If you weren’t aware of how talented the N.C. State defense was, just take a look at the 2018 NFL draft. Defensive end Bradley Chubb went No. 5 overall to the Denver Broncos, while one of my favorite prospects, Justin Jones was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the third round.
Having four defensive lineman taken in one draft is an impressive feat but the Wolfpack will have a tough road ahead. N.C. State’s defense needs to be well-disciplined and the front seven as a whole must figure out how to maintain their status as the No. 26 run defense in the nation. It certainly possible that the group can improve upon that ranking from last season, but replacing four defensive linemen is no minor task.
Since we’re already talking about trench players, let’s flip to the offensive line. It isn’t often that the ‘big uglies’ get much preseason hype, regardless of their importance to their team’s success. N.C. State’s right tackle Will Richardson was that unheralded player for N.C. State in 2017. He had a phenomenal season and ultimately found himself selected in the fourth round of the draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Per Pro Football Focus, Richardson was the top-ranked offensive tackle, posting a 99.3 pass blocking efficiency rate, surrendering just four quarterback pressures and zero sacks. Furthermore, he was the leader of an offensive line that helped facilitate the country’s No. 50 rushing attack.
Losing Richardson to the NFL isn’t going to generate the headlines that his counterparts on the defensive line do, but fortunately for the Wolfpack, they have three seniors returning to the starting lineup up front – left tackle Tyler Jones, left guard Terrone Prescod and center Garrett Bradbury. Their experience will be extremely important, from their presence and leadership in the locker room, the trio that has a combined 70 starts between them will be counted on to set an example for the rest of the team,
Another spread look for N.C. State. Finley finds his H-back, Jaylen Samuels. H-backs aren't supposed to move like this. Football is fun. pic.twitter.com/Xmr1ffXPCY
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 23, 2017
N.C. State running backs
While N.C. State fielded a dominant defense last year, the offense held their own also. Jaylen Samuels led the way, hauling in over 200 catches and accumulating more than 180 rushing attempts while finding the endzone 47 times. The versatile swiss army knife has undeniable playmaking ability and was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth-round of the 2018 NFL draft. Replacing that caliber of player will be extremely difficult for the Wolfpack to do.
But it wasn’t just Samuels who was making plays for the N.C. State offense. After posting his first 1,000 yard season as the starting tailback, Nyhiem Hines was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round. At the 2018 Scouting Combine, Hines also posted the fastest 40-yard dash time for all running backs with a time of 4.38 seconds.
With both of their top producers on offense now in the NFL, the Wolfpack will lean on Reggie Gallapsy II, a 236-pounder who rushed for 506 yards on 116 carries, scoring seven touchdowns last season. Now that both of their running backs are in the league, the Wolfpack will now lean on, Reggie Gallaspy II. After watching just two games of his (Marshall, Arizona State) it’s clear that his game is based on power over finesse. Still, he’s efficient and will have every opportunity to get the bulk of carries for N.C. State.
Unstoppable Wide Receiver Duo?
In his first full season as an every game starter, Jokobi Meyers made quite the transition to wide receiver. Originally, he was recruited to play quarterback but the success of Ryan Finley changed that. For Meyers, he’s already finding his own success, though.
This past season, he had 63 receptions for 727 yards and five touchdowns. It’s quite clear that he’s become a key part to this offense and now that Jaylen Samuels is gone, he can become their X-factor for the 2018 season. Don’t expect Meyers to have a ton of carries but expect plenty of quick passes to him and the opportunity for him to create after the catch. From the video above, it’s clear that once the ball is in his hands, he’s got the ability to take it to the end-zone. For example, here’s him putting the moves on a 2018 first round pick, Derwin James.
The duo of Jokobi Meyers and Kelvin Harmon makes me think of one of the best duo’s in the NFL, Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Meyers is similar to Tate for his after-the-catch ability and quickness in the open field. Then the deep ball presence of Kelvin Harmon can easily be compared to what Marvin Jones does for Matthew Stafford.
For Harmon, he had a breakout year in his true sophomore season. With over 1,000 yards on 69 receptions and four touchdowns, he’s got his name circled on every defensive coordinators game plan for the 2018 season.
He’s not the most polished route runner but can run plenty of routes in the middle of the field (dig route and post route) and routes toward the sideline (corner route and out route). But that’s not even the biggest strength to his game. Getting vertical up the field and splitting coverages is where Harmon thrives. He averaged 14.7 yards per reception and had over six 100-yard games during the 2017 season.
Expectations are for both receivers to take another step forward for the 2018 season. Depending on how the season goes, I’d expect that one of these receivers to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. If I had t guess, Harmon would be the one that goes pro after this season. He’s got the size at 6’3 and 215 pounds, plus teams will covet his strong hands and natural route running ability.
The Overlooked Quarterback, Ryan Finley
Yes, I built the Ryan Finley hive. More than likely, I will crumble atop the “Ryan Finley QB1” hill or I will flourish at the top while waving my sword. Either way, I think he’s a pro-ready quarterback and should easily be considered one of the top quarterbacks for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Wolfpack have a tendency to operate their offense quickly and when that happens, the quarterback has to be ready for anything and everything. With only 14 career interceptions at N.C. State, Finley is often ready. As you can see, he’s reading the defense and making the proper adjustments at the line-of-scrimamge. I’m not saying he’s at the same level as Josh Rosen but seeing these adjustments, gives me a flashback to last year.
After the snap, Finley has a tendency to make the correct reads. Whether he’s throwing it away or to the intended receiver, it’s rare to find him forcing a lot of throws. One area he needs to improve is his overall arm strength. He can push the ball down the field but there are times that he gets too much air under a throw and not enough zip. At the next level, where the game is faster, that can generate problems.
Moving forward, I fully expect him to take the necessary steps to improve in those areas. Can Finley do everything on the football field? I wouldn’t say he can do at the same level as Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers but comparing him to other quarterbacks for the 2019 NFL Draft class, I can certainly say, he can.
There’s no way that he’s going to light up the radar gun nor is he going to light up the hand timers for the 40-yard dash. If that’s your expectations for a quarterback, you’re in the wrong sport.
Entering the 2018 season, this offense will rest on the shoulders of Ryan Finley. There’s no denying that. He’s only thrown 35 touchdowns in his two seasons at N.C. State but for this season alone, he’ll look to put himself in the same class as Phillip Rivers, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson for 25 touchdowns or more in a single season.
Losing players like Richardson, Samuels, Hines and that defensive line will hurt this team. However, the important roles that Kelvin Harmon, Jokobi Myers and Ryan Finley have carved into this offense will make all the difference. Expect this offense to move quickly and efficiently to a fifth-consecutive winning season under head coach, Dave Doeren.