Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.
North Carolina‘s recent resurgence obviously means they have quality players, so it should come as no surprise the Heels are able to churn out yet another collection of pro-level talent this year. This could change as coach Larry Fedora starts to bring in players more suited for his aggressive spread offense and non-traditional defensive schemes. But for the time being, UNC is improving both on the field and in NFL Draft war rooms across the league.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, Senior (Projected: Early First Round)
Cooper was the anchor of the Carolina offensive line last year, and one of the primary reasons for Giovani Bernard’s breakout season in the backfield (see more below), so it’s no wonder he’s now receiving early first round hype. The 6’2″ and 311-pound guard is an impressive athlete, with quick feet, an equally impressive 40-time (5.06 seconds) for his position and the type of durability (47 career starts) that scouts dream of. Yes, in an ideal world he could be a bit taller or put on a few extra pounds, but the latter can be fixed at the gym and the former is evened out by the advantage provided by his low center of gravity. Over the course of his career, Cooper’s proven he can open holes for running backs, and at the end of the day, that’s what he’ll be judged on. Lots of teams need offensive line help in the early parts of the draft too, which should give him ample opportunities to be chosen within the first 10 or 12 picks.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Sophomore (Projected: Second Round)
Teams that pass on Bernard could be very sorry later on; something he’ll make sure to deliver on. The quick back may lack that breakaway speed you’re looking for out of a featured rusher, but his ability to see the field and hit the hole quickly instead are equally important attributes. At 5’9″ and 205 pounds, there is some concern that he’ll be an injury risk, though if you look at his game tape, you’re much less concerned. As a running back, receiver and return man, Bernard has field vision and body strength that make him a monster in the open field or between the tackles. He’s the type of player who can put an entire team on his back, and very many times did during his Tar Heels career. While it’s certainly a best-case scenario, Bernard has the physical and mental makeup to be an elite target out of the backfield in the same molds as former pros Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson.
Sylvester Williams, DT, Senior (Projected: Early Second Round)
There’s no denying that Williams is a fantastic pass-rusher from the tackle position, regularly overpowering the opposition at the line with a mix of pure strength and an impressive swim move. Despite his size (6’3″ and 313 pounds), he is also incredibly quick (4.99 40-yard dash), and his first step is considered to be among the draft’s best from the tackle spot. He may need to do a better job of keeping an eye on the ball-carrier, with some additional work needed to stay at home for the run. But these are things that can be worked out over time, while his positive traits just can’t be taught. Originally looked at as a mid-second round pick, there’s a strong likelihood Williams could jump into the first should there be a rush on defensive linemen.
Brennan Williams, OT, Senior (Projected: Fourth Round)
Physically, Williams is everything you want in an elite offensive tackle: Excellent pass-blocker, great size (6’6″ and 318 pounds) and impressive initial quickness that allows him to gain the upper hand fairly often. Some scouts seem to view him as a bit raw when it comes to mental makeup (tips off play direction at times and can’t block on the move), but as mentioned with other prospects, these are things that can be taught. Williams’s elite strength and agility for his size are invaluable, and with a bit of coaching, you’re looking at a core member of any offensive line in the league. Grading on upside, he could go higher, but teams will see the additional training as a downside and make him wait until day three in all likelihood.
Kevin Reddick, ILB, Senior (Projected: Fifth Round)
Reddick was already well-regarded following his final season at UNC, but a strong showing at the Senior Bowl was certainly a nice boost for him as well. As a pass-rusher from the inside linebacker spot, he brings a unique skillset to the draft that few others possess (a positive), while also putting him at a disadvantage to traditional linebackers. Reddick’s speed is not astounding (4.71 40-yard dash time), though his tackling ability is among his highlights. Overall, he’s considered to be a great linebacker in the passing game, with some average returns in the running game. Scouts also look at his mental toughness and stamina as questions, so it’ll be up to him to prove teams wrong once he’s in camp.
Travis Bond, OG, Senior (Projected: Seventh Round)
Bond is another UNC lineman with perfect size (6’6″ and 329 pounds) for his position, and some decent speed (5.25 40-yard dash) too. The questions surrounding him, however, are what knocks him much further down draft boards. He dealt with injuries last year — always a red flag for offensive linemen — and also suffers from comparison to his cohort, Cooper. If he’s done all he can to alleviate concerns about his health, there’s a strong chance Bond could be drafted late this weekend. But once in camp, he’ll need to show off his abilities past what currently amounts to his stature alone. As can be the case, it’ll all depend on the type of coaching staff he’ll get to work with, and whether or not they’re willing to help him further develop his craft.