Filling In The Gaps: UNC Football Recruiting Preview, Phase One

The 2014 football season of the University of North Carolina Tarheels can be summed up in just a few words: disappointment, letdown, and some other blanks which you can decide for yourself. After a season filled with some highs and lows, it looks like the perfect time to bring some fresh new blood into the mix. With some decent players returning on both the offensive and defensive line, head coach Larry Fedora, and new defensive coordinator and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik need to find a way to get the team back on their feet.

So as we draw nearer to National Signing Day, the Tarheels are surprisingly going to have a decent recruiting class, according to ESPN and Predicted to finish in the top 25, it seems like they might be able to compete, if the prospects they are looking at fully commit to the program. They need players who can help them not only get the ball into the endzone, but prevent the ball from getting there, on the defensive end. I guess I could cut them a little slack, since they did play like the young, inexperienced team that they were. Hopefully this season, they will try and not allow an average of 30 points per game (dead last in the ACC), 431 yards per game (dead last), and 190 rushing yards per game (dead last). Now that they have Chizik on the coaching staff, he is going to have to bring his toughness, discipline and successful track record to give the Heels the edge they need to compete. We hope for the Tarheels sake, he will be able to solidify the defense and help them find the answers they are looking for. I do not think Fedora can handle another season of going 4-4 in conference play and 6-7 overall. He won’t be long for the job if this is the case once again in 2015.

In the last few months of 2014 and in the early days of 2015, the Heels have managed to score some key recruits. UNC brings back 17 starters, 10 on offense and seven on defense. While their offense has the potential of being one of the best in the conference this upcoming season, it is the defense that Fedora and his staff are looking to heavily recruit. They are looking to fill positions such as defensive end, defensive tackle, safety, cornerback and tight end. Even though seven defensive starters are returning for 2015, we can make one assumption: most of those guys will not be suiting up on game day if the newbloods have anything to do with it.

A few key recruits made the bold decision to flip their original choices to join UNC. It seems like Fedora and his coaching staff are selling the future of this program pretty well, despite the academic scandal they are facing. Let’t take a look at a few of the big verbal and signed commitments the Heels can expect.

Mike Hughes, Cornerback

  • Four star
  • 5’10, 180 pounds
  • New Bern High School, New Bern, NC

Committing just a few days before the end of the year, Hughes is a 4-star recruit and major score for the Tarheels. He turned down schools like North Carolina State and Florida to hopefully help this struggling defense. He is ranked as the 18th best prospect in the nation, and played at the quarterback position during high school as well.

Hughes’ quickness and ability to move to the ball, will be a great addition to the defensive secondary. Hughes has the perfect height and weight to be a competitive cornerback and is a strong candidate in a position that the team is looking to fill.

Prentice McKinney, Defensive Back/Safety

  • Four star
  • 6’2, 180 pounds
  • South Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX

McKinney is one of two recruits so far that decided to flip their commitments from one school to Chapel Hill. Originally committing to Notre Dame back in March, McKinney announced on Twitter his decision to de-commit from the Fighting Irish and pledge his allegiance to Heels. Fedora hopes that McKinney will be a player that can come in right away and make an impact in the secondary.

This Texas native is known as a “big-bodied safety with length.” He has the ideal height for the position, but will need to fill out his frame if he expects to compete with other safeties in the league. He has the speed and acceleration to cover a lot of ground, and appears to do an excellent job at getting in the right position, which will be a key if this team wants to win some games. McKinney is a huge get, and I think we will be seeing him a lot of the field in his first season.

Jake Bargas, Tight End

  • 3-star
  • 6’4, 225 pounds
  • St. Andrews, Boca Raton, FL

Bargas is the Heels second commitment who has decided to make the switch. Originally committing to North Carolina foe Wake Forest University, he de-committed from the Demon Deacons and has decided to come to Chapel Hill. The 6-foot-4, tight end is another major commitment for UNC. He will be the start of replenishing UNC’s tight end position on the depth chart and was considered a top target for the Heels.

Ranked as the 31st best TE, according to 247 Sports, he is an athletic player with a ton of versatility on the field. He possesses tremendous speed and excellent footwork. He also also shows excellent pass-catching abilities and knows exactly where to be on the field. Once the ball is in his hands, he likes to cut to the outside and accelerate towards the end zone. His hands are like a ball magnet and during tough passes, his ability to hold onto the football will be crucial in ACC play. If he can adjust early and learn how to play at the college level, he will definitely be a freshman to keep our eye on.

Then, we can not forget about the Tarheels biggest recruit to date, Jalen Dalton. This early enrollee is already getting a lay of the land in Chapel Hill, and come spring time he is expected to be one of many stand-out freshmen on this team.

Jalen Dalton, Defensive End

  • 4-star
  • 6’5, 235 pounds
  • West Forsyth High School, Clemmons, NC

This Clemmons native comes as one of the best 4-star recruits to commit to the Heels.   He has already signed his letter of intent, so as of now he is either sitting in his dorm room or in class at Chapel Hill. Dalton will definitely fill a huge gap in the defense and will be a breath of fresh air. If he performs like Fedora hopes he will, we could be seeing him suiting up come game day.

Dalton has  good size, combined with a lot of athleticism, which will make him a successful player. This Under Armour All American will give the team some much needed help when it comes to the pass-rushing category, after the Tarheels recorded only 22 sacks last season. He has the ability to put the pressure on the quarterback, can cover a lot of ground quickly, and with his length will do wonders at keeping blockers off him. He will definitely be considered in the defensive rotation, but his spot will most certainly have to be earned. Hopefully he can adapt to the college game quickly, and put on that jersey sooner rather than later. Who knows, we could be looking at a future Julius Peppers.

Wrap Up:

Now these are just a few of the verbal and already signed commitments who are expected to come to Chapel Hill. Some of their other key grabs include William Sweet, Ty’Son Williams, Carl Tucker, Juvall Mollette, Mason Veal, Andre Britt, J.K Britt, Hunter Crafford and Anthony Ratiliff-Williams.

The Tar Heels appear to be filling in the gaps and adding the depth needed to compete in conference play. It will be interesting to see if any more recruits decide to flip to UNC, but only time will tell, and this is college football, so anything is possible. But if all does go well come February, Tarheel fans everywhere could be in for quite a season, and I mean that in the best possible way. The coaching staff has seemed to look ahead at the future of this program and attempt to plug the dam before it gets way too out of hand. It will be nice to see a Tarheel team come out on the field like they do the basketball court and really take the division by storm.

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