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June 9, 2011

Batten: Breaking down Carolina's QBs

T.J. Yates became an anomaly among North Carolina football alumni in late April when he was selected by the Houston Texans in the fifth round of the National Football League draft.

The selection marked the first time in 36 years that a UNC quarterback was actually drafted to play that position in the NFL.

Ex-Tar Heel quarterback Ronald Curry was taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft by Oakland, but had to move to wide receiver to make the team.

So you really have to go back to 1975 when Chris Kupec went in the 15th round to the Buffalo Bills to find a drafted UNC quarterback.

Besides Yates, Curry and Kupec, only three other Tar Heel quarterbacks became NFL draft picks: Jeff Beaver in 1968 to the Baltimore Colts in the 15th round, Danny Talbott in 1967 to the San Francisco 49ers in the 17th, and Jack Cummings in the fourth round of the 1960 draft to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In fact, the most successful former Tar Heel quarterback to play in the NFL wasn't even drafted at all.

Scott Stankavage, who appeared in four games between 1984 and 1987 with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, was a free-agent signee.

The fact that only six quarterbacks in the more than 100 years of UNC football history had been drafted by the NFL seemed curious to me.

Having watched the Tar Heels play for most of the last 40 years, I know they've had some quality quarterbacks, including my all-time favorite, Rod Elkins.

North Carolina certainly has recruited its share of blue-chip quarterbacks through the years in guys like Mark Maye, Mike Thomas, Luke Huard, Chuckie Burnette, and more recently Mike Paulus.

But for some reason, UNC quarterbacks haven't been attractive commodities to NFL scouts, until Yates.

In an effort to figure out why UNC hasn't had success transitioning quarterbacks to the NFL, I went to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

"They haven't been devoid of blue-chip quarterbacks. They just haven't developed them,'' Farrell said earlier this week. "Mike Paulus was a heavily recruited prospect. He just never developed there.

"They've recently gotten a couple of blue chippers like Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams. Both those guys are four-star quarterbacks. But you have to prove you can develop those guys.

"Once you put guys like that in the NFL, that's when kids (recruits) start to take notice.''

Yates was an exception to Farrell's development theory.

Virtually unranked as a high school quarterback coming out of Marietta, Ga., he surprised many by starting for most of the last four seasons and becoming the school career leader in passing yards. As a senior, he became the first Tar Heel quarterback ever to surpass 3,000 yards passing in a season.

There's no doubt that Yates benefited, as far as the NFL is concerned, by playing in a pro-style offense that UNC has run since Butch Davis took over has head coach in 2007.

"I also think that (Yates' NFL Draft selection was attributed) to experience,'' Farrell said. "He was not a superstar quarterback, but he was a good game manager."

"The NFL wants a few things when it comes to quarterbacks. They want a guy with a semblance of tools they can work with. (They want) somebody who is experienced under pressure and somebody experienced running an offense similar to what they run in the NFL."

"T.J. Yates had all those things, plus perseverance," Farrell added. "He kept holding off challenges and made so many starts at North Carolina. That's really attractive to NFL guys. They prefer two-or three-year starters as oppose to one-year wonders.''

Farrell believes if Yates can have some NFL success, and current quarterbacks like Renner and Williams develop into pro players, that it will enhance UNC's ability to recruit more blue-chip talent at that position in the future.

"It makes quarterback recruiting a lot easier,'' Farrell said.

Quarterback isn't expected to be a major priority as UNC puts together its recruiting Class of 2012 due to the presence of Renner (junior) and Williams (true freshman) as well as A.J. Blue (junior) and Braden Hanson (junior).

Currently the Tar Heels only have two confirmed scholarship offers to uncommitted quarterbacks in the rising senior class, which are out to Patton Robinette of Maryville (Tenn.) and Coach Davis's son Drew Davis of East Chapel Hill High.

The Tar Heels have offered a scholarship to just one other quarterback in the Class of 2012 so far, and that player, James Summers of Greensboro's Page High, has already committed to N.C. State.

But with some talented in-state prospects coming up in the Class of 2013, including Statesville's Carlis Parker, Raleigh's Connor Mitch and Matthews Butler's Riley Ferguson, UNC is likely to be on the hunt for a quarterback again very soon.

In the meantime, here's a list to chew and debate of my favorite former Tar Heel quarterbacks.


BEST LEADER/MOST INSPIRATIONAL QB


Rod Elkins (1980-1982): You won't find Rod's name in the school record books because injuries shortened his career. He was an adequate, not great passer. He wasn't especially fast, yet was a solid scrambler.

The guy simply made plays when it counted, especially in 1980 when he directed UNC to its last ACC championship and an 11-1 overall record. I also have to give a nod to the great Paul Miller (1969-71) in this category. The left-hander just got things done for the 1970 ACC champs.



BEST ALL-AROUND QB


Darian Durant (2001-2004): While I believe Ronald Curry is the greatest pure athlete to play quarterback at UNC, Durant statistics speak for themselves. He racked up 8,755 yards passing and 875 rushing to set a career record for total offense (9,630) that still stands.

Durant was also responsible for 79 touchdowns (11 rushing, 68 passing), which is also a school career mark. Making those numbers more impressive is the fact that Durant achieved them while playing mostly for losing teams during his career. Jason Stanicek (1991-94) deserves mention in this category as well (814 career rush yards, 4,683 passing).


BEST PURE-PASSING QB


Chris Keldorf (1996-97): This is a tough category because UNC's teams in the '60s, '70s and '80s tended to field ground-oriented offenses. But in his brief two-year career after transferring in from a junior college, Keldorf, when healthy, displayed phenomenal passing skills.

He threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in essentially a season-and-a-half and was intercepted just 14 times in 519 throws. Chris Kupec (1971-74), who completed almost 70 percent of his passes in 1974 and is the school's all-time leader in passing efficiency, also deserves a mention.


BEST CLUTCH QB


Hardest category for me to pick a winner, so I'm not. But in his final season, T.J. Yates made as many big plays as a quarterback could, including some big throws in that dramatic Music City Bowl victory against Tennessee.

Another guy who seemed to come through in the clutch often during his UNC career was Oscar Davenport (1995-98). Most memorable was Oscar's performance in the 1997 Gator Bowl win against West Virginia when he replaced an injured Chris Keldorf to earn MVP honors.






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