worth stashing in the late rounds.
#4 Ryan Switzer (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)
The slot receiver and punt returner extraordinaire is geared up for a second season in Pittsburgh. The former Tar Heel saw much more shine in the Steel City than he did in Dallas, finishing with 36 receptions and returning 30 kicks and punts.
As you may have heard, Antonio Brown is no longer a Steeler and the black-and-gold will be looking for their receiving core to step up in support of their now-Undisputed #1 Juju Smith-Schuster. Switzer will be dueling Eli Rogers for the lions share of the snaps from the slot position, while his position as a returner is firmly entrenched. If he can grow his role from the slot and throw in maybe a return TD or two this season, he could be a fun late round flier or free agent pickup. He’s already shown very good rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, so there’s some minor breakout potential there.
#5 Mack Hollins (WR, Philadelphia Eagles)
Hollins’ preseason has been very on-brand thus far: He announced his presence with his trademark sense of humor, confirming to Eagles fans that he was indeed “Still alive,” then he was promptly sidelined with an injury. Team officials insist that it is not a setback in his recovery from last year’s groin injury and surgery, but he missed the early stages of preseason.
This week, however, he made a strong return to action: He had one reception in the Eagles’ matchup with the Jaguars, but he excelled as a gunner on special teams, making two big time plays against the Jacksonville returners. With a strong core of receivers in front of him (he figures to be fifth on the depth chart), Hollins needed to distinguish himself on ST to solidify his case for a roster spot and he did just that. He’s an under-the-radar flyer in keeper leagues; he was set to be a starter last year before his injury and all indications are that the team really likes him if he can get on the field.
#6 TJ Logan (RB, Arizona Cardinals)
The UNC running back showed some strong flashes in the Cardinals game against the Raiders this past week and is also in the mix to have primary kick return duties. His two main competitors in the return game are Pharoh Cooper, who is of course a former Pro Bowl returner but is looking for an expanded receiving role, and Christian Kirk, who is expected to be WR2 in Arizona and shouldn’t be risked too much on special teams. If Logan can secure the return job, he may have an opportunity to grab touches out of the backfield as well.
#7 Anthony Ratliff-Williams (WR, Tennessee Titans)
UNC’s top receiver last season went undrafted but has been showing some real promise with the Titans in preseason. He was very impressive recent action against Malcolm Butler in 1-on-1s and has had catches in both of the Titans’ preseason games. Tennessee has a dearth of talent at the receiver position and, as any Tar Heel fan knows, ARW can really ball. If he can finish preseason strong, he’ll have a roster spot, and from there, anything’s possible.
#8 Austin Proehl (WR, Los Angeles Rams)
The son of Ricky and 7th round draft pick of the Rams in 2017, Proehl has a long uphill battle to make the roster in LA. He’s looking to carve out a slot position in Sean McVay’s explosive offense, but the Rams receiving corps is LOADED and there are just too many mouths to feed. But he’s always been a scrappy underdog, battling back from injury to make the league in Buffalo, and, as the Bucs and Patriots learned to the hard way years ago, you never want to sleep on a receiver named Proehl.