In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 20
2012 NFL Draft picks: 2 – DE Quinton Coples (1st round, 16th overall), LB Zach Brown (2nd round, 52nd overall)
North Carolina hasn't won more than eight games in a season since 1997, but the Tar Heels are routinely one of the top producers of NFL talent in the ACC. Over the last two seasons, North Carolina has had 11 players drafted, more than Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson.
While the controversy and issues have outweighed the positives in Chapel Hill recently, head coach Larry Fedora is the new sheriff in town and inherits a strong roster with a lot of NFL talent. And although they are ineligible for postseason play in 2012, North Carolina could have their first 10+ win season in over 15 years, along with several more NFL Draft picks.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OG Jonathan Cooper (6-3, 305)
Although the position is far from glamorous, at least one guard has been drafted in the first round in six of the last eight years, including a pair of guards last April (David DeCastro and Kevin Zeitler). And North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper (pictured above) has the skill-set to hear his name called in the first 32 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. With 35 starts on his resume, he is the most experienced member of the 2012 Tar Heels and is the leader of an offensive line that returns four starters. Cooper, a three-star lineman out of Wilmington, chose North Carolina over South Carolina and Wake Forest. After redshirting in 2008, he started 10 games as a redshirt freshman at left guard, earning Freshman All-American honors. Cooper made 13 starts as a sophomore in 2010 (12 at left guard and one at center) followed by 13 starts at left guard in 2011 as a junior. He is a smooth, coordinated athlete with fluid footwork and outstanding balance, blocking well on the move and constantly getting to the second level. Cooper lacks overpowering strength and needs to cut down on the penalties, but is an extremely effortless mover with explosive quickness in tight quarters. With an impressive senior season, Cooper, who is almost fully recovered from January shoulder surgery, could be the first offensive lineman out of North Carolina to be drafted in the first round since 1987 (Harris Barton).
2. QB Bryn Renner (6-3, 215)*
Entering his junior season in 2012, Renner has all the tools around him to be successful, including an experienced offensive line, talented receivers and an offensive-minded head coach. He encountered a few hiccups in his first season as a starter in 2011, but led the ACC with an impressive 68.3% completion percentage. A Virginia native, Renner was one of the top quarterback recruits out of High school, despite only playing the position for two years. He redshirted in 2009 and saw limited action as a freshman back-up in 2010 behind TJ Yates. Renner became the starter last season as a sophomore, leading the Tar Heels to eight wins and passing for 3,086 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He was impressive because of his poise and leadership as first-year starter, but for every brilliant throw, he made just as many head-scratchers. Renner, who also played baseball at North Carolina has good size and arm strength, but, like most young quarterbacks, needs to become more consistent. Will he be a future early round pick? Only time will tell, but on paper, his chances look good.
3. MLB Kevin Reddick (6-3, 240)
Over the last two years, three North Carolina linebackers have been drafted (Zach Brown, Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant). And Reddick, who is the Tar Heels' top defensive prospect, will be the next talented linebacker to hear his name on draft weekend. Entering his fourth season as the starter at MIKE linebacker, he finished second on the team in tackles last season. Reddick, who was a four-star recruit out of high school, chose North Carolina over Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee. After he spent a season at a prep school to improve his grades, Reddick arrived at North Carolina and immediately earned a starting job, starting 20 games over his freshman and sophomore seasons. He battled injuries in 2011, but started 11 games and still finished second on the team with 71 tackles. Reddick is an impressive athlete and strong, physical tackler. He is a bit straight-linish and stiff, but makes up for his lack of fluidity with his instincts and defensive intelligence, putting himself in positions to succeed. Reddick has the skill-set to earn a starting job in the NFL and currently projects as a solid second day selection.
4. OT James Hurst (6-7, 310)*
Another top recruit out of high school, Hurst has lived up to the high-billing in his first two seasons, starting a combined 25 games as a true freshman and sophomore left tackle. The junior will again start on the left side in 2012 and protect Renner's blindside. Hurst was a five-star high school recruit out of Indiana and had his pick of the litter regarding scholarship offers, surprising many when he chose the Tar Heels. He started all but one game as a true freshman left tackle in 2010 (12 starts), earning Freshman All-American honors. Hurst started all 13 games last year at left tackle and graded at a team-best 88% for the season, earning Second Team All-ACC honors. He enters the 2012 season as a leader on the Tar Heels' offensive line and might be the best offensive tackle in the conference. Hurst has the size and natural athleticism to hold his own on an island, but needs to continue and develop his footwork and technique, using proper angles. Right now, Hurst is No. 4 on this list, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him vault to No. 1 and be one of the top tackle prospects in the draft with more consistency in 2012.
5. WR Erik Highsmith (6-3, 190)
With his size, length and ability to run, look for Highsmith to receive several comparisons to former North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones, who went undrafted this past April. But the difference for Highsmith is his love for the game and work ethic to get better. He has started since his freshman season and currently boasts 113 catches and 30 starts in his Chapel Hill career. Highsmith burst onto the scene as a true freshman with 37 catches, but took a step back in 2010 with only 25 grabs. He set a new career-best last season when he finished second on the team with 51 receptions for 726 yards (14.2) and five touchdowns. Highsmith returns as the Tar Heels' No.1 receiving threat in 2012 and will look to improve his draft stock, which is currently in the middle rounds. He is a tall, long target and not easy to bring down after the catch, showing good toughness and balance to run through tackles and create. Highsmith is a natural hands-catcher with good focus and a much improved route runner. He needs to do a better job taking care of the football and creating separation in tight coverage, but should be one of the ACC's top receivers this season.
RB Giovani Bernard (5-10, 205)*
FB Devon Ramsey (6-2, 250)
WR Jheranie Boyd (6-2, 190)
OT Brennan Williams (6-7, 315)
OG Travis Bond (6-7, 345)
DE Kareem Martin (6-6, 260)*
DT Sylvester Williams (6-3, 315)
SS Tre Boston (6-1, 190)*
K Casey Barth (5-11, 185)
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire