NFL Draft prospect: LB Audie Cole

Although he was lining up at a new position this season, Audie Cole wrapped up his impressive NC State career in style from middle linebacker this fall. The redshirt senior ended his collegiate days leading the team to its second-straight postseason victory and racked up 132 tackles, including 14 for loss, six sacks, eight quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and two pass break-ups. In the Belk Bowl victory over Louisville, he finished with ten tackles, including a team-high nine solo stops, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
The semifinalist for the 2011 Butkus Award was named honorable mention All-ACC this year and at least tied for the team lead in tackles for the third-straight campaign. Cole led the squad with 85 stops in 2009, tied current Denver Bronco Nate Irving for the honor with 97 the following year and outpaced his next closest teammate by 19 takedowns this fall.
Cole seamlessly transitioned to the middle linebacker slot this year, which is where linebackers coach Jon Tenuta likes to have his best linebacker, after previously lining up on the strong side. However, with his 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame, he could project to either the inside or outside on the next level, which should be very appealing to professional squads. He's probably best as an inside guy, though.
The Monroe, Michigan native proved to be an excellent leader for the Pack this year and head coach Tom O'Brien noted throughout the year that he played a crucial role in getting the defense lined up correctly, especially when youngsters were pushed into action because of injuries along the defensive line.
He was also durable and tough; he played with a cast on his hand throughout the majority of 2010 but never missed a start after breaking into the lineup in the 2009 season opener. Cole ended his career on a 38-game starting streak and never missed one of the Pack's 51 games during his four years that he played. He also earned the program's Al Michaels Award in 2009, which is given to the player who, "puts team before self."
Cole came to Raleigh as a four-year varsity player in high school, but was regarded by as only a two-star prospect. He was a prep quarterback who had originally committed to current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly under center while the coach was at Central Michigan. However, Cole opened things back up after Kelly took the job at Cincinnati and ended up in O'Brien's first NC State recruiting class. He also is a former Golden Gloves winner in boxing.
The linebacker was more productive than anybody could've predicted when he signed with the Wolfpack and he finished his career with 328 tackles, including 32.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 18 quarterback hurries, seven forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and an interception. Cole has displayed good speed on the game field and was one of the team's surest tacklers.
Cole is scheduled to take part in the annual Senior Bowl, which will be played on Jan. 28 in Mobile, Ala. The game will be broadcasted on the NFL Network starting at 4 p.m.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. ranked Cole as the No. 4 senior inside linebacker in the land on Dec. 1. Meanwhile, ranks Cole as the No. 10 outside linebacker available in this year's Draft and the No. 73 overall prospect. Pro Football Weekly lists him as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the Draft (behind Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict) and the No. 37 overall player but they assigned him a third-round grade. calls him the No. 4 inside linebacker in the Draft and the No. 96 overall prospect.
More in The Wolfpacker's NFL Draft prospects series:
NFL Draft prospect: T.J. Graham
NFL Draft prospect: Russell Wilson
NFL Draft prospect: George Bryan