Photos: Don Callahan/Inside Carolina, Graphic: Michelle Hillison/Inside Carolina

Don on UNC's 2016 Football Recruiting Class: Top-to-Bottom Quality

Although it lacked a true headliner, UNC's 2016 class was solid from top to bottom.

Most recruiting classes are defined by one or two signees - or even a particular position group. But North Carolina’s 2016 class is better characterized by its top-to-bottom quality. 

UNC signed a class of 26 on Wednesday – the largest of the Larry Fedora era and the largest since 2009. Of the 26, just two carry a Scout.com four-star rating. But, all 26 are rated three stars or better. 

During the “internet era” (i.e. since 2002), UNC has surpassed 20 three-star-plus signees twice previously – 2014 (22) and 2009 (23). And both those classes fall short of 2016’s total.

More importantly, the staff fulfilled all of its objectives and did so with prospects high on UNC’s respective position boards.

Even the signees’ origins are spread out. Unsurprisingly, N.C. leads the way – albeit barely – with six. UNC signed five recruits from both Georgia and the DMV (i.e. Washington, D.C. metropolitan area), while four hailed from Florida and one from South Carolina. Perhaps most interesting is the five – representing four states – from outside of UNC’s typical recruiting footprint.

Along the way, UNC signed the third best class in the ACC for the second consecutive year (once again behind just Clemson and Florida State, both of which are recent College Football Playoff participants). It’s also the No. 23-ranked class in the nation – its highest national finish since 2011.

SIGNING DAY SPLASH

Signing Day was once a national holiday for college football fans. The numerous college declarations that day would drastically alter recruiting class rankings breeding hope for the coming season and beyond. 

However, the expediting of the recruiting process in recent years has dulled Signing Day. Case in point: UNC hasn’t added to its class with a Signing Day announcement since Quinshad Davis selected the Tar Heels as part of the 2012 class.

In a change from this trend, UNC added two members to its 2016 class on Signing Day. First, Allen Cater, a defensive end from Kennesaw (Ga.) Mt. Paran Christian, selected the Tar Heels over Arkansas. And later, K.J. Sails captured the Tar Heels’ last remaining defensive back opening during a ceremony at Gibsonton (Fla.) East Bay High.

EARLY ARRIVALS

UNC didn’t break the record it set a year ago, but it certainly continued the tendency of enrolling a good portion of its class in the spring semester. Six members of the class graduated from high school in December and then enrolled in January – Jordon BrownLogan ByrdMyles DornJonathan SmithGarrett Walston, and Myles Wolfolk. A seventh, J.B. Copeland, transferred from Navarro College a month ago. If not for Chazz Surratt’s eleventh hour U-turn, the Tar Heels’ midterm enrollee count would have been eight, one shy of the school’s record.

A year ago, the early enrollments came in handy in protecting the core of its class, since four of the nine officially visited other schools as UNC pledges. Although visiting elsewhere as commitments didn’t occur with the 2016 early enrollment group, a few toyed with the idea. Cutting their recruitments short by a month helped prevent outside visits from transpiring – and limited nail-biting.

CLASS SUPERLATIVES

Headliner: Myles Dorn. As mentioned above, several signees are worthy of this designation. Dorn receives the razor-thin edge because he’s a legacy who hailed from UNC’s most fertile in-state recruiting grounds. Furthermore, the Tar Heels beat out football powers Clemson and Ohio State, plus archrival NC State for Dorn’s signature. Lastly, he projects at a position of need – safety.

Best in Class: Jay-Jay McCargo. In addition to being one of the two four-stars within this class, McCargo is the only UNC signee to make the Scout 300. Furthermore, he provides the Tar Heels offensive line with versatility – he’s a rare lineman capable of playing all five positions. UNC coaches had to beat out the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Duke, Miami, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, etc. to land McCargo.

Sleeper Pick: J.B. Copeland. Of the 100 JuCos ranked, Copeland landed at 53. Furthermore, he was passed over by every Power 5 school, except UNC. But this classic overachiever has started for two different colleges – albeit a Sun Belt program and a JuCo – the past two seasons. And before that, he was a two-year starter for national football power Southlake (Texas) Carroll. He walks into a linebacker corps that not only lost its two best players (Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer), but veteran leaders.

Immediate Contributor: Jonathan Smith. Similar to Copeland, Smith will find plenty of opportunity at linebacker. And he also enrolled early. Even if he doesn’t find his way into the two-deep, he should be a special teams contributor. Tackles are a subjective stat – especially on the high school level – but the fact that Smith’s 120 stops nearly doubled the next best guy speaks volumes of his aptitude for being around the ball. Oh, and he made those 120 tackles while playing in the highest classification in N.C. for a program that went 12-1.


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