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Former North Carolina running back Elijah Hood (34) celebrates scoring a touchdown against Georgia Tech

North Carolina recruiting: Where will the Tar Heels turn for their first running back?

Cody Pace

Join us daily at ACC DieHards for the latest North Carolina recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Tar Heels. Today, we discuss the Tar Heels’ options at running back for the Class of 2018.

Although it’s still early, North Carolina’s football team is off to a solid start on the recruiting trail for the Class of 2018.

Its class ranks inside the top 30 nationally with 11 commits. It has two quarterbacks, including 4-star Tyler Shough; it has an elite pass rusher in 4-star outside linebacker Payton Wilson; and it has a legitimate playmaking wide receiver in 4-star Jordyn Adams.

But one thing that the class is noticeably missing is a running back.

The Tar Heels have a very young, inexperienced running back corps. With Elijah Hood moving on to the NFL, the group doesn’t have a single senior and has only a handful of  juniors. So while the group certainly isn’t searching for depth, it is looking for someone who can replace Hood’s near 6 yards-per-carry from 2016.

While Larry Fedora and company did target a few of the more elite members of the Class of 2018, only two of those targets — 4-star Miami running back James Cook and 4-star Hopewell, Va. running back Ronnie Walker — are uncommitted. Neither of those players appear very likely to end up in Chapel Hill.

With that in mind, here are a few of the uncommitted prospects that Fedora is targeting that could feasibly end up with North Carolina.

Marcus Caldwell, Clemmons, N.C.

Caldwell, a 3-star ranked as the No. 45 running back in the Class of 2018, is one of the highest priority running backs remaining on North Carolina’s board.

The good news for the Tar Heels is that Caldwell hasn’t received a ton of offers with just seven heading out of the summer before his senior season. Louisville, Perdue, Virginia Tech and Tennessee have each offered Caldwell, however.

Those four schools and North Carolina make up Caldwell’s top five, which he tweeted from his protected Twitter account at the end of May.

Of course, North Carolina has the benefit of being both Caldwell’s first offer back in October and the only in-state school in his top five. That seems to bode well for the Tar Heels’ chances down the stretch.

Emeka Nwanze, Roswell, Ga.

Nwanze is another top 1,000 back, ranking 972nd nationally and 59th among running backs.

North Carolina has had him on campus twice since he received his offer last June, including his most recent visit in June for the Tar Heels’ summer camp.

Nwanze has just eight offers, but North Carolina is going to have to play catch-up. In July, Nwanze named Wake Forest his top school. He also has offers from Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and Rutgers, which make up his top five along with the Tar Heels and Wake Forest.

While that certainly isn’t ideal, North Carolina could help itself by showing some interest in Nwanze’s brother Chike, an outside linebacker. Currently, Chike’s only offer is from Jacksonville.

Devon Lawrence, Wake Forest, N.C.

Lawrence is the highest-rated running back on North Carolina’s board outside of Cook and Walker, ranking as the No. 24 running back and No. 444 overall player in the Class of 2018.

Don’t let his 3-star status fool you, the almost-4-star prospect was a finalist at Nike’s “The Opening” earlier this summer and has 11 offers from schools including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee.

Right now, Clemson is perceived as the favorite, but North Carolina has the benefit of being the in-state school. Since last July, Lawrence has been on campus in Chapel Hill four times.

Coleton Beck

Beck, an all-purpose back, would be a great addition to a recruiting class with one of the previously mentioned players.

The speedy back ranks as the No. 15 all-purpose back and No. 653 player in the class. But with 26 offers already in his docket, it’s going to be a fight to land Beck.

North Carolina did crack his top five, however, along with East Carolina, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia.

The relationship between North Carolina and Beck has been a pretty short one, with an offer not being extended until May. He was able to make it for a visit in July, sandwiched between visits to Georgia and Louisville.

Malcolm Davidson

Although he didn’t receive an offer from North Carolina until March, Davidson wasted no time including the Tar Heels among his top 10 schools in June along with Iowa State, UCF, Ole Miss, Missouri, N.C. State, Kentucky, Rutgers, USF and Virginia Tech.

The No. 68 running back in the Class of 2018, Davidson camped in Chapel Hill this summer at the FREAK SHOW camp in June.

If some of North Carolina’s other options start to fall by the wayside, the Tar Heels could really put the pressure on Davidson.