At one point late in the 2018 NFL Draft, the following was accurate:
Picks lead:— SB Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) April 28, 2018
NC State, 7
The Tide tacked on a few more, as usual, and NC State was joined by five-star factories LSU and Ohio State to finish tied in second place. But this still had college and NFL fans wondering how the heck NC State suddenly ranked that highly and why the Wolfpack weren’t, uh, really good, considering all that talent.
A few thoughts!
1. NC State was pretty good and really close to being great.
The Wolfpack went 9-4 against a tough schedule, playing in the brutal ACC Atlantic with three Power 5 non-conference games (counting Notre Dame and the bowl against Arizona State).
All four of their losses were pretty excusable, but look how close the Pack came to an 11-1 regular season and ACC Championship berth:
- NC State doubled up South Carolina (final record: 9-4) in yardage, but lost on a wild ending.
- Lost at Notre Dame (10-3). The Irish always have one of the most talented rosters. Happens.
- For the second year in a row, took Playoff team Clemson (12-2) to the wire, this time losing partially due to an illegal shift penalty.
- Lost at Wake Forest (8-5) via gut-wrenching goal line fumble.
2. It’s not like all the other top draft producers had awesome seasons.
LSU also went 9-4 and also lost to Notre Dame. Florida State finished one draftee behind NC State despite having its most disastrous season in memory. Florida and UCLA had five picks each, and yet they spent November battling each other over Chip Kelly.
3. NC State evidently did an excellent job of evaluating and developing.
The Wolfpack rarely have one of the top 30 recruiting classes, let alone up near Bama or Ohio State. No. 5 pick Bradley Chubb was a three-star. So were B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, Will Richardson, and Jaylen Samuels. Nyheim Hines and Kentavius Street were four-stars.
We know it’s much, much more likely that a five-star will go on to be picked than it is that a two-star will. Star ratings aren’t perfect, but at the macro level, they are predictive. Dave Doeren’s staff finding and coaching players who overperformed their star ratings is a signal to keep hopes high for the future. Speaking of, in 2018, the Wolfpack did have a top-30 recruiting class.
4. The Wolfpack set up better for 2018 than it looked like they would.
Entering 2017, it looked like NC State had one shot at a good season before a rebuild commenced, since all these top talents were about to leave.
After 2017, are we so sure it’s time for a dropoff? Ryan Finley is a promising and experienced senior QB who returns the far majority of his receivers and offensive line. The defensive front seven is pretty bombed out, but the Wolfpack might score enough to make up the difference. Doeren didn’t leave for Tennessee. And the schedule lightens up a little bit.
NC State’s not making a Playoff run any time soon, but a second straight season with a final AP Top 25 ranking would make results like the 2018 NFL Draft’s a little less surprising.