Back Ryan Finley Carrying on ACC QB Tradition

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Ryan Finley Carrying on ACC QB Tradition

By Dave Holcomb
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For N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley, the road to stardom has been much, much longer than normal.

Every quarterback usually takes a long and sometimes bumpy path to the NFL draft. For N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley, the road to stardom has been much, much longer than normal.

His college career began half a decade ago on the other side of the country at Boise State. Finley played in seven games for the Broncos during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but struggling to find a rhythm because of injuries, Finley found himself buried on the depth chart.

In 2018, he’s burying defensive backs every week.

The ACC features several great quarterbacks. The conference has more passers averaging at least 7.5 yards per attempt than the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12, and Finley is, by far, the best of the lot.

And this spring, he appears poised to continue the ACC’s recent run of quarterbacks going in the first round of the NFL draft.

Three years ago, Finley was the furthest thing from a first-round draft pick. When he was ready to transfer from Boise State, a better question was whether he would ever start another college game.

When his offensive coordinator at Boise State, Eliah Drinkwitz, left for N.C. State in 2016, Finley followed him. Drinkwitz convinced him the Wolfpack would give him a shot to start even though that proposition always appeared slim. According to ESPN, N.C. State viewed Finley as a stopgap -- to be a bridge to the next big-time Wolfpack quarterback recruit.

Three years later and Finley has become one of the best quarterbacks in N.C. State history.

As a junior last season, he completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 3,518 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. This year, his sixth college season, he’s improved across the board and is arguably the best quarterback in the ACC.

In 2018, he’s averaging an additional 1.2 yards per attempt than he did a year ago. His 2,250 passing yards, 8.5 yards per pass average, and 66.8 completion percentage are all the best in the ACC.

And he leads those categories despite one of his games getting cancelled because of Hurricane Florence.

At this pace, Finley will reach 3,500 passing yards again before the postseason, meaning he will just about match his 2017 total in only 11 games (he played 13 a year ago). He’s also due to surpass his 2017 touchdown total in the next couple of weeks.

With any luck, he’ll tie his passing touchdowns from a year ago this Saturday. Finley seemingly has a chance to do that because he just keeps getting better and better.

Last week against Syracuse, Finley had one of the best games of his career, posting a career-high 473 passing yards. It was his most efficient day since he needed just 29 throws to record 318 passing yards against Arizona State in the Sun Bowl to end last year.

But that is hardly his only great game of 2018.

Finley has been the model of consistency, throwing for more than 300 yards in five of N.C. State’s seven games this season. He’s averaged at least 8.0 yards per attempt in five contests as well.

His only poor performance came on the road against Clemson. He threw for just 156 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, and didn’t have a touchdown. Finley also threw two of his six interceptions of the season that day.

But given that Clemson remains undefeated with one of the best defenses in the country and is the three-time defending ACC champions, it’s probably alright to cut Finley some slack. No ACC offense has recorded more than 270 passing yards against the Tigers this season.

The draft experts have already forgotten about Finley’s performance two weeks ago against Clemson. Just about every NFL draft expert projects the N.C. State quarterback as a first-round talent. In the latest 2019 NFL Mock Draft from Sporting News, Finley just missed the top 10, coming off the board at No. 11.

A lot can still change between now and late April, but most experts predict Finley or Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will be the top signal caller in the 2019 draft with the other as No. 2. Should that remain true, that just about guarantees Finley will be a first-round pick.

There’s no denying the ACC is struggling as a conference this season. It’s arguably the weakest Power 5 conference in football. That’s reflected in the fact that ACC teams have combined to post a 3-9 record against Power 5 teams outside the ACC.

But in the eyes of the NFL, no conference is better at developing young quarterbacks. Since 2013, the ACC has produce six first-round quarterbacks, which is more than any other conference in the country.

Regardless of where this season may turn for N.C. State, Finley appears destined to be the seventh first-round ACC quarterback in the last seven years.