After a solid 2018, NC State’s James Smith-Williams looks ready for breakout 2019 season

He certainly isn’t new when it comes to things around NC State Football, but the 2019 season could prove to be a breakout year for James Smith-Williams. The graduate student, who has been with the program since 2015, interned with IBM last summer; a few months later, he received his degree in business supply chain management. (Shout-out to the Poole College of Management.)

A Raleigh kid, who played his prep ball locally at Millbrook High School, Smith-Williams — now wearing the famed No. 1 jersey — has appeared in 36 career games for the Wolfpack. During that time, he’s lined up with some excellent front seven defensive players, like Bradley Chubb, BJ Hill and Germaine Pratt. However, now could be his time to be featured as a star.

Smith-Williams served as a reserve player on NC State’s stacked 2017 defensive line; he recorded 1.5 tackles for loss while also playing on special teams. Before the start of his redshirt junior season in 2018, though, Smith-Williams looked like he was on the verge of becoming more than a bit player. That proved to be the case, too.


Junior season stats

In 12 games, Smith-Williams collected 9.5 tackles for loss, which tied for 24th in the ACC. He also recorded six sacks — 12th most in the conference. When it comes athletic feats, Smith-Williams has truly made himself into a special player.

A speedster who can fly off the edge and beat a ground-bound tackle, Smith-Williams has the strength to power his way to the quarterback, too.

Smith-Williams also broke up two passes last season and forced a fumble. Louisville’s offensive line wasn’t exactly great in the 2018 season — in fact, the Cardinals were quite bad (3.6 sacks allowed per game) — but watch Smith-Williams get to quarterback Malik Cunningham on this stunt for a strip sack.

With Larrell Murchison (four sacks) and Alim McNeill (5.5 tackles for loss) holding down the interior, Smith-Williams looks to headline another powerful defensive line in Raleigh.


D-Line: New talent gets added to the mix

While Murchison and McNeill are emerging talents at defensive tackle, NC State added two more 4-star tackles in its 2019 class. They are just freshmen, but CJ Clark and Joshua Harris look like future NFL prospects, too.

There’s also plenty of talent along with Smith-Williams at defensive end as well. Ibrahaim Kante (3.5 tackles for loss) has added serious weight since arriving in Raleigh; he looks like a player on the rise. The same could be said for Xavier Lyas, a redshirt sophomore who bagged 2.5 sacks in 2018. Deonte Holden, back for his sixth season at NC State, provides experience (9.5 tackles for loss in 2018) next to Smith-Williams.

The top prospect in NC State’s 2019 class — 4-star defensive end Savion Jackson — is young, but at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds is ready to make an impact. As a senior at Clayton High School, Jackson recorded 70 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

It’s way too early to compare NC State’s 2019 defensive line to the program’s 2017 line. Led by Chubb, NC State’s line ranked sixth nationally in Havoc Rate (8.2 percent), per Football Study Hall. That year, the Wolfpack also averaged 2.3 sacks per game. (In 2018, that number jumped to 2.6 sacks per game, though.)


More Numbers for James Smith-Williams

In terms of returning defensive players for NC State, no one accounted for a larger percentage of the team’s Havoc plays in 2018 than Smith-Williams. According to Bill Connelly’s data (now at ESPN, which is very cool!), Smith-Williams produced eight percent of NC State’s Havoc plays last season. However, Murchison isn’t too far behind at 7.1 percent.

(Havoc plays are those in which a defense records a tackle for loss, forces a fumble or defenses a pass — intercepted or broken up.)

Smith-Williams posted an individual success rate allowed of just 17 percent and a marginal efficiency of -25 percent, per Connelly. Back during the 2017 season, Chubb posted a success rate of 20.5 percent. Those are numbers that are on par with several of the nation’s top pass rushers from a season ago.

  • Brian Burns, FSU: 22.2 percent success rate, -18.4 percent marginal efficiency
  • Clelin Ferrell, Clemson: 19.3 percent success rate, -22.2 percent marginal efficiency
  • Austin Bryant, Clemson: 19.7 percent success rate, -23.8 percent marginal efficiency
  • Montez Sweat, Miss State: 22.5 percent success rate, -16.5 percent marginal efficiency

According to Connelly’s numbers, Smith-Williams finished second on NC State’s roster last season with 11 run stuffs. (Pratt was tops on the roster with 11.5.) Run stuffs are tackles behind or at the line of scrimmage.

On the offensive side of the ball, NC State must deal with high turnover in 2019; however, there’s a lot to like in terms of returning defensive talent. Smith-Williams and his teammates will need to do some heavy lifting before the offensive can get online.


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