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A Secondary Concern

What is up with NC State’s yearly problems in the secondary?

Miami v North Carolina State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

There is a lingering question out there of “why does the Pack’s secondary seem to be terrible every year?” and that is a perfectly valid thing to ask. Right now, NC State is ranked 128 out of 129 teams in passing yards given up per game (305.3). They were ranked 97th in the country in 2017 (245.0 ypg), and 93rd in 2016 (251.3 ypg). However, in 2015 they were ranked 22nd (188.5 ypg), 28th in 2014 (197.5 ypg), and 47th in 2013 (219.3 ypg). So what is going on?

I’m sure there are ton of things that play into this: staff changes, scheme, graduation, overall make up of the team, etc. For example, I’m sure some of that shift in numbers can be attributed to the way the defensive line evolved into the strength of the Pack defense once Chubb/Jones/Hill/Street became seasoned veterans. Opponents became a little less inclined to run the ball.

I’ll admit that I’m not the person you want to ask about problems in the scheme or if a particular player is being used incorrectly. However, there is one factor I’d like to point out that I think is getting overlooked. I did some research on NC State’s CB/Nickel recruiting classes under Doeren and found something that I think, in part, explains the problems the Pack has had at those positions the past few seasons. The issue is that the CB and Nickel positions have been hit hard by early departures - especially among their more highly rated recruits. Doeren’s staff has been able to pull in some decently ranked CBs in their time in Raleigh, but many of the highest rated ones (according to 247’s ratings) never made an impact in a Wolfpack uniform before moving on.

Here are the top rated CBs in each year of Doeren’s recruiting classes: 2013 Sean Paul (0.8540), 2014 Troy Vincent Jr. (0.8813), 2015 Freddie Phillips* (0.8387), 2016 James Valdez (0.8518), 2017 Chris Ingram (0.8634), 2018 Taiyon Palmer (0.9035).
* Freddie Phillips was listed as a Safety but was recruited to play Nickel

I realize that recruiting rankings aren’t everything and this staff has done an excellent job of finding diamonds in the rough, but from looking strictly at recruiting rankings, the impact from the top rated guys is almost non-existent. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t until the second game of this year that the top CB/Nickel recruit in any of Doeren’s classes started a game (Chris Ingram). That isn’t great, but unfortunately it gets worse. Between 2015 and 2017 (I could only find participation reports dating back to 2015), Paul, Vincent, and Valdez played in a combined total 4 games at the CB spot. All of them left the program early.

Speaking of leaving the program early, those three were not the only CBs or Nickels to have made an early exit. The Pack also lost Malcolm Means (2013 class), Elliott Davis (2014 class), and Bryce Banks (2016 class) to early departures. Having six players at the CB/Nickel positions leave the program early - some voluntarily and some dismissed from the team - is going to have an effect on your depth. This is made even more painful by the fact that the ‘15 and ‘17 recruiting classes only had one CB or Nickel player each. This led to a reliance in recent years on a combination of converted WRs, former walk-ons, and young players who may not be ready.

For comparison’s sake, and to give the staff some credit for identifying underrated players and developing them, here are the lowest rated CBs in each class: 2013 Jack Tocho (0.7991), 2014 Mike Stevens (0.7925), 2015 Freddie Phillips* (0.8387), 2016 Nick McCloud (0.8487), 2017 Chris Ingram** (0.8634), 2018 Malik Dunlap (0.8356)
* In 2015, Freddie Phillips was the only recruit to play CB or Nickel so he appears in both lists
** In 2017 Nakia Robinson was listed as a CB and would’ve been the lowest CB but was recruited by the Pack as a RB. This left Ingram as the only CB/Nickel recruit in 2017.

Thankfully, the Wolfpack has had guys like Jack Tocho (36 career starts), Mike Stevens (28 career starts), and Dravious Wright (0.8198 rating, 37 career starts) who have outplayed their recruiting ratings.

Looking toward the future, the good news is that the potential talent and depth at the CB and Nickel positions looks much better than it has the past couple of seasons - assuming there aren’t many more early departures. While they’ve had their ups and downs, McCloud and Ingram are learning. The 2018 recruiting class added six CBs and Nickels - Taiyon Palmer, De’Von Graves, Tanner Ingle, Teshaun Smith, Kishawn Miller, and Malik Dunlap. Taiyon Palmer (0.9035) and De’Von Graves (0.8958) are the two highest rated CB recruits of the Doeren era. The Pack also has a couple of highly regarded CB commits for the 2019 class in Shyheim Battle (0.8913) and Jalen Frazier (0.8614). Hopefully, the defensive staff puts these players in positions to be successful and the secondary can get back to being a respected unit.