DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE PART 7: DEFENSIVE LINE
DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cut Line: 7 players
2014: Cut Grade B/B+ True Grade B-/C+
2015: Cut Grade B+/A- True Grade B-/C+
2016: Cut Grade B+/A- True Grade B/B-
2017: Cut Grade B+ True Grade B/B+
As the kids would say, DAT TRUE GRADE THO.
Our true grade rankings don’t account for the fact that some positions have more players than others. In most seasons, Northwestern has 12 defensive linemen on scholarship. That means over all four of our windows, the AVERAGE Northwestern defensive lineman graded out at a B-. In 2017, a unit 12-guys deep graded out at B/B+. This is flipping nuts.
Northwestern won the Big Ten West this year mainly because of its defensive front 7. We could quibble position by position, game by game, but you know and we know that this is basically true. That front 7 starts with a front 4 that for years has a had a clear identity and awesome depth.
Northwestern doesn’t get sacks. We all know this. This isn’t a failure of coaching or recruiting. It’s a choice. We recruit a type of defensive lineman, and Marty Long’s unit is designed to collapse the pocket and control the line of scrimmage. Our line rattles lesser quarterbacks and shuts down rushing attacks.
The first 2 years of the 2014 window (2010/2011) were actually a little disappointing. There were several players with major recruiting profiles who developed minimally or not at all. The highlight of this period was probably Will Hampton, a very major recruit who developed into a decent though injury-plagued tackle.
Then comes 2012. Maybe the greatest defensive line class in Northwestern history. The 2012 class is so good that it features a major recruiting miss and it is STILL the best class ever. Why? Ifeadi Odenigbo and Dean Lowry. This duo is so ridiculous that Ifeadi is our all-time sack king, and Lowry was probably the better Wildcat. They are both currently being paid to play football.
The following two years were a little leaner on the recruiting front…except that 2013 brought us Tyler Lancaster. As we mentioned in our introduction, Rivals had Lancaster rated very highly, because, I mean, look at the guy. But for whatever reason (raw player, small high school, etc.) Big Lanny didn’t have many offers. Long made him into a offensive line vacuum.
And then we come to 2015, a.k.a “The Defensive Line class that is mad we called 2012 maybe the best class ever.” Joe Gaziano, Trent Goens, Jordan Thompson. GazTown just may have Ifeadi’s sack record when everything is said and done. The fact that Goens hasn’t technically been a starter up to this point tells you about everything you need to know about our D-Line. One interesting thing to remember: Thompson was a MAJOR recruit. He had an Alabama offer among many others. So a real Debbie Downer might say he didn’t quite live up to his billing. Except we’ll call BS, because Thompson was a very good DT who was Pro Football Focus’ top-graded lineman in the Big Ten against the run as a senior.
2016 and 2017 brought us the Miller Brothers and Ernest Brown. So…yeah.
If we’re picking nits, we would circle back to the whole “no sacks” thing. Sacks are very useful and very fun. Northwestern hasn’t exactly had a true edge rushing terror, a pin-your-ears-back third down stud. We say “exactly” because…sigh…we had one, except when we didn’t.
Ifeadi earned an A- from us. He is, BY FAR, the biggest recruit in Northwestern history. Too many traditional-football-power offers to count. Two sacks in the Under Armour All America Game. Finished his career with an NU-record 23.5 sacks, highlighted by 10 as a senior. But we will forever wonder how the same guy who looked at 6’8’’, 330-pound Wisconsin tackle and Future NFL Pro Rob Havenstein and said “I’m going to spend an entire game Kalima-ing your soul out of your body” had 8 combined sacks as a sophomore and junior. Ifeadi had 3 CAREER tackles for loss that weren’t sacks. We loved him dearly for his entire 4-year career. He made our hearts race on every 3rd down. We root like crazy for him in the NFL, and we wonder what might have been.