NC State’s excellent returning depth includes some star power up front. There’s Ickey Ekwonu, of course, who has already established himself as an elite offensive lineman in the ACC and is the king of the pancakes. There’s also senior center Grant Gibson—who graduated this spring, by the way; congrats, Grant—who figures to have a pro future.
Pro Football Focus ranks both among the top returning offensive linemen in the country. Ekwonu is PFF’s 10th-best returning tackle:
North Carolina State deploys a zone rushing attack, with over three-fourths of the team’s runs being such since 2019, and that’s where Ekownu is a true mauler. He is tied with Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard for the most big-time blocks — PFF’s highest-graded plays for linemen — on zone runs over the past two seasons.
The man already has more bottles of maple syrup than he knows what to do with and will undoubtedly earn countless more with his play this fall. He definitely could hear his name called in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Gibson is the third-best returning interior lineman, in PFF’s estimation:
Gibson was named the starting center for 2019, performed quite well and then broke out in 2020 in his second year holding the job. He posted a grade above 80.0 as both a run- and pass-blocker, something only five other Power Five centers accomplished in the past five years.
Pretty good! NC State has been fortunate to have quality centers lately, and Gibson figures to have an all-conference year if he stays healthy.