UNC elected not to go with a traditional spring scrimmage this season. The reasoning behind this choice was the thought that they would get twice as many reps for their young team by going with an alternative strategy. Starting at the top, there is a QB controversy in Chapel Hill. Chazz Surratt had a respectable season as a Freshman in 2017. He played in nine games but he made much more of an impact in the first half of the season than the latter. He is a left-handed, dual-threat QB that has the tools to be serviceable.
The player that filled in for him at the end of the season was Nathan “Tex” Elliott. Also, a southpaw, the JR from Texas had a couple of good games against porous defenses and a couple of really bad games against elite defenses in 2017. I believe either player could be the starter and Larry Fedora has already stated that he wouldn’t name the starter even if he had made a decision. I believe this offense can and will support a fantasy relevant QB. Mitchell Trubisky, these two are not, but Trubisky shows what the potential ceiling could look like. His 2016 campaign consisted of 3,748 passing yards, 30 TD to 6 INT, and five rushing TD.
Here is a recent excerpt from Inside Carolina where Surratt talks about his mindset after the loss to Notre Dame, “The hardest part for me was not always successful at times; not winning, didn’t lose in high school, so to be losing, I got down on myself. I shut myself off from my team and took it all on me. Me and [quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf] have talked about how those low points define you. I’ve got to be more open and help everybody out and not just look at myself, but try to be a leader for our team when things aren’t going good.”
From that same article, Larry Fedora talks about what he is looking for in a QB, “They’ve got to be able to lead the football team, so they’ve got to be able to influence the guys around them, raise the level of the players around them and hold themselves to a high standard… Take command of the offense and have some presence back there so that the other guys know you’re back there and that you’re stable, you’re like a rock, and they can count on you.” Surratt spent some time this off-season working with George Whitfield on the physical aspect of his game, but if he hasn’t grown in the mental side of the game, then I would think Elliott will be QB1. Unfortunately, we won’t have a televised spring scrimmage to get a visual.
The running back room appears settled. Jordon Brown and Michael Carter both had productive seasons in 2017. Both players are shifty and work well in space, which is ideal for the offense. Brown was most effective as a pass catcher as he hauled in 29 of his 37 targets for 237 yards without finding the end zone. Brown is adequate. He got the most touches of all the running backs last season, but that was a very curious decision, in my opinion.
The best back on their roster is SO Michael Carter. Made in the mold of Gio Bernard, Carter was both more efficient and more explosive on a per-touch-basis in 2017. Larry Fedora likes to use multiple backs, and there is a good example of multiple backs having fantasy relevance. In 2016, T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood combined for nearly 2,000 rushing and receiving yards while scoring 18 TDs. The 2015 season showed that they are willing to give an RB feature back touches, but I don’t think that will be the case in 2018. Carter is the player that I want for both CFF and Devy, but I’m not sure he will get enough volume in 2018 to be a regular starter on a CFF roster unless the league is pretty deep. At a recent practice, the two players spelling this duo were Johnathan Sutton and Javonte Williams.
Sutton is a much bigger back than the 195 pounds that Brown and Carter carry. At 230 pounds, he could be an effective player in short-yardage situations. Williams is a part of a very talented true freshman class that UNC just landed. Antwuan Branch and Stanton Truitt were possibilities to contribute in 2017, but neither made their marks.
There has been a lot of attrition in the UNC WR room over the past couple of seasons. The good news is this is one of the low-key most exciting position groups in the conference. The player I’m most excited about this year is JR Antonio Ratliff-Williams. AR17 was a dual-threat QB when he arrived in Chapel Hill but decided to move to WR once the staff knew what they had in Mitchell Trubisky. He is still more of an athlete than a polished wide receiver, but that athleticism is incredible. Check out this game he had in 2017 against Pitt.
He returned a kickoff for a TD, threw a TD, and caught the game-winning TD. I believe that he is a contender for breakout player of the year in 2018. This is a player that is still very cheap in Devy drafts, and I would also recommend targeting him in that format, in addition to all CFF formats. The player that will line up on the other side of him is another spectacular athlete that is a relative unknown. Beau Corrales. The 6’4”, 205-pound sophomore is a fantastic contested ball catcher. In addition to that, he is really good after the catch as well. Like AR17, he’s versatile. This game against Miami highlights the type of player he is.
Keep in mind, he’s a true freshman there and dominates one of the top defenses in the country. He only had 9-143-3 on the season, but the overwhelming majority of that came in the final games of the season. This is a player that will be valuable in CFF and will be drafted in Devy leagues next year. There are a lot of options for who will be the third and fourth guys this fall. The player who is getting the most reps with the 1s right now is an early enrollee, Dyami Brown.
He will be joined later this summer by Jordyn Adams and Antonie Green. Adams is the most talented of the bunch, but he is going to be deciding whether or not he wants to play professional baseball or WR for UNC. Adams, like AR17, was a dual-threat QB in high school but is already one of the smoothest, most natural receivers in his recruiting class. I am incredibly excited about his potential, and I’m hoping he elects to play football.
If he does, I think he is too good to keep off the field. The other players that have loads of potential are Roscoe Johnson, J.T. Cauthen, and Dazz Newsome. This group lacks much collegiate productivity, but they are a gifted group that I’m excited about watching over the next few seasons. Last, but not least, TE Brandon Fritts. He wasn’t utilized much in 2017, but he will play in the NFL. He scored four TD in 2017 but only made 25 catches. I expect that number to go up this season and I can foresee a path to his fantasy relevance.
The defense, if you want to call it that, played at UNC in recent years has bee abhorrent. Gene Chizik worked some voodoo for a season, but they were back to the cellar in 2017. The lack of depth was an issue for the Tar Heels last fall, and it appears that they are still thin at certain spots, but there is some young talent. Tomon Fox is a player that I like at DE. Check him here last season with a good rep against Duke.
@TarHeelFootball DE @tomon_fox putting @DukeFOOTBALL OT in the spin cycle. The fear of the speed rush is real! #speedrush #spin #dl #de #qbsack #dominatethegame #IWILL @ACCFootball pic.twitter.com/EWfJ3RAVse
— Nathan O'Neal (@FeetHipsHands) February 13, 2018
He is a young pup but he joins an old hat in Malik “Scoop” Carney, and I think these two can be an effective duo on the ends. I like the talent at LB across the board this fall as well. Malik Robinson’s athleticism has been popping all over the field, according to several who have seen practices. The song remains the same in the secondary; there are a lot of talented players but not a ton of experience. Perhaps I am foolish, but I expect some improvement from the defense this season, and if they can play at an average level, this team should bounce back and go bowling. The schedule is tough, particularly some early contests with out of conference foes in Cal and UCF but I like UNC to be a team with ATS and futures value this fall.