In the last two NFL drafts, UNC has had 11 players selected: seven defenders and four offensive players. Despite the relative balance, it seems that most of the youngest Tar Heels making noise in the professional ranks are defenders. This year might change that. With the NFL draft coming up later this week, let’s look at three Tar Heels that could make an offensive splash in this year’s rookie class.
The Tar Heel that will likely be selected first is offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who could go in the top half of the first round. Cooper was voted a consensus first team All-American as a senior and anchored the UNC line over the past four seasons. He earned second team All-ACC as a sophomore and junior, and his freshman season ended with him being placed on Sporting News’ s All-ACC freshmen team. Cooper is incredibly athletic for a guard, is listed at 6’3 and 320 pounds, and graded out at an 86 percent in his lowest grade of the season. At every level of his game, Cooper has won awards, and with a healthy rookie campaign, he has the athleticism and skill set to continue this in the NFL. Some scouts are projecting him to go to either the Tennessee Titans or San Diego Chargers at 10th and 11th respectively.
There isn’t a Carolina fan alive that doesn’t know something of the legend of Giovani Bernard. If the end of the NC State game was any indication, Carolina fans would skip the draft altogether and elect Bernard to the Hall of Fame and Emperor of the World at once. Unfortunately for Gio, NFL scouts and GMs are notorious for poking holes in the legend of any player and magnifying the weaknesses to see how that player will fit in the next level.
While Bernard is still being lauded for his return skills, versatility as a route runner and in the screen game, and his shiftiness, there are some questions being asked by NFL GMs. Can Bernard, who is notably slight of frame with an injury history, hold up the rigor of the NFL game? Though he is shifty, can Bernard break enough tackles to be an effective between the tackles runner? There are question marks that will move Bernard out of the first round.
However, with NFL teams using running back tandems, Bernard could be an attractive fit in the second or third round for a team looking for a pass catching back. He won’t lead the league in rushing yards, but Gio could provide a boost in the return and screen games. Paired with a power back, Giovanni Bernard could definitely be an effective rookie.
The third Tar Heel to keep an eye on might have slipped some fans’ minds after missing the final four games of the season with a torn labrum, but Brennan Williams should be a solid NFL lineman. Earning an All-ACC honorable mention despite missing the last third of the season, Williams is 6’6, 318 pounds and has an incredibly long reach. His father played in the NFL, and Williams plays with a type of nastiness that has to make a father proud. Reports on Williams vary wildly. I’ve seen him projected anywhere from the second to the sixth round, but as soon as he’s healthy, Williams should be ready to start a right tackle for any team that drafts him.
Tar Heel fans don’t have to wait long to find out where these, and the rest of the Heels, will go. The NFL Draft starts Thursday evening with the first round, continues with the second and third round on Friday, and finishes rounds four through seven on Saturday.