State’s best college football players of last 10 years come from all over

NC State lands the most with seven players on NSJ’s All-Decade Team

Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor, pictured sacking Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson on 2017, has 43.5 tackles for loss in his Demon Deacons career. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

Plenty of talent moved through North Carolina schools during the 2010s. Over the span of the decade, area colleges had 105 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 11 first-rounders.

As we embark on the 2020s, it’s a good time to look back at the best from our state over the past 10 years. Here is the North State Journal’s North Carolina All-Decade Team for the 2010s.


Russell Wilson, NC State: There were quarterbacks who threw for more yards — including UNC’s Marquise Williams, Wake’s John Wolford and ECU’s Shane Carden. There were quarterbacks who were drafted higher, including Mitch Trubisky and Duke’s Daniel Jones. But Wilson was the one true star quarterback to come from the area. In his one NC State season from the decade, Wilson threw for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for another nine TDs.

Running backs

Tarik Cohen, NC A&T: Rushed for 5,619 yards and 56 touchdowns, including back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, on his way to a Pro Bowl NFL career.

Giovani Bernard, UNC: Had 3,400 yards from scrimmage in two seasons and scored 33 touchdowns, including one on UNC’s signature moment of the decade — the punt return to beat State.

The pair beat out a talented group that includes Charlotte’s Benny LeMay, UNC’s Elijah Hood, Wake’s Cade Carney and NC State’s Nyheim Hines.

All-Purpose Back

Jaylen Samuels, NC State: It’s become a catch-all position on all-conference teams, but Samuels is the epitome of the all-purpose back. The star of the Wolfpack offense, he was often hard to find on a depth chart, as he lined up as running back, tight end and out wide.

Wide receivers 

Jamison Crowder, Duke: The most prolific receiver in Duke history and the architect in the high-water moment of the decade for the Blue Devils — the game-winning catch to give them bowl eligibility against the Tar Heels in 2012.

Justin Hardy, ECU: Set the NCAA record with 387 catches. Also had 4,541 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns.

Brian Quick, App State: The best receiver in App State program history and a two-time All-American.

This might have been the toughest unit to call, with UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins, State’s Kelvin Harmon, Wake’s Sage Surratt, Greg Dortch and Michael Campanaro, and ECU’s Zay Jones and Dwayne Harris all making strong cases.

Tight end

Eric Ebron, UNC: Had 62 catches for 973 yards as a junior before getting selected 10th overall in the NFL Draft, where he’s developed into a Pro Bowler.

Offensive line

Center: Garrett Bradbury, NC State: Winner of the Rimington Award for top center in college. Gets the nod over Matt Skura and Lucas Crowley.

Guard: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The ACC male athlete of the year, Tomlinson went on to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Guard: Nate Davis, Charlotte: The second 49er ever selected in the NFL Draft. Gets the nod over standouts Jonathan Cooper, Landon Turner, Tony Adams and Phil Haynes.

Tackle: Kendall Lamm, App State: A two-time first-team All-conference — in different conferences — Lamm went on to a long NFL career.

Tackle: James Hurst, UNC: A freshman All-American and two-time first-team All-ACC. Beat out Joe Thuney and Charlie Heck for the spot.

Defensive line

End: Bradley Chubb, NC State: Winner of the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Ted Hendricks Award and the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

End: Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest: Had the third-best sack season in Wake Forest history and finished with 43.5 tackles for loss. Gets the spot ahead of Kareem Martin, Kentavius Street, Nate Harvey, Ronald Blair and Alex Highsmith.

Tackle: BJ Hill, NC State: Was the anchor of the NC State line that went to the NFL as a group in 2017.

Tackle: Sylvester Williams, UNC: Went from working in a radiator factory to walking on in community college to a first-round NFL Draft pick.


Nate Irving, NC State: Won the ACC’s Brian Piccolo courage award after coming back from a serious car accident to earn first-team All-America in 2010.

David Helton, Duke: The fifth player in ACC history to lead the league in tackles two straight years, racking up a total of 267 over those two seasons. Earns the spot over fellow Blue Devils Kelby Brown, Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris.

John Law, App State: A freshman All-American and two-time All-Conference player, earns the spot over Audie Cole, Cole Holcomb, Zeek Bigger and Marquel Lee.


Cornerback: Clifton Duck, App State: The first Mountaineer to declare early for the NFL Draft, he was freshman All-American, first-team All-Conference and is among the Sun Belt’s all-time leaders in pass defenses.

Cornerback: David Amerson, NC State: A tough competition for the final spot, Amerson slips in ahead of MJ Stewart, Kevin Johnson and Ross Cockrell on the strength of his ACC-record 13 interceptions in 2011.

Safety: Jeremy Cash, Duke: The only Blue Devil to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he was the lone Blue Devil to make first- or second-team All-America three straight years.

Safety: Josh Bush, Wake Forest: Another tough competition, but Bush’s first-team All-ACC and third-team All-America honors get him in past Earl Wolff, Tre Boston, Matt Daniels and Donnie Miles.

Special teams

Kicker: Ross Martin, Duke: The ACC’s second-place all-time leading scorer, Martin is also third in field goals made and the seventh most-accurate kicker in conference history. He also had eight field goals of 50 yards or more. Nick Sciba is a relatively close second for the spot.

Punter: Alexander Kinal, Wake Forest: Has the ACC and NCAA records for career punts and yardage, as well as the single-season yardage record. Sam Martin, AJ Cole and Will Monday were also in the running.

Return man: Ryan Switzer, UNC: One of the best punt returners in ACC history, as well as a dangerous deep threat at wide receiver, Switzer wins in a virtual toss-up with Nyheim Hines. Jamison Crowder, DeVon Edwards and TJ Graham also got consideration.