Could the Tar Heels have ANY players drafted this year?
The incredible selection of sporting events this coming weekend includes one of my favorite events in pro sports- the NFL Draft. Beginning literally the second Mr. Irrelevant is chosen, draft “gurus” like Mel Kiper Jr. and “Guy at the bar whose drinks haven’t cut through his massive Adderall buzz” start setting up their draft boards and reports for the coming season.
‘Heels fans often are left with a less-than-ideal feeling when the NFL draft ends, one of total confusion and sometimes anger at the seemingly talent-laden rosters the Tar Heels field en route to yet another (somewhat) disappointing season. I’ve been lucky enough to work on the sidelines and behind the scenes with the UNC Football team since returning to Chapel Hill, and this team always has talent, heart, and the desire to win for a great fan base. My experience watching Zero Dark Thursday shoulder-to-shoulder with Marc James and Clinton Portis could only have gone better with a UNC win; the crowd and atmosphere was incredible.
This year, it may shock the casual UNC Football fan to not see any ‘Heels on any of the Mock Drafts or Big Boards. A quick look at the players drafted from UNC in the past years reads like a fantasy football lineup-that is, if you have an IDP category ;)- and is a quick go-to for shutting up ABCer’s when they dog Carolina for under-performing. Like many UNC students, their best work is saved for the professional levels; they were simply training for the next step, and everyone knows that success at the NFL level ALWAYS trumps college success. Just ask Tim Tebow, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez…hell, just ask anyone in Philadelphia. They know.
Some of these players are legitimate STARS at their position, and most have been serviceable at worst. Some exceptions spoil the pot (Marvin Austin’s Twitter account be damned) but overall, UNC tends to have top-level talent on mid-level teams. Since last year was quintessentially mediocre, one might expect a six-pack of Tar Heels to get drafted this year. Four or five, at least?
We’ll be EXTREMELY lucky to get three drafted this year, and of those three, two are seniors. We’ll start with the graduating players first:
Norkeithus Otis – Bandit/LB – 6’1″, 240lb
Otis is the best prospect in this draft coming out of Chapel Hill. He is a bit of a tweener; his lack of size might be enough to drop him off the boards completely. However, Otis is a gamer. He was required to play a hybrid position in Fedora’s defense and was often disruptive in the backfield as often as he was chasing tight ends in coverage. He plays hard, tackles relatively well, but doesn’t stand out in any particular field.
My take: UDFA signed by Carolina Panthers to training camp.
Tim Scott – CB/FS – 6’0″, 195lb
Scott was one of my favorite players to watch from the sidelines in the past two years. After tearing up the Belk Bowl, the coaching staff moved him to safety. This turned out to be one of the few bright spots on the UNC defense, as Scott racked up a team-high 72 tackles and two defensive touchdowns. Solid tackling and the ability to transition smoothly from CB to safety will be what intrigues NFL GMs, and I expect Scott to get a look somewhere in the late rounds. I may be the only person in North Carolina that believes this, but don’t be surprised. Scouts were low on a former UNC DB named Tre’ Boston, who is making a nice spot for himself on the Panthers’ squad.
My take: 6th round, 209th pick to Seattle (compensatory selection) or 7th round, 233rd pick to Kansas City.
Darien Rankin – LB/DB – 5’11”, 200lb
Darien Rankin moved from safety to linebacker due to team injuries and hasn’t played since the Belk Bowl in 2013. Still, this guy is a beast. He volunteered to go from DB to LB in the past season but hadn’t quite made the transition. His solid combine numbers this year (4.79 40, 4.25 shuttle, 31.8″ vertical) as an underclassman invite are strong enough to supplement his great play on tape (see above) and I expect the Salisbury, NC native to get a look from an NFL team looking to groom a new safety or cover linebacker. The NFL tends to draft on potential, and I can see Rankin getting picked before Saturday ends.
My take: 7th round, 246th pick to San Francisco or UDFA signed by New England.
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Credit: UNC Athletics, @it_is_elliott/ER Media and @_NCSparkPlug27 (photos)