Tar Heels in the Pros: Former UNC football players in the 2020 NFL playoffs

Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs has the potential to be an exciting game full of big plays, some extracurricular sideline violence and a few torch-passing quarterback moments from NFL G.O.A.T. Tom Brady to his heir apparent, Patrick Mahomes.

But to UNC fans across the country, one thing will be missing from this marquee matchup: Tar Heels.

Though no former UNC players will feature in the big game this year (T.J. Logan will settle for a spot on the Bucs’ injured reserve list), some were able to strut their stuff in the playoffs. Let’s take a look at how they did.

Eric Ebron

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron, who entered the league in 2014 after three years in Chapel Hill, has a lot to be pleased about off the heels of this season. Though it doesn’t compare to his Pro Bowl season in 2018, his first campaign in the Steel City was still one of his best, registering 56 receptions for 558 yards and five touchdowns — tied for second-highest of his career.

He was on a star-studded Steelers team that started the season hot but fizzled down the stretch, losing four of its last five games to finish the season at 12-4. That poor form continued to haunt them in their wild-card matchup against the Cleveland Browns when they went down 28-0 in the first quarter of what would turn out to be a 48-37 loss. Ebron played well, though, catching seven passes for 62 yards and a third-quarter touchdown.

If the Steelers can rediscover some consistency and iron out the issues that plagued them in their final few games, Ebron could soon find himself on a team capable of making waves in the postseason.

M.J. Stewart

Meanwhile, as Ebron and company sulked on the sidelines after their defeat, cornerback M.J. Stewart and his Browns teammates celebrated.

Stewart, a second-round pick out of UNC in the 2018 draft, wasn’t just celebrating the win, but also his own personal performance. He was waived by the Buccaneers before the season began and recorded the fewest combined and solo tackles of his career after Cleveland picked him up.

And yet, in the Browns’ first playoff game since 2002, he led the defensive effort with 10 solo tackles and made a crucial one-handed interception in the first quarter around midfield and jumpstarting the drive that gave the Browns a 14-0 lead.

The Browns fell in the next round to the Super Bowl-bound Chiefs, with Stewart managing just four tackles. But he’s only in his third season, and he’s shown that he is capable of making big plays in the postseason. If he can carry that performance into the Browns’ regular season schedule, he could become an important piece in Cleveland’s secondary.

Mitch Trubisky

What kind of player is Kenan Stadium legend and Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky? Is he the same player who made the Pro Bowl in just his second season, or does he deserve to have his name changed to “Tru-Bad-sky,” as some have already proposed?

Well, his performance in the Bears’ wild-card game against the New Orleans Saints didn’t help his case. After a season that saw him get benched and then renamed the starter more than halfway through the season, he looked every bit as uninspired and mediocre as his detractors claimed that day, completing 19 of his 29 passing attempts for 199 yards and a touchdown in a 21-9 loss.

Maybe the jury is still out on whether Trubisky can ever be a truly great NFL quarterback. Supporters will point to him leading the Bears to wins in three of their last four games of the season to qualify for the playoffs in the first place, while doubters will point to how he did once he got there. For now, UNC and Bears fans will likely be waiting in suspense to see if Chicago brings Trubisky back for the 2021 season.

@pjdaman12

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