Statistically, Bryn Renner will go down in UNC history as one of the greatest quarterbacks to have played in Chapel Hill. He’s shown that he can play in different systems and can play well. His accuracy, ability to read the defense and smart decision making are the reasons why he’s produced such gaudy numbers in his two years as the starting signal caller. However, Renner most definitely needed help from his teammates in order to experience the success that he’s had and he can credit all the weapons he’s had to throw to. In his upcoming senior season, Renner will have a full year of experience in Larry Fedora’s new system and will boast one of the deepest receiving corps in the ACC.
Even losing Tar Heel stand out Erik Highsmith to graduation, the Heels will have plenty of weapons to throw the ball too both in returning players and incoming freshmen. Everyone saw how much of a stud Quinshad Davis was just as a freshman. I can imagine that with a year of in game experience and maturity that he’ll only build on his 61 catch, 776 receiving yard and 5 touchdown season he had this past year. His 6-4 frame really helped him catch a lot of jump balls down the sideline and he showed a good amount of foot speed for a big guy. At just 186 lbs, he could stand to bulk up a little, but Davis will more than likely be the premier guy next season.
If there is one player that will battle Davis for the number one target next season, it’ll be tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron had a big year as well hauling in 40 catches for 640 yards and 4 touchdowns. His huge frame and great speed at the tight end position made him such a down field threat for Carolina in 2012 and I am expecting it to hold true in 2013. Ebron is always a threat in the red zone or over the middle 5-10 yards off the line, but when other receivers are opening up space around the field, he can be a gem in long yardage situations. His ability to out muscle the defense for balls and his ability to provide a huge mismatch against linebackers will allow for Ebron to benefit from several of Renner’s passes.
Sean Tapely really proved to be a valuable long yardage receiver that could beat the defense on go routes as well as break tackles for big gains from the slot. His great speed and down field vision developed from his time on special teams make him a great second or third option for Bryn Renner on passing plays. Tapely had just 26 catches and 361 receiving yards making him far less productive than most of the receivers, but when Tapely caught passes, he usually cashed them in. His 5 touchdowns was just as many as Davis had with not as much opportunity.
Tapely will likely benefit from TJ Thorpe returning from injury mostly because they are the same type of player. A lot of fans have forgotten about TJ since he sat on the sidelines this past season with a knee injury, but with Highsmith gone, Carolina will benefit greatly from his return. Thorpe has the same down field vision that Tapely has from his time on special teams as a returner, but his speed and soft hands make him the perfect spread option receiver. We have a small sample size of him as a receiver since he only had two receptions as a freshman, but he averaged 35 yards per catch with makes him a huge home run threat. Even without game experience in Fedora’s scheme, he’s had a lot of time to observe and should be ready to go come next fall.
If Gio Bernard ends up declaring for the draft, like many are expecting him to, AJ Blue and Romar Morris will have big shoes to fill, not only running the ball, but catching it too. Bernard posted 490 receiving yards and 5 scores as a running back which was just as good as most of the receivers. Blue and Morris both can catch the ball, but can they get as many yards after the catch as Bernard? This remains to be seen, but even if they can match the production together, Carolina shouldn’t lose anything from that position receiving wise.
Jonathan Howard and Jordan Fieulleteau lead a new crop of receivers coming to North Carolina next fall. Both players are three star recruits that have good hands and speed and should fit in to the system no problem, especially with so many guys around to learn from. Guys like Ryan Switzer and TJ Logan who can play both running back and wide receiver should be able to help out of the slot catching the ball. Those two players have just about as much breakaway speed as any recruit in football and will surely be utilized from day one. If Marquez North out of Charlotte commits to the Heels, Carolina may have the deepest receiving corps not just in the ACC, but in the country as well.
Offensively, Carolina shouldn’t miss a beat from where the ended things this past season. In fact, with so much experience around a senior quarterback in Renner, they should be able to improve. Expect a lot of record breaking performances this next season in what should be exciting for the Heels.