DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE PART 8: LINEBACKERS
DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cut Line: 4 players
2014: Cut Grade A True Grade B+
2015: Cut Grade A True Grade B
2016: Cut Grade A True Grade B/B+
2017: Cut Grade A True Grade B
Welcome to the crown jewel of the Northwestern program, the Linebackers. 8-10 players just oozing class from every pore. A group of players who were led prior to 2018 by perhaps the greatest position coach Northwestern has ever had: Randy Bates.
We set the cut line at 4 players here. You could certainly argue that Northwestern plays more backers than that over the course of a year, but understand that 4 players often represents half of the total linebackers on scholarship. If we set the cut-line for any other position at “half of the total players”, positions like running back, offensive line, and secondary would see their ratings devastated. But if we had wanted to go crazy and make the cutline 5 players–which would often mean more players were above the cutline for linebacker than below it–it wouldn’t have really affected the grade much. Bates just put too many thoroughbreds in the stable.
Consider this: We gave Blake Gallagher–he of 127 tackles this season–an A-. (This grade may very well go up). In the 2016 window, a A- puts Gallagher BELOW THE CUTLINE.
Above the cutline?
Anthony Walker, Paddy Fisher, Nate Hall, and Joe Jones.
If you want to be the sourpuss arguing that Jones doesn’t deserve his A because he was never a full-time starter, we don’t know what to tell you. The guy had 1 scholarship offer. He picked up 70 tackles and 6.5 TFL as a reserve on an awesome unit, and he’s now a Denver Bronco.
The better argument is whether Hall and Fisher deserve A+s instead of As. Look, we didn’t want to run wild here. But if anyone who didn’t get the top mark has an argument, it’s Hall. 2-star recruit at wide receiver. Offers from Pitt and 5 MAC schools. Ends his career with…
30.5 Tackles for Loss.
As for Paddy…he’s on pace for 450 career tackles. So there’s that.
It’s probably going to be hard to keep Fisher away from the top mark is he keeps this up. We haven’t given it to him yet because although he was a mid-3 star recruit, he was certainly a known commodity (as part of the “Katy Triplets”) with offers from Washington and Wisconsin. He was supposed to be good…just not THIS good.
Which brings us to Anthony Walker.
The list of most successful NFL players Northwestern has produced in the past 20 years probably looks like this: Zach Strief, Luis Castillo, Barry Cofield, Napoleon Harris, Kevin Bentley, Sherrick Mcmanis. Walker is in his second year in the league, and he has more tackles this season than Bentley had in any season of his career, and more than Harris had in any season except his 2007 season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Since the Indianapolis Colts are still in the playoffs as of posting, Walker is almost certainly going to fly by that season as well. By some metrics, Walker is currently one of the top 25 players at his position in the NFL right now.
None of us are surprised by this. Walker was an All-American and multiyear All Big Ten selection. He’s most likely the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker the Cats have ever had, and, um, we had another guy who was pretty good at linebacker once. What was Walker’s recruiting profile coming out of high school? Well, he’s from Florida. One Florida college offered him a scholarship: Florida International.
So yeah, that’s an A+.
You know what’s funny about Bates’ tenure at Northwestern? Of all of the stars he minted from 2010-2017, there was really only one bonafide major recruit: Chi Chi Ariguzo, who had Stanford and Wisconsin offers among many others back in 2010. Walker, Gallagher, Hall, and Jones could have all been had by any major program that came calling. But those programs didn’t see what Bates saw, and they might not have developed those players like Bates did.
As for the other names we haven’t mentioned already, there aren’t actually that many. Remember, there are only 8-10 backers on scholarship in a given year. But we could throw out Brett Walsh as an example of a non-starring Bates disciple. Walsh finished his career with 107 tackles. He had six scholarship offers coming out of high school, and two of them were South Dakota and South Dakota State. There have also been a handful of misses along the way, but I think we can give Bates a break for not turning ALL of his players in As or A+s.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s fitting that Linebacker would be the top position group at a program led by one of the greatest NCAA linebackers of all time. But Pat Fitzgerald was not the man presiding over this unit for the past decade. That man was Randy Bates.
Bates, of course, is at Pitt now. In his place is another former star NU Linebacker, Tim McGarigle. Suffice to say that McGarigle has massive shoes to fill. But with a several big recruits waiting in the wings and an awesome group of players already out on the field, McGarigle has a lot to work with.