With the Super Bowl just one week away, the NFL season is now coming to an official end. In this addition of the top former Tar Heels I will be breaking down the best individual performances from the 2012 season. Several former Heels played well in the NFL this season but the list has room for just four. Below you will find the names of the players who stood out and what they accomplished.
Zach Brown LB Tennessee Titans
The Titans overall as a team had some ups and downs throughout the season and finished 2012 with a 6-10 record. Despite the bad record and ranking dead-last in the NFL allowing over 29 points a game on defense, one positive that surfaced during the season was the play of rookie linebacker Zach Brown. Brown was drafted 52nd overall out of North Carolina and entered the league as one of the fastest players at his position after running a 4.44 forty-yard dash at the combine(4.37 time at pro-day). As a sophomore at UNC Brown set the school record for the indoor 60-meter dash with a track star time of 6.72 seconds. After starting his rookie season a little sluggish and in a back-up role, it didn’t take long for Brown to force his coaches hand into giving him consistent playing time and a starting role after injuries at linebacker(started 14 of 16 games). The former Tar Heel finished the season second on the team in solo tackles with 68 and third on the team with 93 total tackles. Among rookies, Brown stood out in several categories including ranking first in interception return yards with 156, tied for fourth with 3 interceptions, and finished tied for fifth in sacks with 5.5. The regular season ended on a very high note for Zach Brown when he grabbed two interceptions and returned them both for touchdowns in a 38-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Connor Barth Kicker Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay finished the regular season with a 7-9 record under first year head coach Greg Schiano. No playoff birth for the Buccaneers in year one under Schiano but the coach has definitely found himself a few keepers when it comes to starters on his current roster. One of those players is a five year veteran kicker from the University of North Carolina, Connor Barth. Barth finished the regular season perfect on extra point attempts converting 39 of 39, making this his fifth straight season in a row making every one of his extra point attempts. Barth has now hit 134 straight PAT’s. When it came to field goals in 2012, Barth was not perfect but he did connect on 28 of 33 ranking him 12th in the NFL in field goals made. On attempts of 20-39 yards Barth finished the season making 10 of 11, 40-49 yards he connected on 12 of 13, and on attempts of 50-yards plus he converted 6 of 9 field goals. His season long of 57-yards was good enough to tie him for fourth in the NFL. The former Tar Heel Barth has now converted more than 84% of his field goal attempts so far in his five-year professional career.
Julius Peppers DE Chicago Bears
Longtime Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired after his team finished the season with a 10-6 record and missed the playoffs. The Bears started the season on a tear winning 7 of their first 8 games behind the dominating play of their defense. The former two-sport star at Chapel Hill Julius Peppers was part of Chicago’s defensive success to begin the season. Unfortunately for the Bears they could not maintain the success they had sustained through the first eight weeks. Peppers finished the season with 11.5 sacks, two passes defended, 39 total tackles, one forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries. This was Peppers eighth season out of eleven in which he recorded at least 10 sacks or more. The 11.5 sacks he finished the season with left him tied for ninth in the NFL. He was also voted to his eighth Pro Bowl and was elected to the NFL’s All-Pro 2nd team.
Jeff Saturday C Green Bay Packers & Brandon Tate WR Cincinnati Bengals
Both Saturday and Tate had sub-par seasons in 2012 but both were part of teams who made the playoffs. Jeff Saturday made the Pro Bowl after being benched towards the end of the regular season, while Brandon Tate played an intricate role in the Bengals special teams throughout the entire season. Tate finished the season with 1193 all-purpose yards(includes punt return, kick return, rushing, and receiving yards).