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How NC State's returning production in 2021 compares to the rest of the ACC

There is a sense of excitement around the NC State football program entering the 2021 season.

With most of its starters coming back from an 8-4 campaign in 2020 that included a program-record seven conference wins, it's not difficult to explain the optimism surrounding the Wolfpack.

NC State will return 19 starters (nine on offense, 10 on defense) this fall. However, many other programs will have a lot of talent returning due to the NCAA's decision to not count the 2020 season toward an athlete's four years of college eligibility.

So how does the Pack's returning production compare to the rest of the ACC?

Using ESPN's returning production measurements for Bill Connelly's SP+ ratings, we do our best to answer:

NC State Wolfpack football Zonovan Bam Knight
Sophomore running back Zonovan "Bam" Knight will be the ACC's top returning rusher in 2021. (Ethan Hyman, The News and Observer)

NC State's returning starters

Offense (9)

Player (Number of starts in 2020)

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary (3)*

Junior running back Ricky Person Jr. (12)

Senior wide receiver Emeka Emezie (10)

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Devin Carter (10)

Redshirt junior slot receiver Thayer Thomas (10)

Sophomore offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (12)

Redshirt junior center Grant Gibson (12)

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Bryson Speas (7)

Redshirt freshman offensive guard Dylan McMahon (7)

*Leary started in three of his four appearances in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury (fractured fibula) in October. NC State was 3-0 in games in which he started.

Defense (10)

Fifth-year senior defensive end Daniel Joseph (8)

Redshirt freshman defensive end Terrell Dawkins (7)

Redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore (12)

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson (10)

Sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas (10)

Junior nickel Tyler Baker-Williams (10)

Junior safety Tanner Ingle (7)

Sophomore safety Jakeen Harris (12)

Redshirt freshman corner Shyheim Battle (12)

Sophomore corner Cecil Powell (5)

Overall Returning Production Rankings in the ACC (ESPN SP+)

Team, Percentage of 2020 production returning in 2021 (National Rank among FBS teams)

1. Miami, 91 percent (No. 3)

2. Georgia Tech, 83 percent (No. 13)

3. Wake Forest, 81 percent (No. 18)

4. Syracuse, 80 percent (No. 26)

5. North Carolina, 79 percent (No. 32)

6. NC State, 76 percent (No. 44)

7. Boston College, 75 percent (No. 47)

8. Pittsburgh, 73 percent (No. 50)

9. Florida State, 73 percent (No. 53)

10. Clemson, 69 percent (No. 65)

11. Virginia Tech, 68 percent (No. 72)

12. Virginia, 66 percent (No. 77)

13. Louisville, 61 percent (No. 93)

14. Duke, 56 percent (No. 104)

Offensive Returning Production Rankings in the ACC (ESPN SP+)

To best understand these rankings, it's important to be aware of the weighted metrics used to come up with the percentages of returning talent. Here are the criteria for offense:

Returning QB passing yards: 29%

Returning RB rushing yards: 5%

Returning WR/TE receiving yards: 34%

Returning OL snaps: 33%

Team, Percentage of 2020 offensive production returning in 2021 (National Rank among FBS teams)

1. Miami, 95 percent (No. 1)

2. Wake Forest, 88 percent (No. 8)

3. Georgia Tech, 84 percent (No. 21)

4. Boston College, 84 percent (No. 22)

5. Florida State, 84 percent (No. 25)

6. Syracuse, 83 percent (No. 26)

7. Pittsburgh, 82 percent (No. 28)

8. North Carolina, 77 percent (No. 47)

9. Louisville, 73 percent (No. 61)

10. Virginia, 72 percent (No. 63)

11. Virginia Tech, 69 percent (No. 71)

12. NC State, 63 percent (No. 83)

13. Duke, 51 percent (No. 110)

14. Clemson, 46 percent (No. 118)


• NC State ranks toward the bottom of the ACC in returning offensive talent according to ESPN's SP+ rating, but the numbers are a bit misleading in this situation. Yes, the Wolfpack lost key starters fifth-year senior offensive lineman Joe Sculthorpe and fifth-year senior tight end Cary Angeline, who both signed undrafted free agent deals this week. But the drop-off in statistical returning production at the quarterback position is likely the reason the Pack trends toward the bottom of the ACC in this metric as opposed to somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, the returning offensive production numbers drag the Wolfpack's overall ranking down.

• Redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary is considered a returning starter despite the fact that he only started three games in four appearances in 2020. But that was due to a season-ending injury suffered in October and a prolonged COVID-related quarantine prior to the opener. Leary was slated to be the starter in the offseason, but the injury and preseason quarantine opened the door for redshirt junior quarterback Bailey Hockman to earn nine starts in ten appearances. Hockman accounted for 2,088 of NC State's 3,154 passing yards in 2020 (66.2 percent), which is an area the Pack lost a lot of points in terms of ESPN's SP+ returning production metric. Hockman transferred to Middle Tennessee State this offseason, but the Wolfpack will have its intended 2020 starter, Leary, back this fall.

• NC State's strongest area of returning offensive production is the running back position, where it brings back everyone that netted at least one rushing yard in 2020. The Pack also returns every receiver that reeled in at least one reception in 2020 and brings back five offensive linemen that started at least five games last fall.

Defensive Returning Production Rankings in the ACC (ESPN SP+)

To best understand these rankings, it's important to be aware of the weighted metrics used to come up with the percentages of returning talent. Here are the criteria for defense:

Returning tackles: 56%

Returning tackles for loss: 6%

Returning sacks: 7%

Returning passes defended: 31%

Team, Percentage of 2020 defensive production returning in 2021 (National Rank among FBS teams)

1. Clemson, 92 percent (No. 3)

2. NC State, 90 percent (No. 6)

3. Miami, 86 percent (No. 12)

4. Georgia Tech, 82 percent (No. 23)

5. North Carolina, 81 percent (No. 28)

6. Syracuse, 76 percent (No. 45)

7. Wake Forest, 74 percent (No. 54)

8. Virginia Tech, 67 percent (No. 76)

9. Boston College, 66 percent (No. 79)

10. Pittsburgh, 64 percent (No. 86)

11. Florida State, 62 percent (No. 90)

12. Duke, 62 percent (No. 92)

13. Virginia, 61 percent (No. 95)

14. Louisville, 50 percent (No. 114)


NC State returns nearly all of its defensive production from 2020, making it one of the most experienced units in the ACC and the FBS level of college football.

• The only departing Wolfpack starter is junior nose tackle Alim McNeill, who was selected by the Detroit Lions with the No. 72 overall pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. McNeill was a first-team All-ACC selection and earned first-team All-American honors according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), so make no mistake, his absence will be felt. But head coach Dave Doeren will have a handful of suitable candidates to take his place as the anchor of the Wolfpack defensive line. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle C.J. Clark is the next man up in the lineup, and he frequently split snaps with McNeill for a majority of last fall. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Cory Durden transferred into the program from Florida State in the offseason, and he'll immediately contend for the starting job considering PFF named him one of the nation's top transfers. There are also other options, such as redshirt freshman defensive tackle Joshua Harris, a 6-4, 350-pounder that thrived in goal-line situations last season, and freshman defensive lineman Davin Vann, who is capable of playing both end and tackle.

• Other than McNeill, sophomore corner Malik Dunlap and redshirt sophomore safety Isaac Duffy are the only departures that leave behind significant production. Dunlap registered 20 tackles, one for loss, six pass breakups and one sack in five starts and nine appearances last fall before transferring to Texas Tech in the offseason. Duffy, a former walk-on, was a saving grace in the Pack's injury-plagued secondary last season. He had 27 tackles, two for loss, three PBUs, one interception, one forced fumble and one sack last season as a reserve, starting once in 12 appearances. Duffy transferred to Albany this past offseason, likely because of a limited anticipated role this fall with a healthy secondary.


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