7 way-too-early predictions about the NC State offense in 2022
Has there ever been this much excitement around a North Carolina State offseason?
The Wolfpack won 9 games last year and earned a Holiday Bowl berth before the bowl game was canceled due to COVID-19. Head Cozch Dave Doeren, on the hot seat only 3 offseasons ago after a 4-8 2019 campaign, has now guided the program to 17 wins over the past 2 seasons.That includes an impressive 13 ACC victories over that span.
NC State is the prohibitive favorite to win the Atlantic Division in the fall and will enter the 2022 campaign ranked in the preseason top 10, which hasn’t happened in Raleigh since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines in the 1970s. Put plainly, expectations are through the roof and this will be the busiest “talking season” in the Research Triangle in program history.
If NC State is going to meet any of the exceedingly high expectations surrounding the 2022 team, it will need to continue to be explosive in the passing game offensively — while becoming more balanced as a whole.
The pieces are in place to be great, beginning at quarterback, where Devin Leary remains one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. What can we expect from the Wolfpack offense that will be central to ending the program’s 4-decade long ACC Championship drought?
Here are 7 way-too-early predictions:
Devin Leary is 1st Team All-ACC and a bona fide All-American candidate
Dave Doeren enters his 10th season in Raleigh with what he feels is the best quarterback in the country.
“Devin Leary is a winner, he’s clutch,” Doeren told the media after the NC State spring game, where his junior quarterback threw for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns. “He’s not a dual-threat guy, but he can throw the ball, is clutch, can sit in the pocket, has incredible arm strength. He can do all the things from a progression standpoint you need to play in the NFL. He’s the best quarterback in the country, I think.”
As the videos below from a 300-plus yard performance against a quality Miami defense demonstrate, Leary can make all the throws.
👀 Hello Devin Leary – keeping the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes then adding some touch to this deep ball pic.twitter.com/ZmWi1aaV5I
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) May 5, 2022
Doeren’s praise is extravagant and CJ Stroud and Bryce Young are among the players that would argue about whether Leary is the best quarterback in America. But Doeren’s confidence in Leary is warranted. The Wolfpack junior threw for 35 touchdowns in 2021 against only 5 interceptions as a sophomore. NC State also returns all but 1 of its key pieces at wide receiver.
Leary strafed some splendid defenses a season ago, including Clemson’s top 10 defense, who he lit up for 238 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Wolfpack’s 27-21 double overtime win. He is confident, will be in his 4th year starting at least 1 game and is coming off a November where he played the best football of his life. That’s a formula for an All-ACC year, and maybe more.
Ikem Ekwonu will be missed, but this will be a good offensive line anyway
NC State doesn’t recruit at a high enough level to just seamlessly replace the likes of Ikem Ekwonu. He was the program’s star left tackle who was a consensus 1st Team All-American in 2021 and was drafted 6th overall in the NFL Draft last week by his hometown Carolina Panthers. The Outland Trophy finalist will be missed, but the situation isn’t dire.
The Wolfpack return 4 of the program’s 5 starters in the North Carolina game up front, and received a depth boost last Thursday when the NCAA granted offensive lineman Chandler Zavala’s appeal for a medical hardship waiver and a 6th year of eligibility. Zavala adds bulk and starter’s experience (he started 3 of 5 games last season before being lost with a back injury) to the line tasked with protecting Leary. NC State won’t have an All-American up front, but it will be fine.
Jordan Houston will ignite the Wolfpack running game
NC State does lose Bam Knight and Ricky Person, the program’s top two rushers from the 2021 campaign. Neither Knight or Person were particularly effective, though, and in many ways, finding a new lead running back is an opportunity for NC State more than a problem.
It was unclear heading into the spring whether there was an apparent leader. Jordan Houston had the most experience and was the highest-rated recruit, but the thought was he’d be pushed by Delbert Mimms III and Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, both off-the-radar recruits but players whose practice reps at least suggested they’d crack the rotation.
Sumo-Karngbaye has the look of a versatile back, one they can use in the pass game and try to get in space, where he can use his top-end speed.
But it’s Houston who stole the show all spring, and he led the team in rushing in the spring game. He showed good pass-catching ability in the flats as a safety valve for Leary, and was by far the team’s best blocking running back despite his compact size (5-foot-9, 185 pounds). Houston has terrific vision, is slippery and agile, and almost always surges forward after contact on film. He’s going to be the best back NC State has next year, and the run game will improve as a result.
Fred Seabrough will break out at tight end
Seabrough, a three-star recruit out of Swainsboro, Georgia, impressed all spring with his route running and his ability to leak out and be a safe pair of hands for Leary. He caught all 3 of his targets in the spring game for 38 yards, and is making progress as a blocker in the run game.
The Wolfpack preferred, a season ago, to throw to the H-back, who is listed as a tight end on the roster as well. But Seabrough’s ability to do both gives NC State a new wrinkle, and one they can use to stress defenses from the more traditional tight end position. The impact is that NC State becomes more multiple with Seabrough and can throw to a tight end from different formations, which complicates game prep for opposing coordinators.
A nice spring will lead to a breakout campaign for Seabrough in 2022.
The best wide receiver room in the ACC
This is the one “take” that isn’t really debatable.
The Wolfpack lose their top pass catcher from 2021, Emeka Emezie, to graduation, but they return over 50% of their pass game production regardless. Leading the way is Thayer Thomas, who caught a team-high 8 touchdowns in 2021 and was the “safe hands” guy. Devin Carter, who averaged 18 yards per reception to lead the team, returns as well. As does Porter Rooks, who caught 23 passes and was one of the program’s most improved players in 2021. These three are now joined by Maryland transfer Darryl Jones, who is reunited with his old Maryland wide receiver coach, Joker Phillips, in Raleigh.
Jones was a high 4-star recruit and a recruiting coup for Maryland when he signed with the Terrapins, but he didn’t break out in College Park until late in the 2021 campaign, when he finally started to show the explosiveness and speed that made him so coveted.
— Mr Matthew CFB 🇺🇦 (@MrMatthewCFB) December 29, 2021
Jones put up nice numbers (111 yards receiving, 2 touchdowns) in Maryland’s Pinstripe Bowl rout of Virginia Tech, and he’ll give the Wolfpack another player who can take the top of a defense in 2022. All these pieces combine to give NC State the most prolific passing game in the ACC.
A top 20 scoring offense
The Wolfpack finished 28th in the country a season ago in scoring offense, averaging 33.1 points per game. They’ll eclipse that number and get over the 35 needed to be in the top 20 in 2022.
NC State will be able to lean on an improved run game and a few more explosive options down the field for Leary.
A top 20 total offense
As great as the NC State pass game was last year, would it surprise you to know that thanks to an anemic run game, the Wolfpack finished the season 58th in the country in total offense? Or that the Wolfpack ranked just 37th in offensive success rate, despite a passing offense that ranked 4th in that category?
These are objectively surprising numbers, considering the Wolfpack lost 2 games by 3 points or less where they scored 30 and 42, respectively. They also finished the season putting up at least 34 points in their final 3 games.
But the numbers don’t lie and they suggest this is an offense that can improve. We think they’ll do that in 2022, and in a big way, as Leary takes another leap and an improved downfield passing game emerges as the run game improves.