Linebacker Nate Irving, left, was a playmaker for the Wolfpack last season.
2010 numbers: He set a memorable FBS record of eight tackles for loss against Wake Forest. He led the team with 97 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss (second in the ACC) and 6.5 sacks. He also had seven quarterback pressures, three pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Previous ranking: Not ranked.
Making the case for Irving: After suffering serious injuries in a car crash that sidelined him for the entire 2009 season, Irving made a remarkable comeback last season. There’s no question he has made an impact during his career, as NC State was 18-8 with him in the lineup. He made game-changing plays like the fumble recovery that sealed the win against FSU, and he was a team captain and leader.