2021 UNC Football Positional Preview: Running back

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 09: Ty Chandler #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs with the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 09: Ty Chandler #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs with the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Keeping It Heel positional previews for the UNC football program continue, as we highlight the running backs that will be featured during the 2021 season.

QB |

Over the past few seasons, the running back position was a major area of strength for the UNC football program. The dynamic duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter developed into one of the best combos in the entire country, and were a major focal point in the Tar Heels’ offensive success.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Williams and Carter are ready to begin their professional careers in the NFL, which means that Mack Brown and company must replace their production in some way.

For a program with aspirations of winning a conference title as well as possibly competing in the college football playoffs, it’s critical that the Tar Heels get the most of their current running back core. Although it will be a set of new faces, North Carolina will need their new-look running game to step up to the occasion.

Let’s take a look at the Tar Heels position preview for running back.

What We Know

Replacing the production of Williams and Carter is easier said than done. It’s not very often that a team possesses two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, and it’s even more difficult to replace that production once they move on.

Last season, the Tar Heels running back duo rushed for 2,435 yards and 28 touchdowns. Those stats don’t even include the close to 600 yards and five additional scores that they added to their stat line.

Looking at the numbers, you can easily make the case that this is not a one-person job. Based on the offensive scheme, it’s probably a safe bet to say that the Tar Heels will utilize multiple running backs to fill the void.

Although multiple backs will likely factor into the equation, there is one player in particular that has the makings of being the Tar Heels workhorse right from the start.

When looking at the team’s running back depth chart, the name to focus on is grad transfer Ty Chandler.

The Key Players

Ty Chandler

With the new transfer rule in place, players across the country searched for new homes this offseason. Chandler is no exception, as the Nashville, Tennessee native looked for a place to play his final season of collegiate eligibility.

Chandler comes to North Carolina with an already impressive resume. As a four-year player for the Tennessee Vols, Chandler rushed for 2,015 over 45 career games (25 starts). He leaves the program with the fifth-most all-purpose yards (3,245) and 14th most kickoff return yards (724).

With the Tar Heels, Chandler most certainly has the opportunity to make a major impact. Given his resume and skillset, he’ll likely get the first crack at being the team’s feature back, and has the ability to impact the game in multiple ways.

Expect Phil Longo to not only use Chandler in the run game, but also in the pass game as well. As a “home run threat” type of player, Chandler can make big plays happen at any instance, which will be a very valuable weapon for the North Carolina offense.

In an interview on 247 Sports (which can be viewed below), Josh Pate made the case that Chandler could make as big of a splash out of the transfer portal as any player in America.

When looking at this positional group, Chandler is the guy that Tar Heels fans should expect to see a lot of this upcoming season.

2020 Stats (with Tennessee): 10 GP, 100 Attempts, 456 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns

D.J. Jones

Similar to the team’s quarterback depth chart, there’s no doubt as to who the starter is, but there are questions as to who will serve as the primary backup.

Based on the early part of training camp, it looks like D.J. Jones may have an upper hand on the competition.

Brendan Marks of The Athletic recently took in a UNC football practice, and wrote in-depth about the team’s running back situation. After Chandler took the majority of first-team reps, it was Jones who was next with the second unit.

Jones saw limited action in 2020, his true freshman season. The Fayetteville, N.C. native appeared in eight games, mostly with the special teams unit. Heading into his sophomore season, Jones has a lot to prove.

Due to the team’s depth at the running back position last season, Jones, like the other returning Tar Heels backs, did not have the opportunity to gain a ton of experience. However, the opportunity could be there for him to make a major impact this upcoming season.

There’s a lot to like about Jones’ style of play. He possesses above-average speed and has the potential to make some big plays in open field. Although we know that he possesses this talent, Jones will have to show that he can translate it to the field on Saturdays this fall.

2020 Stats:  8 GP, 11 Carries, 65 yards, one touchdown

Caleb Hood

In regards to the Tar Heels running back depth chart, no name is more interesting than incoming freshman Caleb Hood.

The Rockingham, NC native was originally recruited to North Carolina as a three-star quarterback prospect. As of now, it seems as if the incoming freshman is going through a bit of a position change.

At the start of training camp, Hood was taking reps as a running back. Following Chandler and Jones, Hood received the majority of the third-team reps.

Given his size and vision, a move to running back may be very beneficial for the Tar Heels offense. Although he does need some work in regards to learning his new position, it’s very possible that the Tar Heels can call on him in short-yardage situations.

2020 Stats: N/A


Williams and Carter are no longer around to carry the load, and it’s up to the new-look backfield to fill in the void. Chandler is expected to receive a bulk of the load, but the question remains as to which players will step up to earn their spot in the team’s backfield rotation.

Needless to say, this group does possess a ton of talent and potential. However, the inexperienced group will have to prove that they can translate that into on-field production.

We know what to expect from Sam Howell and the team’s passing game. For the offense to click on all cylinders, they need steady production from the backfield in order to open up the passing lanes.

There are certainly a lot of question marks with this unit, but the UNC football program needs them to step up if they have any hopes of being one of the nation’s top teams this season.

Depth Chart

STARTER: Ty Chandler
BACKUP: D.J. Jones, Caleb Hood
RESERVES: British Brooks, Kamarro Edwards, Josh Henderson

Next. Tar Heels land in top 4 for RB recruit. dark

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