NC State has had its fair share of players make it to the NFL and have success. But what would the 2020 NFL Draft look like if teams had no one except the best players from the Wolfpack’s past to choose from? With the benefit of hindsight, and with some extra downtime, we can take a look at where the best State players of all-time might fit into the NFL teams of today.
1. Cincinnati Bengals pick Wolfpack QB Philip Rivers (2000-03)
When you’re as bad as the Cincinnati Bengals are, you need all the help you can get. But you need to start somewhere and since great quarterbacks have the potential to carry bad teams more than any other position, the Bengals should go ahead and draft the best QB on the board and that’s Philip Rivers.
When it comes to putting the ball through tight windows, there are few quarterbacks in NFL history who can say they have done it better than Philip Rivers, who has a passer rating north of 95 over his career. There are also few who have been more prolific at throwing the ball than Rivers is, who’s close to achieving 60,000 passing yards and 400 touchdown passes entering his age-39 season. The only quarterbacks who have thrown for more yards or touchdowns than Rivers are Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino.
Rivers’ production results in wins too. His first season as a starting quarterback for the San Diego Chargers resulted in a 14-2 season in 2006. He followed that great first act of his career with seven more winning seasons in San Diego, who moved to Los Angeles, of all places. If the Bengals were looking for an elite arm and a winner, they’d have to look no further than Philip Rivers.
2. Washington Redskins pick Wolfpack DE Mario Williams (2003-06)
At first, this may seem like a controversial pick, but the two marquee positions in the NFL are quarterback and pass-rusher, and if there’s one thing Washington needed help with last season, it was their pass rush. Williams is used to being the center of controversy, famously being picked by the Houston Texans in the 2006 NFL Draft over other collegiate heavyweights like Reggie Bush and Vince Young, but the Texans never lost sleep over selecting Williams and neither should Washington.
As a new expansion team in 2002, the Houston Texans found talent hard to come by. They relied on Mario Williams to be one of their franchise cornerstones, and Williams played the part for the better part of five seasons. Williams set franchise records for sacks and forced fumbles while in Houston, with 53 and 11 respectively.
Williams followed his time in Houston up with a productive career in Buffalo, earning All-Pro honors twice in the process. Williams ended his career in 2016 with close to 400 tackles and almost 100 sacks and was perhaps the best of a long line of great defensive players for the Wolfpack.
3. Detroit Lions pick DB Adrian Wilson (1998-2000)
This might seem like a bit of a reach, but for those who’ve seen Wilson play, this really isn’t a surprising pick.
It’s not like the Detroit Lions are known for their tenacious defense, but last year’s Lions defense was atrocious, particularly in pass coverage. In real life, the Lions picked Jeff Okudah from Ohio State, but Wilson does more on the defensive side of the ball while still providing quality coverage skills.
In over a decade in the NFL, Wilson racked up all the defensive stats you can look for. He picked up 27 interceptions at the safety position, but also 25.5 sacks, including eight in 2005, good for the most in a season by a defensive back in NFL history. There’s a chance Wilson could make meaningful contributions to Lions in this hypothetical scenario not unlike those he made in the desert.
4. New York Giants pick Wolfpack WR Torry Holt (1995-98)
With the departure of Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants need another playmaker to pair with, and that’s the problem. The Giants, while in possession of a few receiving threats, don’t have any difference-makers in the passing game. And if there’s one word to describe Torry Holt in his decade in the NFL, it would be “difference-maker.”
As a rookie in 1999, Holt joined one of the most overpowered offensive teams in recent NFL history, joining Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and eventually Kurt Warner on the St. Louis Rams to form the famed “Greatest Show on Turf.” The Rams rode that high-flying offense to a Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans. Holt made it back to the Super Bowl in 2001, and he made the Rams one of the most fun teams in the early part of the 2000s.
In the 2000s, Holt made his mark as one of the league’s best wide receivers. Holt led the league in receiving yards in 2000 and 2003, with him also leading in receptions in the latter season. He finished second in Rams history in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns behind Isaac Bruce. If the Giants want an integral cog in one of the best offenses in NFL history, Holt is the way to go.
5. Miami Dolphins pick Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson (2007-10)
In just his second season, Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title and brought them back to the Super Bowl the very next year. All that makes him deserving of the fifth pick in this list, but he’s played five more seasons after his second Super Bowl run at a very high level and has the potential to add even more accolades before he hangs his cleats.
In 2019, Wilson earned his first All-Pro selection, making the second team. He also led the league in passer rating in 2015 and passing touchdowns in 2017. When you find gems like Russell Wilson in the third round like the Seahawks did in 2010, it proves you don’t need to spend the whole year trying to lose to find talent. That being said, you can always draft the Wilsons of the world early, and the Dolphins should take him with this pick.
6. Los Angeles Chargers pick Wolfpack QB Roman Gabriel (1959-61)
Since Philip Rivers was taken away from the Chargers both in this draft and in real life, it makes sense the Chargers would try to grab a quarterback at this spot. Picking a guy from the 1960s certainly isn’t the flashiest choice, but if Roman Gabriel was reborn and played in today’s NFL, he’d be one of the better signal-callers in the league.
In what was very much a league suited for running backs, Roman Gabriel managed to snag an NFL MVP award in 1969, the only player on this list to do so. In that year, Gabriel led the Rams to 11 straight wins to start the year in a 14-game season. He also led the NFL in passing touchdowns that season, one of two times he’d do so.
The other time Gabriel led the league in passing touchdowns he did so with the five-win Philadelphia Eagles, a season in which he also led the league in passing yards en route to a Comeback Player of the Year award. If the Chargers can’t have Philip Rivers, picking another quarterback who’s had success in Southern California may be the way to go.
7. Carolina Panthers pick Wolfpack DE/OLB Bradley Chubb (2014-17)
Bradley Chubb has only been a professional athlete for two seasons and still has his whole career ahead of him. He’d had to have a lot of potential for the Panthers to pick him at this spot, and luckily for Carolina, he does.
In 2018, Chubb collected 60 combined tackles and 21 quarterback hits, 12 of which ended up being sacks. Chubb’s efforts earned him All-Rookie honors that season, and he was primed for a breakout 2019 campaign if not for an ACL tear in the fourth game of the year. Even so, he’d already collected six quarterback hits, and Chubb’s injury is only delaying the inevitable monster season that’s soon to come.
8. Arizona Cardinals pick Wolfpack LB Vaughn Johnson (1980-83)
The Arizona Cardinals have committed themselves to an air-raid style offense with the selection of Kyler Murray and with the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury. Vaughn Johnson is a guy that can be plugged into Cardinals and improve the defense so it doesn’t lag far behind.
Johnson was a member of the vaunted “Dome Patrol” that made the New Orleans Saints’ defense one of the best in the early 1990s. In 1992, all four starting linebackers in the celebrated unit were named to the Pro Bowl, the only time in NFL history that’s happened. If Johnson was good enough to play alongside Saints great and Panthers legend Sam Mills, he’s good enough for the Cardinals.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars pick Wolfpack LB Stephen Tulloch (2005)
When the Jacksonville Jaguars were good, they were good because of their elite defense. Tulloch’s play wasn’t as flashy as that Jacksonville defense was, but the consistency with which he played made the Detroit and Tennessee defenses he played for hum.
Between 2009 and 2013, Tulloch was a surefire bet to reach 100 tackles, topping out at 160 in 2010. He reached 100 tackles again in 2015, and if not for a torn ACL, he probably would’ve reached it in 2014. That’s five straight 100 tackle seasons which easily could have been seven, and great production on-par with the careers of some great coverage linebackers. A guy of his caliber is a great pick for any team, and the Jaguars would love to pick him up.
10. Cleveland Browns pick Wolfpack G Jim Ritcher (1976-79)
Joe Thomas retiring after being Cleveland’s best player for over a decade left a gaping hole that the Browns will be looking to fix for a long time. Garrett Bradbury, Joe Thuney or J.R. Sweezy could make sense here, but instead, the Browns go for Jim Ritcher. Ritchter had a solid career, and while he doesn’t provide Cleveland that presence in the tackle spot, he shores up that interior pretty well.
Ritcher was an integral part of some great Bills offensive lines that allowed Thurman Thomas to run free, gave Jim Kelly the protection he needed to pass the ball downfield, and served as the backbone of a Buffalo team that made four straight Super Bowl appearances.