When the 2006 NFL draft ended this past April, NC State had sailed into uncharted draft territory when the Pack boasted three first round selections and six total picks overall. Those numbers were easily the best ever for the Wolfpack. And while State's dynamic, defensive line trio of Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo deservedly garnered the lion's share of draft day coverage, it has been at defensive back where the Pack has quietly built a steady, solid pipeline to the NFL.
Since 1999, the Wolfpack has had a total of seven defensive backs drafted with four of those playing under current head coach Chuck Amato. Consider that during the 17 years prior to that period, only 11 defensive backs were drafted out of NC State. In fact, the draft hasn't told the whole story as far as DB's are concerned for the Pack. While Amato has had four of his players drafted at defensive back, there are currently seven DB's who played under Amato that currently reside on NFL rosters. Perhaps even more impressive is that during Amato's tenure, every single cornerback or safety that started during their final season at NC State is currently on an NFL roster, minus one (Troy Graham).
One constant under Amato has been the ability to identify talent and then make sure that potential is plugged into the right spot. Dovonte Edward proved to be a prime example. He came to NC State as one of the state's top ten prospects and most highly rated wide receivers. After spending his first two seasons at State playing wide-out, Edwards was asked to make the move to cornerback as a junior. While he spent 2003 learning the position in 2003, 2004 proved to be a breakout year as he tallied 40 tackles, seven pass breakups and a team-leading three interceptions.
Although he went undrafted in 2005, Edwards signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings and worked his way into the DB rotation during nickel and dime situations. His shining moment last season came when he intercepted Green Bay QB Brett Favre during a Monday night game, returning it 51 yards for a touchdown. That return proved to be the longest for any rookie during the 2005 season. He finished off his inaugural season in the NFL by playing in 12 games and registering 17 tackles and two pass breakups.
Another trait Amato has shown is the ability to spot talent largely overlooked by other colleges and then develop it into an NFL-caliber player.
Andre Maddox arrived at NC State from Killian High School in Miami, Fla. He had no other major division one scholarship offers, yet NC State offered him during the summer prior to his senior year and stayed on him relentlessly until he signed with the Pack in 2001. It didn't take long for Maddox to become a major part of the Wolfpack defense as he tallied a whopping 126 tackles as a sophomore. He was named all-ACC in 2003 and finished his career with 324 tackles and eight sacks.
During the 2005 draft, the NY Jets selected Maddox in the fifth round. A virtual unknown entering college, Maddox had played his way right into the NFL. Although he injured a knee during training camp as a rookie and ultimately missed the 2005 season, Maddox will look to rebound in 2006 and fight for a spot on the Jets' depth chart this year.
The pipeline certainly has the potential to continue in 2007. Senior Rover Garland Heath snagged four interceptions in 2005 en route to all-conference honorable mention and he looks to be one of the ACC's premier defensive backs this season.
AJ Davis came to NC State as one of the nation's most coveted CB's. His career suffered an early setback when he broke his ankle as a freshman. However, Davis played some of his best football in a Wolfpack uniform during the final four games of the 2005 season when he tallied better than half (27) of his season's tackle total (53). Many think 2006 could prove to be a breakout year for the senior.
Should Heath and Davis show the growth displayed by the defensive backs before them over the last half dozen years under Amato, then look for the Wolfpack DB fraternity to grow when the draft rolls around in 2007.
NC State defensive backs in the NFL
Andre Maddox...NY Jets