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Chandler Set to Become Next UNC RB Drafted

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb on Ty Chander becoming North Carolina's next NFL running back.

Historically, North Carolina has produced more elite defensive NFL players than offensive weapons. But that may be changing.

One of the greatest NFL defensive players of all time, Lawrence Taylor, and future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers both played for the Tar Heels. Other Pro Bowl defenders Robert Quinn, Dre Bly and Greg Ellis went to college at North Carolina too.

The last couple years, though, the Tar Heels have been about their playmakers, particularly running backs. North Carolina running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter heard their names called in the first four rounds last year. Both players had successful rookie NFL seasons last fall.

Ty Chandler, a one-year graduate transfer from Tennessee, is poised to be the next Tar Heels running back in the NFL.

The 2021 season was a perfect time for Chandler to join the North Carolina program. Without Williams and Carter, the backfield was left for Chandler to play the majority of the snaps. A full-time role  wasn’t an opportunity he ever received with the Volunteers.

He excelled with the chance, rushing for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021. Chandler finished fifth in the ACC in rushing and was one of only five running backs in the conference to average at least six yards per carry.

The only ACC running back with a higher rushing average and at least 150 carries last season was Syracuse’s Sean Tucker.

Chandler took advantage of limited opportunities in the passing game as well. He caught 16 passes for an additional 216 yards and another touchdown.

In four years at Tennessee, Chandler never even recorded 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season.

“His impressive 2021 should pump some life into Chandler’s draft stock,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein of wrote. “After sharing carries at Tennessee, Chandler took a bigger bite out of the pie at North Carolina, seeing spikes in yardage, yards per carry and touchdown production.”

Zierlein praised Chandler’s versatility and his ability to be a smooth strider. He can not only run and catch passes out of the backfield but return kicks on special teams.

But in a draft considered to be deep at running back, Zierlein called Chandler a Day 3 selection.

The ESPN scouts agree. While the ESPN big board ranked Chandler the 14th-best running back in the class, the ESPN big board also ranked him the No. 205 overall player. That pick will occur more than halfway through Day 3 in the sixth round.

Chandler showed off his impressive speed at the NFL combine with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time. But at 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds, he’s a bit undersized to be a three-down back in the NFL.

“His lack of size will put a cap on the touches he can receive, but he can hit explosive plays when given a runway and shows some willingness as a blocker,” NFL scout Nate Tice from Bleacher Report wrote. “His ability to take a run the distance and enough toughness between the tackles will help him find a role early, and he would fit best on a team that majors in outside zone.

Interestingly, Tice compared Chandler to former Pro Bowl running back Lamar Miller, who stood at 5-foot-10 and about 220 pounds.

The Miami Dolphins drafted Miller in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He posted five straight seasons with at least 870 rushing yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground twice.

Miller was a featured back, recording at least 200 touches per season from 2013-18. He had 210 or more carries in a single season four times.

But, Miller was generally more efficient, averaging 4.5 yards per carry or more, during years in which he had fewer than 14 carries per game. Furthermore, Chandler enters the draft about 20 pounds lighter than Miller, meaning he could benefit even more from a lighter workload.

Yet, Chandler becoming an NFL prospect suddenly makes North Carolina an ACC running back hot bed.

The last time a former North Carolina running back made the Pro Bowl was Natrone Means in 1994. With Chandler joining Williams and Carter in the NFL, that drought may very well end soon.