Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.
Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
For the Wolfpack defense, the secondary has been the unit’s crown jewel in recent years, rightly or wrongly — something that’s about to change. As the team’s best coverage men like David Amerson and Earl Wolff depart, it’s an opportunity for the team to take a new focus not seen much since Mario Williams roamed the defensive line. We’re of course talking about an individual pass-rush guided by one standout defender. Enter: Cato-Bishop, the senior who could change all that.
After missing the first two games last season (rough outings for State, which went 1-1), Cato-Bishop returned in the third contest against South Alabama, and made his presence felt immediately. Leading a strong pass-rush, he racked up 1.5 sacks while pressuring Jaguars’ quarterbacks into quick throws and effectively shutting down the run game. Though the stat line doesn’t necessarily pop for the rest of the year, he still managed to record over a half-sack per game in the ensuing nine regular season contests, and make major strides in stuffing the run, too. But of course, there’s certainly room for improvement for Cato-Bishop, especially in terms of getting after the quarterback.
In 13 games, 455 passes were attempted against the Wolfpack, a group that at times took advantage of the fact (33 sacks as a team) and at others, did not (still allowed 249 passing yards per game). That’s where having an elite pass-rusher comes in, as the players on this version of NC State may not realize. When David Amerson was in the defensive backfield in 2011, teams tried to gameplan around him while others tested him. After watching a full season of game tape, teams realized how to challenge Amerson, and as a result, he got burned more often. Cato-Bishop, on the other hand, doesn’t the same gaudy film going into his final season, which can actually be a bonus for him.
Typically, the senior DE is characterized as “lacking athleticism,” but now’s as good a time as any to change that. At 278 pounds and 6’4″, he’s got the size to cause major havoc, but needs to increase his speed off the line (currently running a 40-yard dash around 4.89 seconds). If he can trim off 10 pounds and increase that speed, the only element left is just getting your hands into plays. Last year, he only deflected one pass all season, while forcing zero fumbles. NC State doesn’t need Cato-Bishop to be an all-world defender. But he has the opportunity in front of him to have a breakout senior season if he chooses to do so. For a team searching for a defensive identity, the Wolfpack’s waiting to see if he rises to the occasion.