Where does Ryan Switzer’s production go from here?


Looking at and and projecting how UNC Football wide receiver Ryan Switzer will do next season for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Here is what we know about Ryan Switzer.

1. He is an athletic freak of nature

Yes, that’s the same Ryan Switzer.

2. He is extremely talented

3. He is an All-American.

4. Fans love him


A picture of Switzer’s number three jersey hanging on the racks of every UNC store would also suffice here.

Other than that, there are a lot of question marks about Ryan Switzer. Namely, after a great freshman season and a more productive, less “flashy” sophomore season, Ryan Switzer is at the halfway point of his career with Carolina and at somewhat of a fork in the road. Where does his career go from here?


In order to try to project where Ryan Switzer will go, let’s remember where he came from. Switzer was a four star recruit out of West Virginia who got offers from a lot of major programs despite having less than ideal size for the wide receiver position. But Switzer was fast in high school and speed translates, no matter what level of football you are talking about. Switzer set the world on fire as a punt returner his freshman season, running back five punts for touchdowns. He also caught 32 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, seeing his role as a receiver increase in the offense over the course of the season.

Last season, Switzer improved as a pass catcher but wasn’t able to run back any punts for TDs. He nearly doubled the amount of passes he caught in 2014, hauling in 61 receptions, 757 yards and four touchdowns, but UNC missed that explosive punt returner.

There are two areas where Switzer makes an impact and thus two areas where you can try to predict his performance in the future. Let’s start with special teams.

Key question: Will Switzer return to his 2013 form (All-American, 5 touchdowns) or his 2014 form (not an All-American, no touchdowns)?

First, I want to establish the value of an elite punt return. I tried to Google around for a Bill Barnwell or Pro Football Focus or similar stat-centric article that showed the value of punt returns, but I couldn’t find anything great on it. Instead, you will have to take my word for it — punt returners who can flip field position and even run one back for a TD are really valuable.

Punt returners help their own teams field position, and the better field position you have, the more likely you are to score. Punt returners also help in more abstract ways, like energizing the crowd and pumping up the team, which I think you could observe watching a UNC game in 2014 when every Switzer punt return became an event, when every time Switzer dropped back to take a punt, you knew this could be the one!

Switzer was an elite punt returner in 2013. According to his UNC bio, Switzer set the UNC single-season record for punt return average at 20.9 (24 for 502 yards). He averaged 20.9 yards per punt return. That is insane, and also not an accurate representation of his true skill. Take away the five long returns, and the numbers probably look a bit like his 2014 numbers —  He returned 34 punts for 167 yards during the regular season. That’s an average of 4.911 yards per punt, far from 20.9 but still a good number.

The question is, who will Switzer be in 2015? Defenses will probably still key in on him and scouting reports will still sing his praises, which probably has value that we just can’t see (teams kick the ball out-of-bounds more, or angle their punts away from him, leading to better field position vs. just any old punt returner.)

My bet is that Switzer returns two punt back in 2015 while increasing his average per punt to closer to 9 or 10 yards per punt. Switzer will get plenty of chances in 2015, and we know that he can still do it. (He had a punt return called back against Miami because of penalty, so it’s not like the skills were a fluke or have disappeared.) I think Switzer is also really motivated to score one or two punt returns after being shut out last year. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Key question: Can Switzer continue to increase his catches and touchdowns and develop into a great slot receiver for the Tar Heels?

Like I mentioned earlier, Switzer caught 61 passes last year after catching 32 his freshman year. Can Switzer catch 100 balls this season? Can he score 10 touchdowns? The answer to that question falls in how Coach Larry Fedora wants to use Switzer.

Coach Fedora must be both ecstatic to have a player as talented as Switzer on his roster and perplexed for just exactly how to use him.

Fedora has used Switzer in a variety of ways. His primary position is as a slot receiver (think Wes Welker in the NFL). Switzer also played RB in high school, so Fedora has featured him a little bit in the backfield at times. That includes appearing in the “diamond” sets that UNC uses from time to time.

Fedora also force feeds Switzer the ball with a variety of different screen passes. The goal of these passes to get Switzer in space making plays for his football team. These are usually pretty successful, an easy five yards with the potential to go for more…


Switzer has also been used a a quarterback on gadget plays. He has thrown two touchdown passes in his career at UNC, including one in 2013 against N.C. State and another last year against ECU.

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Switzer is so talented, but Fedora has to decide how much he wants to use Switzer as a weapon outside of just a slot receiver and if he wants to give him more targets in the redzone. Switzer has caught just seven touchdowns in two years at Carolina, while Quinshad Davis, a more “traditional” wide receiver, has caught 21 in his three years at UNC. Davis is a more frequent target for the Heels in the red zone on simple jump balls (think the Duke game) while Switzer sees more of his targets in between the 20 yard lines. This is part of the reason for the discrepancy, but Switzer has to find a way to be worthy of more targets as well.

So to conclude and answer the question, yes, Switzer can increase his number of catches, but Coach Fedora has to be on board and continue to feed Switzer the ball in order to see his numbers increase. Because of Switzer’s speed, the sky is really the limit. He just has to keep getting the ball and keep making plays when he gets the chances.

Let us know your thoughts about what Switzer will do next year in the comments section below.