Not only has North Carolina had to part ways with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, but the Tar Heels will also be without several prolific skill-position players from last season when they enter 2017. UNC will have to replace Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, Mack Hollins, T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood.
Those five players combined for 67.7 percent of North Carolina’s targets in the passing game, according to Football Study Hall. Switzer, Howard, Hollins, Logan and Hood also accounted for 70 percent of North Carolina’s total receptions last season and 69.1 percent of the team’s receiving yards.
In 2017, though, the page has turned, and UNC will need senior receivers Austin Proehl and Thomas Jackson to produce.
Last season was a breakthrough year for Austin Proehl. In his first two years in a North Carolina uniform, Proehl caught 27 passes for 331 yards and one touchdown. During UNC’s magical 2015 season, he was targeted just 14 times, per Football Study Hall. In total, Proehl was targeted on less than four percent of North Carolina’s drop-backs in 2015.
As a junior, though, a big jump occurred. Proehl was UNC’s third-most targeted receiver in 2016 — 75 targets, 16.7 percent target rate. He hauled in 43 of those targets for a solid catch rate of 57.3 percent.
According to cfbstats.com, Proehl had 18 receptions of 15-plus yards. Over half of his receptions — 28 — went for first downs. He also had two games of seven catches and 90-plus yards receiving: the last-second win over Pittsburgh and the Sun Bowl defeat against Stanford.
Switzer racked up 128 targets last season, which is a ton. Proehl is first in line to benefit from the dispersal of targets. Pro tip: If you happen to play in some ACC/NCAA football fantasy leagues, this is a guy who should be on your radar.
A little further off the beaten path, but Thomas Jackson is ready for a larger role, too. According to Football Study Hall, Jackson ranked No. 1 on UNC’s roster last season with a catch rate of 94.4 percent; he caught 17 of the 18 passes lobbed in his direction.
Jackson hauled in four touchdown passes, including a 34-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter against Florida State.
Coming up short…literally
Proehl and Jackson are both under 6-feet tall. For the last few seasons, a big function of the Fed-Spread offense has been the use of height in the passing game. Quinshad Davis (6-4), Bug Howard (6-5) and Mack Hollins (6-4) were all deadly downfield and red-zone threats for the Tar Heels. They combined for 410 receptions and 59 touchdown catches at UNC. All three of those guys, though, are now gone.
Perhaps Jordan Cunningham (a 6-2 transfer from Vanderbilt who caught six passes last season) or Josh Cabrera (a 6-3 former 3-star recruit) can help fill that less vertically challenged void.