North Carolina has had 16 players selected in the past three drafts, including four first-rounders and five second-rounders. That's an offshoot of former coach Butch Davis' recruiting magic. Davis recruits still make up most of the UNC roster, and second-year coach Larry Fedora is the beneficiary. This is one of the most talented teams in the ACC, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least five more Tar Heels drafted in 2014.
If the rushing attack comes around -- and that means finding a new featured back and three new starters on the line -- the offense again will put up huge numbers. The question is the defense. It was rancid, for the most part, last season, and the two best players from that unit are gone. Linebacker is a giant concern, and the defense as a whole must get tougher. In UNC's four losses, it allowed 35.3 points per game. The defense surrendered at least 30 points six times. UNC was ineligible for a bowl last season because of NCAA sanctions, but the postseason ban is over.
Top senior prospects
RB A.J. Blue: He was a backup in his first three seasons (604 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career), but with the early departure to the NFL by Gio Bernard, Blue should start this fall. Blue (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is a physical runner with a bit of a burst, though he is not a speed merchant. Fedora's offense calls for the running backs to be competent receivers, and that is a concern. Blue was a high school quarterback, and he played that position in his first five games as a true freshman in 2009. In his first game at tailback -- the sixth game of the 2009 season -- he suffered a severe knee injury that cost him the rest of the season and the 2010 campaign.
S Tre Boston: He played cornerback as a true freshman in 2010, but has started at safety each of the past two seasons. Boston (6-1, 205) has big-time speed and owns eight interceptions and 12 pass breakups in his career. He has good range and also is willing in run support -- he led the Tar Heels with 86 tackles last season. At times, he trusts his speed too much and takes some chances, enabling receivers to get behind him. A bit more consistency would keep him near the top of the draftable safeties list.
OT James Hurst: He was a consensus national top-50 product out of high school near Indianapolis and will be a four-year starter at left tackle for the Tar Heels. Hurst (6-7, 305), who did not redshirt, has been challenged by coaches to be more dominant this season. Hurst has good technique but could add more bulk and become more physical. Still, he is the best offensive lineman in the ACC and has the tools to be a first-team All-American.
DT Tim Jackson: Jackson was an unheralded defensive end from Florida when he signed, and while he played in each of his first two seasons, he didn't blossom until he moved to nose tackle before last season. Jackson (6-5, 285) is a little light, but he was able to put his quickness to good use inside. He still is learning the position, but his athleticism makes him someone to watch.
DE Kareem Martin: He will be a three-year starter and is coming off a season in which he had four sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Martin (6-6, 265) is extremely athletic but has not shown that he can be a dominant pass rusher. He holds up well against the run and does a nice job of getting his hands up in the passing lanes (10 career pass breakups). He has good quickness, and if he shows he can be a pass-rushing force this fall, his draft stock will improve.
CB Jabari Price: He is a physical corner who is good in run support. Price (6-0, 200) lacks elite speed but had 76 tackles, one pick and nine pass breakups last season. He could move to safety at the next level. Price missed four games as a sophomore in 2011 because of a tendon tear in his right hand.
QB Bryn Renner: Renner (6-3, 225) quietly put together one of the best seasons in UNC history in 2012, his second as the starter. He threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and completed 65.4 percent of his 422 attempts. He threw an interception in each of the first three games but only four in the last nine. Renner, who has decent mobility, doesn't have an elite arm, but it's strong enough to make the needed throws. He adapted quickly to Fedora's offense and should put up even better numbers this season.
C Russell Bodine: He started for the first time last season as a sophomore and might be the best center in the ACC this season. Bodine (6-4, 310) adjusted quickly to the Tar Heels' new fast-paced offense last season and had no issues with shotgun snaps. He has excellent technique and is athletic.
WR Quinshad Davis: He was the Tar Heels' leading receiver as a true freshman last season (61 catches, 776 yards, five touchdowns) and has a big future. Davis (6-4, 205) doesn't have blazing speed, but he is a long strider who already knows how to use his big body to his advantage. He could stand to add some bulk, but as he becomes a more refined receiver, he should put up even bigger numbers in this offense.
TE Eric Ebron: After serving as a reserve as a true freshman in 2011, he started last season and was the most productive tight end in the ACC, with 40 receptions for 625 yards and four TDs. Ebron (6-4, 245) is one of the more athletic tight ends in the nation and has the speed to get deep. He's also a more-than-willing blocker, and he has to be high on the list when discussing the best all-around tight ends nationally.
P Tommy Hibbard: A junior, Hibbard has been the Heels' punter since he stepped on campus. After an uneven freshman season, he stepped it up last fall, averaging 43 yards per attempt. He had 14 punts of at least 50 yards, and 38 percent of his 50 attempts were downed inside the 20. He's also the holder on field goals and extra points, and completed four two-point conversion passes last season.
LB Travis Hughes: UNC runs a 4-2-5 defensive scheme and is looking for two new starting linebackers. Hughes (6-2, 225), a junior, should fill one of those spots. He never redshirted and played in all 25 games the past two seasons. Hughes is a little on the small side, but he runs well and delivers a blow. Can he be a consistent playmaker for a defense that needs one? Hughes was a national top-100 recruit out of high school in Virginia.
OG Caleb Peterson: He redshirted last season as a true freshman and is expected to start at guard this fall. Peterson (6-5, 300), who grew up a few miles from Auburn's campus, originally committed to Southern Miss, but when Fedora left for UNC, Peterson switched his commitment. He played tackle in high school but is better suited to play inside. His run blocking is solid, but pass protection bears watching.
CB Tim Scott: Scott (5-11, 190), a junior who hasn't redshirted, is heading into his third season as a starter. He has excellent speed and had four picks and eight pass breakups last season. Scott is UNC's best cover corner, but his focus sometimes wanes and he must become more consistent.
OG Landon Turner: Because of an injury to eventual draftee Brennan Williams, Turner (6-4, 320) started four times late last season as a redshirt freshman. He will start this fall. Turner was a consensus national top-125 player out of high school in Virginia. Turner is strong and is expected to be a road grader in the running game, but he must improve his technique as a pass blocker. His uncle, Jim Braxton, was a running back for the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s.
Three must-see games of 2013
Aug. 29 at South Carolina: You want to know how Hurst can make himself some money? Have a big game against South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. Bodine, Peterson and Turner also face tough tests against a veteran Gamecocks defensive front. Davis, a South Carolina native, will be going against a good South Carolina secondary. Martin can impress with a solid game against South Carolina offensive tackles Brandon Shell and Corey Robinson.
Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech: Martin, Jackson, Hughes and the Heels' safeties will have to be sharp against the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense. Hurst likely will see Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, a pass-rush specialist, lined up across from him. And can Renner and the Heels' passing attack have success against a veteran Tech secondary?
Oct. 17 vs. Miami (Fla.): The Coastal Division title could be on the line in this game. UNC's secondary will try to stymie Miami QB Stephen Morris. Miami has a deep and talented receiving corps that will put pressure on Price and Scott. Martin will be going against some good offensive tackles.