Closer Look: Pack NFL Players Make Their Mark

With the 2006 NFL regular season ending this week, Pack Pride takes a look at how five former NC State players have fared this season. Three of them, Torry Holt, Philip Rivers, and Adrian Wilson, have been selected to play in this year's Pro Bowl because of their stellar play.

Torry Holt
The St. Louis Rams have been struggling since the 2003 season in which they posted a 12-4 mark. One of the few constants has been Torry Holt, who continues to put up some of the best numbers in the league at wide receiver. On the year Holt has caught 84 passes for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers have landed him in the Pro Bowl for the sixth time in his career.

Holt's best game of the season came in Week Six against the Seattle Seahawks. In that game he caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Holt had more than 100 receiving yards in four games this year. His touchdowns have declined in the second half of the season.

Rams' quarterback Marc Bulger is having a career year, which has helped the entire St. Louis offense. While most receivers in the league would be thrilled to post the statistics Holt did this year, amazingly, the former All-American from NC State is on track to have fewer receiving yards in 2006 than in any season since his rookie year. That is a testament to what he has accomplished since being drafted in 1999.

Philip Rivers
It has now been three seasons since Philip Rivers was taken fourth in the NFL Draft by the New York Giants, only to be traded to San Diego on the same day. After spending two years behind current Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, Rivers has emerged as one of the NFL's top passers in his first season as a starter.

Philip Rivers

Rivers has had the luxury of handing the ball off to LaDainian Tomlinson, but he has been very efficient when the Chargers have put the ball in the air.

Through 15 games in 2006, Rivers has completed 60.8-percent of his passes for 3,157 yards, with a touchdown to interception ratio of 20-8. He has not thrown the ball as much as the league's top passers, but ranks eighth in the NFL in passing efficiency. Tight end Antonio Gates is Rivers' favorite target with 67 catches for 868 yards and eight touchdowns, but the former NC State quarterback has distributed the ball to a wide array of targets, including Tomlinson and wide receivers Eric Parker, Vincent Jackson and Keenan McCardell.

Rivers has earned a Pro Bowl appearance in his first season as a starter. His career game to this point came in a Week Ten shootout against Cincinnati. The Chargers won that game 49-41, with Rivers throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

Adrian Wilson
Arizona Cardinals' safety Adrian Wilson has been a solid contributor since entering the NFL in 2001, but this year Wilson earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

The Cardinals did not match the lofty preseason expectations laid on their shoulders by national pundits, but Wilson was a constant and anchored the Arizona defense. On the year he has recorded 79 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions. He has continued to show a willingness to help in run support and is a feared hitter in the secondary. Wilson has improved in coverage and now has 14 career interceptions.

In an early season loss at Atlanta, Wilson scored the Cardinals' only touchdown of the game in a 32-10 loss – a 99 yard interception return for a touchdown. Wilson's best game of the year, however, undoubtedly came in the second game of the season at Seattle. In that contest Wilson had seven tackles, two sacks and an interception.

This season Wilson became the only player in NFL history to have two returns of 99-yards or more with neither being a kickoff or punt return.

Jerricho Cotchery
Prior to the 2006 season, Cotchery had shown signs of what he was capable of to the New York Jets' organization. It's hard to believe that anyone expected what Cotchery has accomplished this year.

Jerricho Cotchery

Through 15 games the former Pack receiver has caught 75 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns. Prior to this season Cotchery had a combined 25 catches for just more than 300 yards in his career.

One of the most remarkable plays of the year in the NFL must be credited to Cotchery. In Week Two against the New England Patriots, with the Jets trailing 24-0, quarterback Chad Pennington connected with Cotchery on a deep pass down right sideline. Upon catching the ball, he was drilled by Patriots' defensive back Chad Scott and fell on another New England player. Cotchery had the awareness to jump up, knowing only his hand had touched the ground, and raced to the endzone for a 71-yard touchdown reception. The Jets would lose 24-17, but that play will be watched by NFL fans for years to come.

Cotchery has been complimented by former Florida State receiver Laveranues Coles, who has posted similar numbers.

Mario Williams
Few players have been under the microscope in 2006 as much as Houston Texans' rookie defensive end Mario Williams. Williams, who had 14.5 sacks for NC State in 2005, was drafted ahead of USC's Reggie Bush amidst much national debate.

Williams has made 45 tackles with 4.5 sacks in his rookie season. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, demonstrating remarkable speed and athleticism for a 6-6, 290-pound lineman. His best period of football came in the month of October. During that four game stretch in which the Texans went 2-2, Williams had 14 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

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