Top 10 returning players at NC State led by the ACC’s top QB Devin Leary

The NC State Wolfpack have high expectations for 2022. With their top 10 returning players featuring one of college football‘s best quarterbacks in Devin Leary, NC State looks at an ACC Atlantic crown as their proverbial floor for just how stacked they are. They potentially have the best linebacking corps in the conference and some talented weapons elsewhere. Just exactly who are NC State’s top returners for 2022?

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Top 10 returning players at NC State

We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to NC State.

10) Thayer Thomas, WR

Thayer Thomas is NC State’s wily veteran, and he also catches everything thrown his way. It may not be the biggest of gains every time he touches the ball, but Thomas is as dependable as they come in college football. He’ll catch everything with sure hands and strong catch-point skills. And if that doesn’t make him a must-watch player, Thomas has thrown for three touchdowns in his career as well.

9) Payton Wilson, LB

Playing in just two games prior to injury, Payton Wilson has put forth enough on tape to warrant his place here. Honestly, his two years before are likely worthy of a higher ranking, but until he’s fully healthy, we’ll temper expectations. Wilson is a massive linebacker with fluidity to his game. There aren’t many 6’4″ linebackers who move as well as he does.

8) Isaiah Moore, LB

He played in just seven games a season ago, but Isaiah Moore was impressive on the field. Like Wilson, Moore gives the Wolfpack one of — if not the — best linebacking groups in college football when they’re healthy. Moore, the strongest of the trio, has great size and a documented history of playing at a high level in all aspects. If he’s healthy, Moore vaults up these rankings, which is a feat in its own right.

7) Tanner Ingle, S

There isn’t much Tanner Ingle can’t do at a high level. Need a pressure off the edge? He’ll get it for you. Need him to make a play in coverage? He’ll drop back and do the same. Ingle is an underrated safety who is a tackling machine and a strong all-around defender. Doing this for the past four seasons with NC State has certainly earned him local attention, but he needs more national love.

6) Devin Carter, WR

Taking the role as WR1 from Emeka Emezie, Devin Carter gives the Wolfpack a new threat on the outside. Actually, the same threat, but now in a featured role, Carter can continue to exploit smaller, under-matched defensive backs with his size and physicality. Carter is a big threat and a big-play machine with consistent hands and sharp routes.

5) Derek Pitts Jr., CB

Kicking off NC State’s star-studded cornerback trio, Derek Pitts Jr. proved in 2021 that he could hang at the Power Five level once again. After two years at West Virginia and two years at Marshall, Pitts re-exploded back on the scene with two interceptions and six pass breakups, the latter tying for the team lead. Pitts is a long cornerback with a veteran leadership quality. He’ll man the field opposite the younger Battle with great success on his own.

4) Shyheim Battle, CB

Locking down cornerbacks on the outside, Shyheim Battle broke out a season ago. He put forth a dominant year covering a variety of receivers, using his size at 6’2″ to bully receivers at the line and catch point. Battle played his way to two interceptions and six pass breakups as he firmly put his name on the 2023 NFL Draft list.

3) Tyler Baker-Williams, CB

Cornerbacks aren’t supposed to have the size/speed combination that Tyler Baker-Williams possesses. He moves around like a linebacker when necessary and covers like a lockdown boundary corner at others. His flexibility and versatility to flip his abilities from the nickel spot are unparalleled at the ACC. Baker-Williams has stellar ball skills on one play and an ability to stuff rushing lanes on the next. He’s an enigma for opposing offenses to figure out.

2) Drake Thomas, LB

When healthy, the NC State linebacker corps is the best in the country. Drake Thomas anchors that unit as he led the team with 99 total tackles and finished as one of the few to play all 12 games. Thomas goes sideline to sideline very well and excels in every defensive facet. If Thomas rushes the passer, he’s getting home with pressure. If he drops back in coverage, he’s making a play on the ball. If he sees a run fit forming, he stuffs it brilliantly. He’s one of the best in the country.

1) Devin Leary, QB

One of the nation’s best quarterbacks, somehow Devin Leary needs more attention. He set ACC history a season ago by launching 35 touchdowns and limiting his interceptions to just five. He became the first quarterback in ACC history to do such a thing. Considering the conference’s rich history at the position, that’s a feat in and of itself. Leary is back, and with a clean bill of health in 2022, he could set even more records and win an ACC Atlantic title.

Honorable mention players returning to NC State in 2022

  • Cory Durden, DT
  • Trent Pennix, TE
  • Davin Vann, EDGE
  • Savion Jackson, EDGE
  • Grant Gibson, C
  • Bryson Speas, OT

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.



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