When looking down 247Sports’ Composite Team rankings for 2018 recruiting classes, there aren’t many major surprises. Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson all did very well and though Alabama is outside the top five, no one will weep for the Crimson Tide.
But then you get to No. 23 and you see North Carolina. The same North Carolina that went 3-9 in 2017 trails only Clemson, Miami and Florida State in the ACC? These struggling Tar Heels actually finished with a class that was six spots higher than last year?
Yep. The power of playing time can be a huge motivator and these incoming freshmen — along with redshirt freshmen from the class of 2017 who had to sit and watch loss after loss this past fall — will get their opportunity to get Carolina back to its winning ways.
Here are five freshmen to keep an eye on in the months to come.
Jordyn Adams, WR
Star Anthony Ratliff-Williams will be getting some help in the four-star prospect out of Cary, North Carolina. Maybe. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Adams is a great receiver that caught 54 passes for more than 1,000 yards as a senior. The Tar Heels beat out Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama to get his signature. But the biggest recruiting battle for head coach Larry Fedora may lie ahead. Adams is an outstanding baseball player and may be a high pick in the MLB draft in June.
William Barnes, OT
It’s not often that a true freshman contributes along the offensive line, but Barnes will get his chance. Listed as a tackle, the 6-foot-4, 325-pounder could also move inside to guard, where there may be a greater opportunity for playing time. The highest rated player in North Carolina’s most recent class, Barnes could have gone anywhere, as he had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, and Florida State. He will be joined in Chapel Hill by his Apopka (Fla.) High School linemate Ed Montilus.
Jake Lawler, DE
The Charlotte native was a pass-rushing specialist at South Mecklenberg High School, piling up 33 sacks in his high school career. He enrolled last January but spent much of the spring recovering from a shoulder injury suffered at the end of the 2016 season. With what will amount to a year and a half in the system, Lawler should be ready to contribute this fall.
Jonah Melton, OG
Melton was the top prospect in the class of 2017 and despite numerous injuries to the offensive line, the Carolina coaching staff was smart to redshirt the Mebane, North Carolina, product. Like Lawler, Melton had to overcome an injury, his being an ACL tear that sidelined him for the entirety of his senior season in high school. Heading into the spring, Melton has to be considered one of the favorites to claim a starting spot on the interior of the offensive line.
Jace Ruder, QB
There’s Nathan Elliott. There’s Chazz Surratt. But neither one of those quarterbacks set the world on fire in 2017, though Elliott did provide a spark at the end of the year. As a result, Ruder, an early enrollee, could be in the mix to get starting snaps this spring. Ruder is a dual-threat quarterback that may be more adept at running right now but he has a strong arm, as well. He will enter spring down on the depth chart, but with a chance to move up.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.