2007 Class Revisited: Part III

Many claim a recruiting class can't truly be evaluated until college careers are completed. With that in mind, Inside Carolina is beginning an annual tradition of analyzing Signing Day hauls five years later. This week, we review the Class of 2007 ...

Position: Wide Receiver
School: Durham (N.C.) Hillside
Scout.com Rating: 4 stars (No. 12 WR)
UNC Career Rating: 3.0

Little pulled a Signing Day switch by going with UNC instead of Notre Dame, the school he had been committed to since the prior November. In hindsight, the switch should have been expected given Little's numerous unofficial visits to UNC after committing to the Fighting Irish. His initial verbal commitment was actually supposed to occur at a press conference a month prior. Instead, he announced UNC and Notre Dame as his finalists at the October press conference, eliminating fellow favorites Florida, Ohio State, and Southern Cal.

UNC Career
Little will forever be linked to the NCAA investigation during the 2010 season, which ultimately resulted in his loss of his senior season. However, he started 28 of 37 career games at UNC, played in all 12 games during his true freshman season, and ended his career with 86 receptions for 969 yards with six touchdowns and 166 carries for 805 yards with six scores. He also returned 27 kickoffs during his career for an 18.8-yard average. He began his career at wide receiver, but was moved to tailback and became the starter for the final two games. Six games into his sophomore season, he was shifted back to wide receiver. He started all 13 games at receiver in 2009 and led the team with 62 receptions for 724 yards with five touchdowns.

Little was selected in the second round (59th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. In his rookie season, he played in all 16 of the Browns' games, starting 12, including the final six. He ended his rookie campaign with 61 receptions for 709 yards and two touchdowns, plus three rushes for 15 yards.

Position: Wide Receiver
School: Nashville (Tenn.) Pearl-Cohn
Scout.com Rating: 4 stars (No. 14)
UNC Career Rating: 1.0

Six weeks before Signing Day, Mason reached out to UNC. Shortly thereafter a scholarship offer was extended and Mason scheduled an official visit to Chapel Hill. That visit was succeeded by official trips to Michigan, Kentucky, and Ole Miss. A few days before Signing Day, he committed to UNC.

UNC Career
After red-shirting his freshman year, Mason, who began his career at wide receiver but was eventually moved to tight end, played in three games during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, failing to record any statistics. Following an indefinite suspension during the 2009 season, Mason was dismissed from the team and transferred.

Mason ended up transferring to Georgetown College, a NAIA school in Kentucky. In two seasons, he played in 19 games, recording 47 catches for 665 yards and seven touchdowns.

Position: Safety
School: Cleveland (Ohio) St. Ignatius
Scout.com Rating: 2 stars (NR CB)
UNC Career Rating: 2.5

Butch Davis used his Cleveland contacts to discover Merletti, along with his high school teammate Patrick Hennessey (who went to Air Force). Merletti went on to commit to UNC during a December official visit to Chapel Hill.

UNC Career
Merletti played in ten games as a true freshman, primarily as a special teamer, recording four tackles. In 2008, he earned special teams co-captain honors, along with Ryan Taylor, and finished the season with 11 tackles and two fumble recoveries, including one in the end zone for a touchdown. He received a medical red-shirt in 2009 after tearing the ACL in his right knee during preseason practice. He returned from the injury the following season to play in all 13 games, starting five at safety. He finished that season with 37 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions. He started every game in 2011 until a left knee injury ended his season. He ended that campaign with 36 tackles, two interceptions, and a pass breakup.

ESPN ranks Merletti as the 22nd best safety heading into the 2012 NFL Draft and projects him to be an undrafted free agent.

Position: Quarterback
School: Syracuse (N.Y.) Christian Brothers Academy
Scout.com Rating: 4 stars (No. 11 QB)
UNC Career Rating: 2.0

In April of his junior year, Paulus committed to UNC over co-finalist Southern Cal and several other schools. From that point forward, he doubled as a recruiter for the Tar Heels and worked to keep fellow commitments on board as UNC underwent a coaching change.

UNC Career
Following a red-shirt season in 2007, Paulus was the backup quarterback to T.J. Yates before transferring to William & Mary after the 2009 season. He played in four games during his red-shirt freshman season – including starting at Miami – completing 4-of-13 passes for 33 yards and two interceptions, but did not see game action the following season.

At William & Mary, Paulus appeared in ten games – starting seven contests – including against UNC in 2010. He ended his W&M career with 1,150 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions on 116-of-214 passing. ESPN ranks Paulus as the 30th best quarterback heading into the 2012 NFL Draft and projects him to be an undrafted free agent.

Position: Tight End
School: Springdale (Ark.)
Scout.com Rating: 4 stars (No. 21 TE)
UNC Career Rating: 3.5

In March of his junior year, Pianalto verbally committed to Texas. A couple of days after an early December official visit to Texas, Butch Davis, who grew up in Springdale and maintains strong ties there, contacted Pianalto. That conversation resulted in Pianalto officially visiting UNC. A week after his UNC trip, he switched his commitment to the Tar Heels.

UNC Career
Pianalto is the UNC record holder for the most career receptions by a tight end (94) and most receptions in a season by a tight end (33). On those 94 career catches, he scored three touchdowns and accumulated 918 yards. He accomplished all this despite a career that included three injury-shortened seasons.

As a true freshman, Pianalto started eight games at H-back/tight end, finishing fourth on the team with 24 catches for 204 yards. He had his best season in 2009, catching 33 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown, and earning All-ACC honorable mention. Six games into his senior season, his career was ended prematurely by a broken fibula. At the time of the injury, he was leading UNC in both receptions and receiving yards.

Pianalto was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills, but was later released. He was then claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He appeared in 13 games in 2011 for Tampa Bay, catching four passes for 40 yards.

Position: Defensive Tackle
School: Ahoskie (N.C.) Hertford County
Scout.com Rating: 4 stars (No. 10 DT)
UNC Career Rating: 3.5

Although he didn't commit until late in the process, UNC was always the team to beat for Powell. He ended up taking official visits to Clemson and East Carolina before committing to UNC during a late January official visit to the campus.

UNC Career
Powell was named honorable mention All-ACC following the 2011 season. He started all 26 games at defensive tackle his final two seasons at UNC and compiled 93 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks, an interception, four QB hurries, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. Following a red-shirt season in 2007, he played in all but one game during the 2008 season, posting 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack. He played in all 13 games his sophomore season and was in UNC's regular rotation at defensive end, finishing with 24 tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks.

ESPN ranks Powell as the 22nd best defensive tackle heading into the 2012 NFL Draft and projects him to be a late round draft pick. He was selected to play in the Senior Bowl.

Career Rating Scale
5.0: All-American
4.0: 1st Team All-ACC
3.0: Multi-year Starter
2.0: Reserve
1.0: Limited Contributor
0.0: Never Enrolled
About The Rating System: Putting a numerical rating to a college career is no simple task. The goal of the rating scale was to measure the college impact of each player, in a way that could enable future class comparisons, while taking as much of the subjectivity out of the equation as possible. This is not meant to parallel the high school star ratings, as there are factors that make a direct parallell flawed.

Check back tomorrow for Part IV ...

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