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UNC football recruiting: An early signing period primer

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The biggest change in the football recruiting landscape in years is upon us. How will the Heels fare?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Football recruiting, and its typical February “National Signing Day” have long been a point of consternation for players and coaches alike. Each year, schools over-sign, and occasionally rescind offers to lesser players who have been committed to their programs for months. On the flip side, a long-committed lower-tier prospect’s senior film may hit the internet, and the decent program who saw him first loses him to a blue blood “dream school.”

With the new “early” signing period set for December 20-22, the powers that be in the NCAA hope to alleviate some of those concerns. Coaches can lock up their early commits and chase the finishing touches on their 2018 classes, while recruits won’t be left holding the bag on Signing Day (which is still a thing in February).

Or so we think.

There are a few issues that arise with the early signing period:

  • Coaching changes. Is a long-committed prospect still a fit for his new staff? Is there even a staff in place?
  • Bowl prep. 80 FBS programs are still in-season, and those schools (especially the participants in the early games) may be unable to visit committed prospects and ensure their signatures.
  • If a player doesn’t sign (perhaps betting on his senior film to generate more interest), does he end up with nowhere to go if he waits until February?

SBNation/Tomahawk Nation’s Bud Elliott did a deep dive on this, with much more access to coaches than I’ll have. This is worth a read. The biggest takeaway from it was that coaches are treating the December period as the new Signing Day. While top-tier uncommitted prospects have the leverage to wait, it is expected that committed players go ahead and lock themselves in.

What does that all mean for North Carolina as they gear up to welcome the 2018 class?

The Heels took full advantage of not having a postseason.

This is definitely a rosy outlook, but Carolina has added commitments from quarterback Cade Fortin, linebacker Kyle Wright, defensive tackle Jahlil Taylor, and athlete Javonte Williams in the past nine days. Each shores up a position of need in the current class.

New names keep appearing on the recruiting board, due to the fallout from a crazy firing and hiring season. Former commitments from Tennessee, Florida State, and Oregon have emerged as options for the Heels, and while they’re not likely to sign any of them next Wednesday, they may have more opportunity to get a foot in the door with some new, talented players.

The class, as it stands now

It’s not great, but its not horrible. Currently, the 16 committed 2018 Heels rank 33rd in the country, according to 247sports. That puts them 5th in the ACC, behind Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, (gulp) NC State...and Florida State will surely finish with a flurry under new coach Willie Taggart.

The losses of two top-100 players, linebacker Payton Wilson and quarterback Tyler Shough, were huge blows the the star power of this class. Wilson currently ranks 29th overall in the class, and burned some serious bridges in flipping to NC State. Shough is #81, and would’ve been a legitimate threat to take over as the starting QB next year.

The upshot? WR Jordyn Adams, ranked #11 overall, is the highest-ranked prospect to come to Carolina since Marvin Austin. He’s joined by 4-stars WR Dyami Brown, OL Avery Jones, and QB Jace Ruder. With the exception of Ruder, all are North Carolina natives— guys the Heels have to be better about keeping in-state.

There are five Georgia natives on the commitment list, all rated three stars. The Heels have found success in the second tier of the Peach State in the past with Donnie Miles, T.J. Yates, DaNorris Searcy, Nick Polino, Tre Shaw, and many others coming to mind. Only one player from Florida is surprising, and one each from Virginia and South Carolina is even moreso. Ideally, a 25-man class would boast about 10 North Carolinians, and a smattering from each of the rest of the states in that footprint.

The 16 players who should officially become Tar Heels next Wednesday (247 is updating their rankings database so the national ranks may not be fully accurate):

2018 Class

Name Pos State National Pos Rank Stars
Name Pos State National Pos Rank Stars
Jordyn Adams WR NC 11 3 5
Avery Jones OG NC 137 13 4
Dyami Brown WR NC 171 7 4
Jace Ruder QB KS 316 16 4
Devon Lawrence RB NC 416 19 3
Chris Collins DE VA 466 26 3
Cade Fortin QB GA 600 23 3
Trey Morrison DB GA 767 64 3
Bryson Richardson S GA 821 59 3
Nick Fulwilder DE GA 836 59 3
Kyle Wright LB SC N/A 42 3
Lancine Turay DE NJ N/A 58 3
Javon Terry S NC N/A 102 3
DeAndre Hollins DB FL N/A 144 3
Jahlil Taylor DT GA N/A 139 3
Javonte Williams ATH NC N/A 239 2

The Heels continue a slightly disturbing trend of getting flashy skill position players, but not much top-end talent on the defense. It continues to be incumbent on the coaching staff to project players’ true talent levels and find guys that can contribute at a high level...or blossom into stars.

What about the rest of the class?

The Heels still have a few headliners on the board, notably Shelby linebacker Dax Hollifield, Florida OL William Barnes, Concord DT Rick Sandidge, and Delaware running back Leddie Brown. All three are rated 4-star prospects, so the Heels could add some top-end talent to the class and boost their ranking.

All four players qualify as extreme ‘needs,’ in my opinion. Hollifield is an in-state stud ranked #58 overall in the class, and the Heels’ failures to keep top-end defensive talent at home is well-documented (see: K.J. Henry from this class, Dexter Lawrence, Nick Coe from 2016...the list goes on). The Heels are competing with Virginia Tech and Stanford for his services.

Sandidge also fits that bill. He’s ranked 104th overall in the class, and while the Heels have bodies for the defensive line, none carry Sandidge’s pedigree. He’s rumored to be favoring South Carolina, but will officially visit Chapel Hill in January.

Barnes would seem a lock for Florida, being from the area. His mother attended UNC, however, and the Heels are probably, at worst, nipping at the Gators’ heels for him. He’s ranked #59 in the class, and would be a great anchor to an underwhelming offensive line group thus far.

Finally, Brown is a longtime West Virginia commit. It appears he is using that commitment as a placeholder until he figures out if he has the grades to enroll at UNC. His addition would allow the Heels to shift guys like Williams to the defensive back seven, where he may have a higher ceiling.

If the Heels can land two or three of the aforementioned with a few more names to emerge, the 2018 class will shape up nicely to get the Heels back into the upper-middle class of the ACC into the next decade.