Senior punter A.J. Cole III prepares to punt. Cole had six punts for 290 yards during the 41-7 loss to Clemson at Clemson Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.

It hasn’t been the season many had hoped for for Pack Pros around the NFL with many key players falling short of expectations for various reasons. Whether it's Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continuing to rehab from his injury, Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines falling into a smaller role with the continued emergence of running back Jonathan Taylor, or New England Patriots wideout Jakobi Meyers still without a touchdown in his career, it’s been a rough going for some fan favorites.

With the downfalls of those that were expected to be the big names representing the red and white in pro football comes the opportunity for lesser known pros to step up to the plate however, and they certainly have. Looking around the league at performances from Week 8 shows plenty of NC State products making big plays at the highest level.

Germaine Pratt, linebacker, Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt has continued the solid level of play he showed a season ago in this year’s reloaded Bengals defense. Pratt has been playing some great football in one of the league’s most surprising units this year. Week 8’s matchup saw Cincinnati take on a New York Jets team quarterbacked by Mike White, who was appointed the starting spot due to an injury suffered by Zach Wilson in the Jets’ last game.

After beating a red-hot Ravens squad a week ago, many expected the Bengals to have no issues in handling a below average Jets team, but White and company proved everyone wrong with a statement victory over Cincinnati. Despite the loss, Pratt played yet another great game where he managed six total tackles as well as an interception. The 72nd overall pick in 2019 is having a great year with 39 total tackles, a forced fumble and recovery as well as the previously mentioned interception, and is on pace to continue being a leader in this promising defense.

Jakobi Meyers, wide receiver, New England Patriots

Despite being previously mentioned as an underperformer for Pack Pros this season, Patriots wideout Jakobi Meyers has been making the best out of his situation in New England. Quarterbacked by a rookie who has never been much of a threat with his downfield passing puts Meyers in a difficult position, but week in and week out he continues to make plays that matter.

In a Week 8 matchup against the Chargers, Meyers was pivotal in how the Patriots were able to walk away with a win against one of the NFL’s most promising young squads. His statline of four receptions for 37 yards doesn’t jump off the page in any way, but Meyers’ hands continue to be one of the most valuable assets for this growing New England team. One of his best plays from Sunday was a quick throw underneath from Mac Jones to earn the Pats a crucial first down late in the game.

James Smith-Williams, defensive end, Washington Football Team

One of the biggest disappointments of this NFL season so far has to be the lackluster performance from the highly praised Washington defense. In that disappointment, however, came the opportunity for Washington Football Team defensive end James Smith-Williams to see more of the field. In the Football Team’s Week 8 loss to the Denver Broncos, Smith-Williams accumulated three tackles and a sack in an ugly football game.

Smith-Williams’ road to more playing time isn’t clear cut, and there’s still plenty of time for the Washington defense to figure its issues out before the end of the year, but being able to get hands on an opposing quarterback is a quality pro football teams salivate over. If he can make these rare performances occur a little more often, Smith-Williams could become a more relevant piece in this young defensive core.

A.J. Cole III, punter, Las Vegas Raiders

Raiders punter A.J. Cole III has been one of, if not the best, punter in the league this season. Obviously for a punter to achieve that title requires an offense that stalls out often, and the Raiders have fit that mold pretty well up to this point. Cole’s 52.5 yards per punt is the league’s best and Cole falls within the top five in many major statistical categories for punters. While punting isn’t the most exciting part of the sport, Cole is one of the best at his job and continues to do the red-and-white proud.