CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 2015 NFL Draft came and went over the weekend without a Tar Heel being selected, marking the first time since 2007 that UNC has failed to produce a draft pick.
UNC was one of three ACC schools, joining N.C. State and Syracuse, to not have a player drafted. The ACC had 47 players drafted overall, which ranks as the second-most in league history (51 in 2005).
The lack of a Tar Heel presence on the draft list highlights the damage the program’s turmoil, ranging from a NCAA investigation that ran from 2010-2012 to a complete coaching staff turnover, has inflicted on its roster. UNC had at least five players selected in three of the previous four drafts and had seven first-round draft picks in the previous seven drafts.
UNC’s 2014 senior class consisted of just six scholarship players, five coming from the 2011 recruiting class signed in the midst of the NCAA investigation. While two members of that 2011 recruiting class were first-round draft picks (DT Sylvester Williams, TE Eric Ebron), only 12 of the 26 players that signed made it to their senior season at UNC, including five that will be seniors this fall.
The 2012 recruiting class was mired in chaos under the cloud of the NCAA investigation while Everett Withers served as interim head coach after the firing of Butch Davis and before the hiring of Larry Fedora. Attrition has also hit that class hard as seven of the 23 signees are no longer playing at UNC, and that number may increase to eight this summer as quarterback Kanler Coker is expected to file a medical hardship request, according to a team source.
UNC’s scholarship sanctions (a loss of five per year for three years) ran from 2012-14 and limited the program’s ability to offset the attrition, although it’s worth noting UNC did not max out its available scholarships in February for the 2015 class.
“The way the sanctions work, we knew it wasn’t going to hit us right away,” Fedora told InsideCarolina.com prior to a recent Rams Club Tar Heel Tour event. “It’s when you get into Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5, that’s when you have to plan for. We didn’t do a very good job of closing that gap for this past year. Hopefully we’ve done a better job for this next year and the year after that.
“That’s when it starts hitting you. It doesn’t start hitting you at the beginning because you have all of the players from before. So yeah, there was a gap.”
Fedora described Year 3 and Year 4 as “the two toughest years” in the program-building process.
UNC finished the 2014 season – Fedora’s third in Chapel Hill – with a 6-7 record. The Tar Heels currently have 15 scholarship seniors on the roster for the fall to go along with 18 juniors and 16 sophomores.
“Not only do you have to have depth, but you need to have experienced depth,” Fedora said. “You can’t just have all young guys. But we’re starting to build that. If you look at our offensive line, we’re starting to build some depth in those positions and starting to in the defensive line, which is the key to the whole thing.”
Fedora cited his quarterback and running back positions as having quality depth, while highlighting the wide receiver corps and defensive backfield as improving in that regard.
“We’re still lacking in some areas,” Fedora said. “Until we get some good quality depth, there’s still going to be holes that we’re going to have to plug.”
Improved depth and balance throughout the classes doesn’t solve the talent gap exposed by the 2015 NFL Draft, although it helps to build a foundation of stability that’s critical for consistency as UNC weathers the ongoing NCAA investigation.
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