Top 5 Players in UNC Football History

The North Carolina Tar Heels are better known as a basketball school. The football program has won five ACC titles in school history. The Tar Heels, though, have had their fair share of football stars even if it hasn’t led them to national glory with regularity.

To compile our list of North Carolina’s top five football players we used a mix of what they did in college and what they accomplished as a professional.

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Top 5 Players in UNC Football History

No. 5: CB Dre Bly

The best defensive back in program history has to be included, right? Dre Bly was a two-time All-American at North Carolina. His notable college accomplishments include:

  • Leading the nation with 11 interceptions as a redshirt freshman.
  • Bronko Nagurski award finalist (Defensive Player of the Year) his sophomore season. 
  • Set the ACC interceptions record for a career with 20 (which has since been broken).
  • 2014 College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

As a pro, Dre Bly was just as exceptional, playing for three teams in his 11-year career. He was a second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams. His notable pro career accomplishments include:

  • 2001 Super Bowl Winner. Bly also notched six interceptions that season while leading the NFL with 150 yards in interception returns.
  • He was durable, playing in 167 of 175 regular season games in his career.
  • 43 career interceptions
  • Five career defensive touchdowns

No. 4: OL Harris Barton

The best offensive lineman in Tar Heel history, Barton was a stud dating back to high school. Reportedly holding over 100 scholarship offers, Barton surprised many by choosing the Tar Heels. Barton came to UNC as a defensive lineman but moved to the offensive line during his first summer. Barton quickly earned the starting center role, then took over at left tackle halfway through his sophomore season, where he stayed the rest of his college career. Barton was named to numerous All-American teams and was the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Year his senior season.

As a pro, Barton was selected in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year. His pro career accomplishments include:

  • 3-time Super Bowl champion
  • 2-time First-Team All-Pro
  • Started 89 consecutive games

No. 3: OL Chris Hanburger

Many similar lists may not include a player like Hanburger, who played in a different era. Still, when you look at his accomplishments, he is worthy of consideration even at No. 1 in our rankings. Hanburger started both ways during his college career at center and at linebacker. Hanburger was All-Conference as a junior and senior on the offensive line.

What must have been surprising to some was that Hanburger played defense as a pro and ended his career as one of the best linebackers of his era. Take a look at some of his accomplishments:

  • 5-time All-Pro First-Team
  • 1-Time All-Pro Second-Team
  • 9-Time Pro Bowl selection
  • 1972 Kansas City Committee NFC Defensive Player of the Year
  • NFL 2011 Hall of Fame inductee as a senior candidate

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No. 2: DE Julius Peppers

One of the best all-around UNC athletes, Julius Peppers starred on the football field while also being a solid contributor to the Tar Heel basketball team. As college football player Peppers had many accomplishments:

  • Freshman All-American 
  • First Team All-ACC
  • Second Team All-American
  • Div. I Sacks leader
  • Chuck Bednarik Award winner
  • Bill Willis Trophy winner
  • Lombardi Award Winner

Then as a pro, Peppers did not go far, staying in North Carolina to play for the Carolina Panthers as the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. Pepper’s NFL accomplishments include:

  • 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • 2004 NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year
  • 100 sack club
  • 9-time Pro Bowler
  • 3-time First-Team All-Pro
  • 3-time Second-Team All-Pro

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No. 1: LB Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor was indeed one of the best ever to suit up. After an All-American career at UNC, Taylor was the No. 2 selection in the 1981 NFL Draft. His pro career is one for the record books; here are just a few of his noteworthy accomplishments:

  • 2-time Super Bowl champion
  • 1986 NFL MVP
  • 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • 1981 NFL Rookie of the Year
  • 8-Time First-Team All-Pro
  • 10-Time Pro Bowl selection

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

About the Author

Caleb Tallman

Caleb Tallman is a Journalist working with NC Sharp and has been writing sports and sports gambling content since 2019. Caleb has also written for various other publications, mainly as a ghostwriter. With solid experience and a wealth of sports gambling knowledge, whether legal information or betting predictions, Caleb provides everything sports bettors could be looking for.