An important barometer of success for major college programs is how many of its players get drafted into the pros. This goes doubly true for the NFL more than any other league...as there are no overseas options nor are there minor leagues to go improve in (R.I.P. XFL). So its notable that after the 2020 NFL Draft NC State can boast that it has had five straight years of multiple players scouted and selected by highly paid professionals in the NFL. This is the longest streak since 1998-2009, with this current run including eight combined picks from what is now Day 1 and Day 2 of the draft compared to thirteen from the previous streak. Dave Doeren can unquestionably tout to the media, and most importantly recruits, that NC State is a place that prepares you to be selected to the NFL. All of this is impressive (if you ignore the lack of hardware)...but a healthy streak like this is in danger of ending in 2021.
On paper, 2021’s NFL Draft for NC State looks a bit thin while 2022 (and 2023) have numerous potential options. The bulk of our highly touted defensive recruits will be eligible for 2022’s draft, as well as guys like Bam Knight and Jordan Houston who could be one 1,000+ yard season away from being tempted to test the waters. 2022 and 2023 (barring disaster) will guarantee a continuation of multiple draft picks and continue the streak. But we are here to talk about potential draft picks for 2021, and how yet another talking point can be extended in a year that seems, on the surface, to be a detriment to the cause.
On the offensive side of the ball the predominant skill positions, QB, RB and WR, don’t currently have anyone that seems draft ready for 2021. Prior years of a healthy Ricky Person and C.J. Riley maybe changes that, but there are others at less ballyhooed positions that may get to see their name called next year. Both Joe Sculthorpe and Justin Witt have shown much promise when on the field, and even when the OL wasn’t up to our normal standards in 2019, it was still pretty solid where the talent is concerned. Another player who has continually flown under the radar considering his skill set is TE Cary Angeline. Forget the drop against WF, Angeline has shown great hands and solid on-field speed for a TE of his size...if he improves his blocking and increases on the production he had last year, he could absolutely get a look. Again, that’s a light load though there is always a chance someone with the measurables of CJ Riley has a breakout year and sneaks into the draft. Outside of that, we are really going to need to see our offense improve across the board for the NFL to seem likely for any individual.
On defense we see a little more hope for NFL Draft picks...though losing these guys would invariably hurt the team in following years. Starting on the DL, Alim McNeill had a rough beginning to 2019 but the talent is obvious and without any hiccups in 2020, I would imagine he’d not just be the most likely candidate to declare early, but the highest rated draft prospect of anyone on the team. There has been considerable hype surrounding Vi Jones and we’ve already seen what Payton Wilson can do as last year’s leading tackler. Both LBs would be eligible for 2021 and it wouldn’t shock me to see either take a monster season and translate that into NFL money. For Wilson especially it continually feels like “not if but when” which could very well be next year. From there it becomes more difficult to figure out, but any of the upperclassman LBs could turn in a strong year and hop in on Day 3. In the secondary, Chris Ingram was playing really good football before his injury, but everyone else seems a year or two away before any draft conversation makes much sense. Ultimately the talent on defense is unquestioned, there’s just the matter of it translating to production that turns scouts’ heads.
In the final analysis, the prospect of six straight years of multiple draft pics looks dicey. The talent is there, but adjusting to a new full time system and avoiding injuries (not to mention the season itself cause...well, you know) leave a lot of known unknowns out there to parse through. From my vantage point I believe the streak continues...with either a couple early entries from the defense or one on both offense and defense. Dave Doeren’s previous staff had shown they could develop players into pros...they’ve used that for a recruiting advantage...let’s see if the new staff can continue to do the same.