The #8 spot in our preseason rankings goes to the North Carolina Tar Heels. It’s truly amazing to see how much head coach Mack Brown has improved this program. The Tar Heels are coming off a respectable 2020 campaign that saw them post an 8-4 record.
Expectations for 2021 are at an all-time high as North Carolina should have one of the best offenses in the country. Can the Heels win the ACC Coastal Division this year? Here’s a closer look at the 2021 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and should be a Heisman contender in 2021. The 6-1 225 pounder has an NFL arm and fantastic decision-making ability under pressure. Howell had a phenomenal 2020 season by throwing 30 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. The 20-year old junior also ran for five scores last year.
North Carolina has to replace two stud running backs this season as both Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are now on NFL rosters. Luckily for the Heels, Ty Chandler transferred in from Tennessee. Chandler is a dynamic playmaker who is always dangerous with the ball in his hands.
The Heels receiving corps has some talent but they are lacking in overall game experience. Seniors Beau Corrales and Antoine Green made only some small contributions in 2020, but at least they both know the playbook well. Redshirt sophomore Khafre Brown may be the most talented receiver on the team. Brown caught 15 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Garrett Walston returns as the Heels starting tight end in 2021. Walston made 19 catches for 255 yards and two scores in 2020. Look for the 6-4 240 pounder to be a nice safety valve for Howell over the middle when protection breaks down.
North Carolina’s defense was inconsistent at times last season as they allowed 29 points per game (collegefootballnews.com). Linebacker Chazz Surratt was the heart and soul of last year’s defense but he is now with the Minnesota Vikings. Even with Surratt gone, this unit could show some improvement in 2021 since lots of players are returning.
Linebacker Tomon Fox led the team in sacks a year ago with seven and he’s an outstanding pass rusher. Fox’s brother, Tomari, is also a proven defensive playmaker for the Heels (4 sacks in 2020). Jeremiah Gemmel provides a solid presence at the inside linebacker spot as he racked up 78 tackles last year.
2021 Special Teams
Grayson Atkins returns as the Heels starting kicker this year. Atkins hit 12 out of 18 field-goal attempts and made all 63 of his extra points in 2020. Ben Kiernan will again handle the punting duties after averaging 43.7 yards per punt last season.
The Heels will miss Michael Carter and Dazz Newsome in the return game this year. They will try out several players at both the kick and punt returner positions. Sophomore Josh Downs looks to be the likely candidate to win both jobs.