College football is a battle for consistency. Great players come and go in just four short years, sometimes less, and the only teams that can survive those departures are the ones that can replace great players with other great players. NC State will try its hand at doing that this fall, but it will not be easy.
The Pack’s offense will be replacing its All-ACC starting quarterback, 1,000-yard running back, top two receivers, and three offensive linemen. That’s a whole lot of really good football players that need their spots filled. State has not had this kind of offensive exodus at any point under Doeren. So this is going to be a challenge, but the leveling up of the talent entering the program over the last handful of years has the Pack in a better place than it appears. Probably. Maybe.
Things you should be excited about
This may be a hot fire take, but State might actually improve at running back. Gallaspy was forced to carry pretty much the entire weight of the position last year after Person, who was never healthy to begin with, went down for the season. He did so to the tune of 1,000+ yards. Still though, Person was the better back, and much more explosive. He’s a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2019, and he’ll be backed up by an electric freshman in Zonovan Knight. It’s a young position, but it’s extremely talented and Person has already shown more than a couple glimpses of what he is ready to become.
Tight end is the only position on the offense where State is not replacing its best contributor. Dylan Autenrieth and Cary Angeline are both back for 2019. Autenrieth has been a pretty critical piece of the running game, and his noticeable absence through the first two games of last season was part of the reason why it sucked so aggressively. If the offense isn’t expected to change much post-Drinkwitz, then look for Autenrieth to play a big role in run blocking again this year.
Angeline could play a big role in the passing game. It’s no secret that State loves big tall pass-catchers and Angeline can definitely be that, and he might need to be given the lack of experience in that department. He wasn’t targeted a ton last year, but there definitely could and should be a place in the offense for his talents this year.
Things you should be cautiously optimistic about
In an ideal situation, you have options when replacing a quarterback, which gives the cream the opportunity to rise to the top. Of course, an ideal situation does not involve replacing Ryan Finley, but State could definitely be in a much worse place than it is with three prospects competing for the job. None of the options are just outright bad, so this is going to be a really fun battle to follow.
It was clear from the spring game that Leary has the farthest to go, which is not surprising given he’s the only freshman in the group. His big problem right now is he’s got a 12-gauge shotgun on his arm and he hasn’t figured out how to turn it off. That will come with time, but for now, it’s probably smart to bet on one of the other two.
Hockman wasn’t often described as a runner when he first transferred in, but he’s actually got enough speed and escapability (that’s a word) to be a headache for defensive coordinators. He does tend to keep his eyes downfield more than his counterpart, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.
McKay has certainly looked ready in the very limited action that we’ve seen. Obviously, he’s got wheels and he’s capable of making all the throws, so the smart money might be on him to start, but it definitely seems like it’s pretty close and there is a long time until the opener.
Unlike running back, there is a 0% chance that NC State will improve at wide receiver. You cannot lose Kelvin Harmon and get better. That is impossible. Despite that, and the loss of the always consistent Jakobi Meyers, this is still a group that has some intrigue. Emeka Emezie is clearly ready to step into a lead role, and he brings a lite version of that jump ball ability that became Harmon’s signature. Thayer Thomas might lead the team in catches and Tabari Hines provides a third reliable option.
A lot of the potential in this unit rides with C.J. Riley, who is the only upperclassmen receiver beyond Emezie to have played a meaningful down for NC state. Riley made some highlight reel catches last season, but other times he struggled to catch routine passes. He also wasn’t heavily used, as he was buried on an incredible depth chart. He’s certainly beaming with potential given his size and speed, and just how much of it he can unlock will be an important thing to follow.
Things you should be concerned about
The offensive line was, all things considered, a bit of a disappointment last season. They were pretty abysmal at run blocking for a decent portion of the year, and while they protected Finley pretty well when they were healthy, depth was an issue. The problem here is that it’s hard to see this unit getting better this year. Its best three players are gone and so is the coach.
Justin Witt will be a staple at tackle, and Joe Sculthorpe will be a beast run blocker. Joshua Fedd-Jackson should fill another interior spot with some experience, but the other two positions, particularly the other tackle spot, are kind of concerning. State had no third tackle last year that could be relied upon, so somebody is going to have to step up. Perhaps it’s finally Emanuel McGirt’s time?