A first look at UNC’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects
It’s now been a week since the NFL Draft began, and we all hope we’ve at least begun to get past the clash of Sam Howell who dropped all the way to the 5th round of this year’s edition, among 4 Tar Heels who were eventually picked up. And while we still have a whole season of college football to preview, analyze, and experiment with first, it can’t hurt to take a look and see who from the UNC 2022 squad could put on an NFL hat. in a year. .
Josh Downs, wide receiver
Downs is likely getting even more hype than Howell was last year from draft evaluators – while Howell was supposed to be among the best in a weak QB class, Downs is right at the top of another group phenomenal wide receivers (to be fair, I’m not sure we’re going to see a down year for receivers for quite some time). I’ve seen at least 3 mock drafts way too early in 2023 that put him through to the first round, and one that even puts him in the top 10. Top 10 might be a bit rich for him, but I think The first-round hype is completely earned, and unlike Howell, there are far fewer questions he has to answer to pay it off.
Downs’ incredible stop-start acceleration and change of direction, clever and nuanced road racing and very good top speed help him open up on all three levels to the zone or man and to be absolutely deadly after taking. He’s got insane body control (see that touchdown against Virginia) and better jumping ability than you’d think from his height, offset by a 42-inch vertical. There will be questions about his size and whether that relegates him instead, but those questions are easier to answer in a post-Tyreek Hill world. It’s not a perfect prospect – his hands are fine, but not drop-proof, and he occasionally grabs the body and limits his grab radius – but few are, and he has a lot going for him.
Screening: end 1st – start 2nd rounds
Myles Murphy, defensive tackle
UNC’s defense was pretty bleak last year, with several promising players in decline and the whole unit not really functioning as a cohesive whole. But one of the few bright spots was the emergence of Myles Murphy anchoring the defensive line. He led UNC’s defensive front with 38 tackles, was second on the team with 9 tackles for loss and 4 sacks, and had 3 assists in his first year of full-time action. Murphy impressed with his strength against the meat of opposing offensive lines, pushing himself as a pass thrower and run stopper. He struggled with his consistency and finishing plays, but when the UNC defense made a good play in the offensive backfield, Murphy was almost always involved.
He’s about to really break out as a junior, with an offseason to learn what works for him and what doesn’t, improve his conditioning for consistency, and improve as a tackler. But much of his value, as a 2-spread defensive tackle, will become clear with a hopefully improved and more consistent defensive front, and I fully expect him to prove himself as a NFL-ready anchor for an interior defensive. .
Screening: 4th round
Tony Grimes, cornerback
Grimes made an impact at the end of his true first season, when he should have still been in high school, with a few standout plays, including a ridiculous cast, and excellent overall coverage. Much was expected of him in 2021, but the aforementioned defensive confusion certainly did him a disservice. Grimes was still good, leading UNC’s pass defense by a wide margin in PFF coverage grade, but he wasn’t the playmaker that was promised, and found himself on the wrong side of many. big plays because he expected security help where there was none. He led his team with 9 passes defended, but didn’t record a single interception, and his physical style got him in penalty trouble, to boot. He also drew a lot of ire for his reluctance to get physical in the running game, often not making huge efforts to get rid of wide receivers or squirm on the edge instead of trying to make a solid tackle. Despite all that, he’s clearly talented and has some lock-in ability as a cornerback, and a change in defensive coordinator could do wonders for him and help him recapture some of that old magic.
Ja’Qurious Conley, Security
Conley is an absolute beast around the line of scrimmage. He’s probably UNC’s best strength defender in the running game and is coming to the outside screens quickly. He’s a fierce tackler and he plays with abandon with the ball in front of him. It’s more the skill of a linebacker for the next level than that of a safety, though, and Conley is a bit short to play linebacker, even as a kind of moneybacker guy who’s earned some buy in the NFL. Conley is still working on his covering ability, but he was burned very often by tight ends last year and is going to have to improve that part of his game a bit to become a legitimate NFL prospect. He is also currently recovering from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL, so that has to be taken into account.
Antoine Green, wide receiver
Antoine Green’s career at UNC so far has been a combination of rotten injury luck and waiting for the light to come on as he recovers from those injuries and tries to regain the traits. that made him a 4 star hopeful. In the second half of last year, however, something started to click for him, and in four of UNC’s last five FBS games, Green had at least 3 catches for at least 70 yards apiece, adding 4. of his 5 touchdowns in that span as Good. For the season, he caught 31 passes for 612 yards (19.7 yards per catch), finishing the season with a respectable No. 2 line thanks to his late-season push. He still shows promise as a top-tier receiver with his speed, deep-ball tracking ability and hands, but he needs to put together a full season of productivity to have a chance of being drafted, and with receivers much less crowded. room than last year, he has every chance of getting there. A good first step would be to improve his short-intermediate course.
Cedric Gray, linebacker
Gray took the reins as UNC’s second inside linebacker for about a quarter of the season and more than acquitted himself in his first time playing serious minutes, leading the team in tackles with 99 for go with 2 interceptions, 2.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. Gray will be counted on to fill the on-field leadership void left by Jeremiah Gemmel, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers, and could join UNC’s recent linebacker lineup to turn pro if he continues to excel. I don’t know how he’ll handle an expanded role, though, and he might not be quite ready for the NFL after less than 2 years away.
Kamari Morales at the tight end is a pretty good blocker and was a reliable chain mover for the heels last year, but that could be his ceiling, and at 6’1 he’s further back than the tight end for the next level – he’s good at what he does, but that might end up not being enough for the NFL. Noah Spencer at the edge of the defender and Corey Gaynor and Spencer Rolland on the offensive line are all the grad transfers who could end up thriving in new environments the same way Ty Chandler did. Evans put on some good games at the end of last season and could be ready to burst into a seemingly streamlined role where he will simply attack the ball as a 3-4 defensive end rather than checking cover when called in as an outside linebacker, but he still needs to refine his technique and develop real passing moves if he wants to take it to the next level.