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The Wolfpacker pre-spring projected NC State depth chart: Defense

With spring practices starting Thursday, here is a pre-spring look at The Wolfpacker's projected fall depth chart for the defensive side of the football.

Related link: Pre-spring projected depth chart on offense

Defensive Line — Starters: R-Jr. Ibrahim Kante, Jr. Alim McNeill and So. Savion Jackson; Reserves: R-Fr. C.J. Clark, R-Sr. Val Martin OR R-Fr. Joshua Harris, and R-Sr. Daniel Joseph

NC State Wolfpack football defensive tackle Alim McNeill makes a tackle.
McNeill was one of the highest-graded performers on NC State's defensive line last season according to PFF. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

There are so many ways this two-deep could play out it is impossible to make a confident guess at this point.

The best bet is McNeill will be back at nose tackle, where he started eight games last year and finished the season with 28 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks, and two pass breakups. PFF graded McNeill at 79.4, highest on the Pack defense a season ago.

Backing up McNeill seems like it will either be Martin, who actually started three contests a year ago and had 11 hits, including 1.5 for loss, or Harris, who preserved his redshirt by only playing four games. Martin's health (he will miss the spring) and Harris' conditioning (he was 344 pounds last season) may be determining factors on how the projected depth chart looks after spring.

The guesses at the other two defensive line spots are just that: guesses. Kante (six starts in 2019, 15 tackles, three hits for loss, a sack assist) and Jackson (eight tackles with one for a loss in eight games) represent the more experienced options in NC State's defense, but the recently announced graduate transfer of Joseph from Penn State puts a new name into the mix.

Not listed but a decent bet to figure into the equation is Terrell Dawkins, who redshirted last season.

Linebackers — Starters: R-Jr. Vi Jones, R-So. Payton Wilson and Sr. Louis Acceus; Reserves: R-So. C.J. Hart; R-Jr. Isaiah Moore and So. Drake Thomas

NC State Wolfpack football linebacker Payton Wilson dives for a tackle.
Wilson led NC State in tackles last season despite only starting one contest. (Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports)

This is yet another position that could go in any number of ways, but the options have a chance to be good.

Moore, for instance, started 11 games last season and was third on the team in tackles, so it's quite possible he gets a starting job back in 2020. However, it was hard to ignore the promise Wilson showed as a rookie when he led NC State in tackles (69) and had one of the team's four interceptions on the year despite starting only one contest.

When healthy, Acceus was one of NC State's better performing defensive players. He finished with 50 tackles in eight games and would have challenged Wilson for the team lead had he played a full year. PFF graded Acceus as the third-best defensive player for NC State in 2019.

Jones is a wildcard. The transfer from Southern Cal and highly prized prospect coming out of high school was universally praised as a likely instant impact player during his NCAA-mandated sit-out year. Our projection assumes the hype is real.

It's also not out of the equation that Hart and Thomas could build off nice rookie seasons and get into the mix for starting nods. Hart had 35 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and a sack, in 11 games last year while starting twice. Thomas was one of the few defensive players who played all 12 contests and made three starts. He had 34 tackles, including four for loss and 2.5 sacks, and added an interception.

Cornerbacks — Starters: Sr. Chris Ingram and R-So. Malik Dunlap; Reserves: Jr. Teshaun Smith and R-So. Taiyon Palmer OR So. Cecil Powell

NC State Wolfpack football cornerback Chris Ingram makes an interception.
Ingram (left) will miss the spring with an injury. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Just picture a shrugging emoji here.

It should be noted that Ingram, Smith and Palmer will each miss the spring rehabbing injuries they suffered last fall. Ingram started all six games he played before getting hurt and led NC State with two interceptions. Despite missing half the season, he still graded out as NCSU's best corner per PFF.

Smith started two of the five games he played, while Palmer was also injured in the fifth contest. Palmer had a pass breakup, while Smith had 14 tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass breakup.

Their injuries open the door for players like Dunlap and Powell. The former took his lumps when forced into action, but made five starts and led NC State with eight pass breakups.

Powell is a wildcard because he was the last arrival from the 2019 class and then played different positions (receiver and corner) last fall. Now settled in at corner, the athletic Powell could blossom.

There are also young options like former four-star recruit Shyheim Battle, who was able to redshirt last season, and early enrollee Devan Boykin.

Safeties — Starters: Jr. Tanner Ingle and So. Jakeen Harris; Reserves — R-Sr. Isaiah Stallings and R-Fr. Khalid Martin

NC State Wolfpack football safety Tanner Ingle makes a tackle.
Ingle was second on NC State with 68 tackles in 2019. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

Ingle is a safe bet to return to a starting role. He started all 11 games he played last year and finished with 68 tackles (including five for loss) and broke up four passes. The question is, who joins him?

Harris logged fairly significant snaps in 2019, playing in 11 games and finishing with 31 tackles. Martin was pushed into a starting role due to injuries in the season finale against North Carolina. He had seven tackles in that contest and held up, considering the circumstances, reasonably well.

Stallings has been a career reserve.

Depth is a pretty big question mark at safety.

Nickels — Starter: Jr. Tyler Baker-Williams; Reserve: R-Fr. Jalen Frazier

NC State Wolfpack nickel Tyler Baker-Williams practices.
Baker-Williams made three starts last season. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

Baker-Williams joins Ingle (and perhaps a fully healthy Ingram) as the most logical assumptions as starters in the secondary. He played all 12 games a year ago and made three starts, tallying 39 tackles and three pass breakups. PFF dubbed Baker-Williams the top performing defensive back for the Wolfpack.

Given that the only known scholarship nickel on the roster outside Baker-Williams is Frazier, he gets the nod as the reserve.

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