Football Phenomena in North Carolina: Who Will Be the Next to Enter the Pros?

North Carolina is sending some top talent to the NFL on the back of the 2023 season, with one of them likely to be called early in the first round.

The Tar Heels went 8-4 during the season, going 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast. They would lose to West Virginia in the Mayo Bowl, which was somewhat expected as their starting quarterback chose to forego it after he decided to enter the draft.

Said QB is among a handful of other players likely to go pro this year. Let’s take a look at the top three.

Drake Maye

Drake Maye has emerged as a top prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft. He made a name for himself after succeeding Sam Howell, who is now with the Washington Commanders. Maye was a highly-rated recruit, and his decision to play for UNC was a turning point in his career. Although he played in only two games during his freshman year in 2021, his statistics were impressive and gave a preview of his potential.

It was in 2022 that Maye truly shone, recording 4,087 passing yards and 34 touchdowns in 13 games, along with rushing for 833 yards. His 2022 campaign was a QB clinic as he completed over 66% of his passes for 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. After experiencing a slight dip in performance in 2023 after the departure of his coach, Maye’s on-field technique improved.

Maye’s performances have earned him numerous accolades, including being named a Manning Award finalist and ACC Player of the Year, among others. In 2022, he became only the sixth QB since 2010 to post over 4,000 pass yards, 35 pass TDs, 650 rush yards, and seven rush TDs in a season, joining an elite group of quarterbacks.

Maye is a highly talented quarterback with a bright future in the NFL. His ability to throw and run, coupled with his impressive statistics and awards, has made him one of the most talked-about prospects in the upcoming draft. He is expected to be a top-five pick next month.

Devontez Walker

The former West Charlotte High School football standout made a name for himself in the college football scene during the 2022 and 2023 seasons. As a sophomore at Kent State, he was an exceptional receiver with 58 catches for 921 yards, 11 touchdowns, and an impressive QB rating of 123.2. After transferring to North Carolina, Walker continued his successful run, with 41 catches for 699 yards, 7 touchdowns, and a QB rating of 114.4.

Walker’s natural talent and athleticism make him an exciting prospect for NFL scouts. His ability to stretch the field and create separation downfield are rare and valuable skills for a deep-ball receiver. However, concerns arise when it comes to his route-running skills, which are currently limited to vertical plays, and his ability to adapt to the diverse demands of the NFL.

Still, Walker’s raw abilities make him a valuable asset for any team looking for a field stretcher or zone attacker. With the right coaching and development, Walker has the potential to become a more well-rounded and dangerous weapon in the NFL. And, should he make it to the pros in the draft, sports betting promos in North Carolina will be plenty for the taking as fans will be keeping a close eye.

Cedric Gray

Linebacker Cedric Gray is a former three-star recruit for the Tar Heels and has emerged as a valuable contributor on defense, having put up some very decent stats. He played in 12 games and recorded 68 tackles, 35 assists, and 30 stops, with 2 interceptions and a pass breakup as a sophomore. He had 12 total pressures, including 2 sacks, as a pass rusher.

In his junior year, Gray played in 13 games and made an impressive 107 tackles and 32 assists, with 2 interceptions and 3 pass breakups. He also had 20 total pressures and 1 sack. In his senior year, Gray logged playing time in 12 games and contributed 80 tackles, 31 assists, and 54 stops, with 1 interception and 3 pass breakups. He also had 21 total pressures and 5 sacks.

Gray’s strengths include his elite athletic skills, explosiveness, and range, which allow him to cover ground rapidly and make significant plays in pass defense. He has three years of starting experience, impressive instincts, and coverage skills, and is capable of blitzing with speed through gaps, making him a formidable pass-rushing threat. His physical attributes contribute to his tackling prowess, and he has demonstrated defensive versatility with his ability to shed blocks and make impact plays.

However, Gray has some areas that need improvement, including missed tackles, struggles with shedding blocks, occasional over-pursuing of plays, and lagging instincts in run defense. He also needs refinement in man coverage and recognition of passing concepts to elevate his game further.

Overall, Gray’s draft profile presents a mix of elite athleticism and areas needing polish. His potential as a three-down linebacker in the NFL makes him suited for a scheme prioritizing range and versatility. With some refinement, Gray can become a valuable asset to any NFL team.

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