NC State QB Devin Leary is No Longer a Product of “Small Sample Syndrome”

In 2020, Devin Leary emerged as the starting quarterback for an NC State team with low media expectations. After coming in relief in a loss to Virginia Tech, he won each of his three starts, before suffering a season-ending injury. During that span, Leary impressed mightily, accounting for a 14:5 big time throw to turnover worthy play ratio, and averaging 8.1 yards per attempt.

While I was intrigued by what I saw, I was not fully invested in calling him a great quarterback, because he only played a fraction of a season. I would not have been surprised if he came back down to earth when the 2021 season kicked off.

However, the former 4-star recruit once again proved me wrong, sustaining his production through the first portion of this season. Now that Leary has thrived through eight weeks, it is time to respect him for the quarterback he really is.

Efficient All-Around

Completion percentage is a misleading stat on its own. Even if you adjust it to factor out drops, it does not truly show how much a quarterback is pushing the ball downfield.

Let’s take the infamous 2020 Chase Brice at Duke, for example.

This is obviously an extreme example but the larger point is that you need to put these statistics into context. That’s why I like ADOT, average depth of target.

In 2020, he kept a completion percentage above 60% while having the highest ADOT in the conference. This year, Leary remains top five in the ACC in both measures.

You may see his 7.5 yards per attempt as mediocre, but it is impressive when you consider that the Pack have lacked production after the catch.

Thriving Under Pressure

Another aspect of a quarterback’s game that often gets lost is their pocket presence. Sacks are a quarterback stat in addition to an offensive line stat. They are drive killers.

The NC State offensive line has done a decent job protecting Leary, especially this season in which he has been pressured on just 24.1% of drop backs (2nd least in ACC).

But this stat is also true because he is getting the ball out quickly. And when Leary happens to take sacks, it’s usually because of some breakdown in front of him.

Average Time Before Throw ACC Rank Average Time Before Sack ACC Rank
2020 2.47 6th 3.24 2nd
2021 2.40 3rd 2.98 2nd


Even if we compare Leary to North Carolina’s Sam Howell, who is commonly regarded as a top NFL draft prospect — on just passes, Howell is much better, but if you take this into consideration, the competition is a lot closer.

Ball Security

Without turnovers, we would have very few big plays. That is why once again we need context. Leary does have a few interceptions in his career, but they are mostly calculated risks.

While Leary has played just four games in each season, he is the only ACC quarterback over the 2020-2021 span to have a big time throw rate above 10% and a turnover worthy play rate below 2.5%.

Plus, with the exception of the 2021 Clemson game (let’s rule that one an outlier because you don’t play a defense like that very often), for every game that Leary has had a turnover worthy play, he has had at least four big time throws.

The Bottom Line

It is time to start including Leary in the conversation of the conference’s top QBs. He now succeeded for a significant period of time and his performance is indeed sustainable.