Wolfpack Football 2020: Top Three Position Groups

Brett Friedlander

Any coach worth his or her salt will tell you that in order for a team to reach its maximum potential, its best players need to play their best.

So who are those players on the NC State football team for 2020?

As the starting quarterback, Devin Leary would naturally be penciled in at or near the top of the list. But as far as the best position groups are concerned, here are the three that will go a long way toward determining how well the Wolfpack bounces back from last season's 4-8 disappointment:

Linebackers 

This is by far the deepest, most talented position group on the roster, which is a big reason why defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will employ a scheme what will line up with four and sometimes five linebackers on the field at the same time.

It's a diverse group that goes at least six deep, if not more, and features a diverse array of skill sets and strengths.

Junior Isaiah Moore has emerged as a leader of the group both because of his play -- his 53 tackles ranked third on the team last season -- and his off-the-field work with the #PackUnited movement for social justice this summer.

Fellow junior Louis Acceus is also a proven contributor who recorded 50 tackles and was third on the team with 4.5 sacks despite missing the final four games because of injury.

Sophomores Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas are poised for breakout seasons after solid rookie campaigns while C.J. Hart and Jaylon Scott also saw extensive game action. Wilson, despite starting only one game in 2019, still led the team in tackles with 69 and had an interception against UNC.

The wildcard in the deck is junior Levi Jones, a transfer from Southern Cal with NFL bloodlines. His father Robert played linebacker in three Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys and his brother Zay, a receiver who went to East Carolina, is currently with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Running backs

The Wolfpack's running backs room might be the most underrated in the ACC, with three experienced ball carriers ready and able to carry the load this season.

The most electric of the trio of sophomore Zonovan Knight, who rushed for a team-leading 745 yards and five touchdowns last season despite being banged up over the final five games. The big-play threat known as "Bam" showed his potential with a 53-yard touchdown burst against Clemson.

Complementing Knight's explosiveness is classmate Jordan Houston, who in addition to rushing for 526 yards and a pair of scores, also proved to be State's top receiving threat out of the backfield with 15 catches.

The best all-around back in the stable could be junior Ricky Person, who has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two years with the Wolfpack, but has yet to make it through a full season without missing games to injury.

Adding to the mix are two solidly built backs who could fill the role of a short yardage/goal line specialist -- sophomore 6-2, 224-pound sophomore Trent Pennix and 5-11, 222-pound Delbert Mimms III.

If new offensive coordinator Tim Beck can find a way to utilize all those assets and establish a consistent ground attack, it can take considerable pressure off Leary and aid in the improvement of the Wolfpack's passing game.

Special teams

The Wolfpack has the potential to have three All-ACC performers on special teams this season.

Placekicker Christopher Dunn has been almost automatic through his first two college seasons. Last season, he converted 21 of 24 field goal attempts for an .875 percentage that ranks second in the ACC and ninth nationally.

A legitimate candidate to join Mark Primanti in 1996 as a winner of the Lou Groza Award as the country's best kicker, Dunn comes into the new season having made his last 11 attempts.

Punter Trenton Gill is also a preseason award watch list selection, earning mention as a Ray Guy Award candidate after leading the ACC and ranking No. 4 nationally with a school-record average of 47.6 yards per kick.

Thayer Thomas, meanwhile, earned first-team preseason All-ACC recognition as a punt returner on Phil Steele’s preseason All-ACC team after averaging 13.7 yards per return, third-best in the ACC and the seventh-best single season mark in school history.

The former walkon had a 76-yarder for a touchdown in a 34-23 win against Ball State at Carter-Finley Stadium and is as dangerous a weapon as much on special teams as he is as one of State's most reliable receivers on offense.

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