UNC Football: 2022 Positional Preview: Quarterback

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 18: Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels warms up during their game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Kenan Memorial Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 18: Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels warms up during their game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Kenan Memorial Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The UNC Football team will have a new quarterback leading the offense as Sam Howell moved on to the NFL this offseason.

For the first time since 2018, the UNC football program’s offense will be led by a quarterback not named Sam Howell.  Howell finished his career in Chapel Hill as arguably the best signal caller in program history, but is now off to the NFL where he begins his career with the Washington Commanders.

So how will North Carolina replace the man who has been leading the Tar Heel offense every season since Mack Brown returned to the program in 2019?  Well, we found out earlier today that Drake Maye will be getting the start in Saturday’s season opener against Florida A&M.

However, the Tar Heels quarterback room will be far from a one-man show this season.  North Carolina is deep at the position, with Jacolby Criswell and Connor Harrell expected to get some playing time and stay ready in case Maye slips up.

Our 2022 positional previews roll on with the position everyone will have their eyes on, quarterback.

What We Know

The Tar Heel offense will look different than it has in years past, simply because of the fact that Sam Howell won’t be behind center.

We know that there was a very competitive battle to start on Saturday against Florida A&M.  Ultimately, it was Drake Maye who won the job, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will be the starter all season long.

Based on what Mack Brown said throughout the offseason, he feels comfortable with either Maye or Criswell taking snaps for the Tar Heels.  He has repeatedly said that the decision was difficult because of how impressive each quarterback has looked.  It will be a nice luxury for Brown to know that he has a capable backup if there is an injury or a need to bench the starter.

The Key Players

Drake Maye

Many UNC football fans have viewed Drake Maye as “the future” at quarterback ever since he flipped his commitment from Alabama to North Carolina in 2020.  Ranked as one of the top quarterbacks and the No. 47 overall recruit in his class by ESPN, Maye has been highly touted since his high school days.

Known for his large frame and strong arm, Maye is a player who has the potential to reach the NFL one day.  Here is what 247 Sports Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins had to say about the 6-foot-5 quarterback coming out of high school:

"Has a big, strong frame and is still filling out. He’s a pure pocket passer who reminds a little of Alabama QB Mac Jones but is better athletically. He has a strong, down field arm and is very accurate all three levels of the field. He has an advanced feel for the position in terms of throwing early and anticipating and understands how to throw his receivers open. He shows toughness standing in the pocket and taking a shot to get a throw off and will run for plus yards when he needs to….. Has the physical tools and cerebral nature to be a very good player at the next level as well as a high round NFL Draft pick. —Greg Biggins, 247 Sports"

Maye spent last season backing up Howell and splitting reserve reps with Criswell.  He appeared in just four games and only attempted ten passes all season.  The Huntersville, North Carolina native will have a much bigger role on this year’s team, beginning with Saturday’s season opener against Florida A&M.

As most North Carolina fans already know, the Maye family is full of star athletes.  His father, Mark, played for the UNC football program in the eighties while his brother, Luke, was a star on the basketball court for the Tar Heels.  Luke is not the only Maye brother to have a national championship title under their belt,  as Cole Maye won an NCAA baseball championship at Florida.  If everything goes according to plan for the redshirt freshman, he will continue the championship legacy that runs in his family.

2021 Stats: 7-10 passing, 89 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 6 rushing attempts for 62 yards

Jacolby Criswell

With today’s announcement that Drake Maye will be the starter against Florida A&M, Jacolby Criswell will begin the season as the primary backup quarterback.

Mack Brown has repeatedly stated that Criswell had a great camp and that he would have felt comfortable picking him as the starter.  While it is disappointing for Criswell to start the year on the bench, he will likely get multiple opportunities to show what he can do on the field.

It would not be a surprise at all if Criswell is given some snaps on Saturday against Florida A&M, and he will need to stay ready throughout the season in case Maye struggles or is injured.

Known as a good runner with a strong arm, Criswell would be a starter on plenty of power five teams across the country.  It is huge for the Heels to know that if it is needed, there is another quarterback on the roster that is more than capable.

2021 Stats: 13-21 passing, 179 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 7 rushing attempts for 68 yards and a touchdown


Conner Harrell

Ranked as the 45th best QB in his class by 247 Sports, Conner Harrell is not coming to North Carolina with the same expectations as someone like Drake Maye.

With that being said, Harrell had plenty of accomplishments in his high school career that prove he can produce on the field.  The Alabaster, Alabama native won Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year, made first-team all-state, and won two state titles at Thompson High School.

Over his final two seasons, Harrell threw for 6,100 yards and 81 TDs with just six interceptions.  He also is a very talented runner, going for 680 yards and 9 TDs on the ground during those seasons.

Harrell flashed some of his talent at this year’s spring game, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he impresses whenever he gets on the field this year.


If Drake Maye is indeed the starting quarterback of the future, Tar Heel fans need to understand that there are growing pains that go along with starting a redshirt freshman quarterback.  Maye is a very talented player, but he is far from the finished product that Sam Howell was by his junior season.

As we saw with Howell, a quarterback can only look as good as his teammates allow him.  It will be very important for the Tar Heels to develop a consistent running game and improve on the offensive line.  If Maye is under the same constant pressure that Howell had to deal with last season, he will probably struggle.  However, if the Tar Heels can protect him and have a few of the young receivers emerge as reliable targets, he should be in good shape.

It can’t be overstated how big it could end up being that the UNC football program will have a backup quarterback that they can trust.  If Maye is either not ready for the moment or injured, the Heels will be able to give the keys to Criswell and most likely not miss a beat.

Overall, the Tar Heels should get quality play from the quarterback position this year.  Maye will probably make some mistakes early on but should get better as the season progresses.  Regardless of who the quarterback is, it will be key for the success of the team that the players around him can offer more help than what they provided for Howell last season.

Depth Chart

STARTER: Drake Maye

BACKUP: Jacolby Criswell

RESERVES: Conner Harrell, Jefferson Boaz, Russell Tabor

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