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Northwestern Football Recruiting Update: A Look Back And A Look Forward

13 months ago, we published This Post looking at Northwestern’s recruitment of 4-Star players.  With a potentially seismic 2020 recruiting class on the horizon, we wanted to revisit last year’s piece and also take a look into the near future.


We encourage you do go back and read over last year’s post to see the finer points of our analysis, but to sum things up:  After examining the stats, we realized that there are several positive indicators relative to our chances of landing the 4-star recruits Northwestern offers scholarships to.


Basically, it is almost always a good thing if a 4-star recruit :


1.Is from the state of Illinois.

2.Also holds a Notre Dame offer–PROVIDED that recruit is from the Midwest and does not attend a Catholic High School. 

3.Also holds a Stanford offer–PROVIDED that recruit is not from a warm-weather state.   


Lording over all possible scenarios is


4.The “Sweet Spot” recruit:  The unicorn who checks every box:  From the State of Illinois; Notre Dame offer/Stanford offer/Both; attends a public high school.


After we conducted our analysis, we then tried to apply it to the crop of 4-star recruits in the Class of 2019 who Northwestern was pursuing.  Let’s revisit these athletes now, juxtaposing what we said at the time with what actually happened.






CATEGORY 4: “Sweet Spot” Players


There were no “Sweet Spot” players in the 2019 class.  This is certainly not unusual.  However, it makes the 2019 class look SLIGHTLY different from the 2020 class…



CATEGORY 1: 4-Star recruits in the state of Illinois.


Trevor Keegan

What we said at the time: 

Keegan holds neither a Notre Dame offer nor a Stanford offer.  Neither, however, did Devin O’Rourke.  Northwestern’s in-state profile has never been better.  Lord knows we could use a 4-star offensive lineman!  Here’s hoping our 20% chance of landing Keegan comes up roses!




As Keegan’s recruiting progressed, it never really felt as though Northwestern was in the game.  Several monster programs came calling, and Keegan ultimately signed with the Wolverines.  As indicated above, we had projected a 20% chance of landing Keegan, so this was disappointing, but not surprising.



CATEGORY 3 :  4-star recruits with Stanford Offers who are from cold-weather states.


There was a single Category 3 player in the 2019 class, but it made more sense at the time to add him to the Category 2 list, which we will do again here




CATEGORY 2:  4-star recruits with Notre Dame offers who attend public schools in the Midwest.


Zeke Correll

What we said at the time:  Correll holds a Notre Dame offer along with his NU offer. He also hails from a city, Cincinnati, that Northwestern has recruited well.




Correll actually picked up a Stanford offer after we published our piece.  Like Keegan, this one stings because we missed out on another major recruit at a position of need.  Still, the fact that Correll signed with Notre Dame matches up nicely with our model.  A player who considers Notre Dame is often also seriously considering Northwestern.



Quinn Carroll

What we said at the time:  This kid is a major recruit teetering on 5 star status.  He holds a slew of offers, but that group includes both Northwestern and Notre Dame.  




Frankly, Carroll was a Monster get for the Irish, who put together a phenomenal offensive line class in 2019.  Notre Dame beat out most of the top programs in the country for Carroll.  Still, the fact that Notre Dame landed Carroll speaks to the exact ceiling Northwestern is trying to reach:  Carroll stayed in the Midwest and pursued a high-quality education along with top-flight football over offers from Alabama, USC, LSU, and dozens of others.  These factors are exactly why a Notre Dame offer is a positive indicator for the ‘Cats: Very often, a player from a Midwest public school with either a Notre Dame or Northwestern offer picks one of the two regardless of his other offers.  25% of the time in the past 15 years, that player has picked Northwestern.



David Bell

What we said at the time:  We’ll throw Bell on the list as well, even though he’s more of a stretch, since he hails from Indiana.




Northwestern has been understandably less successful with Category 2 players if they hail from Notre Dame’s home state of Indiana, so we had lower expectations here.  Ultimately, though, Bell picked neither the Irish nor the ‘Cats.  However, since the Boilermakers were obviously dreaming of a future Hunter Johnson/Bell combination, earning the split in this regard seems like a win for Northwestern.



Zach Harrison

What we said at the time: Harrison is the most fascinating case to examine.  He plays Defensive End, attends a public high school, hails from Ohio, and fit into either Category 2 or Category 3, holding Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford offers.


In other words, Harrison looks like a better version of Ifeadi Odenigbo.  Add to that the fact that Northwestern has been recruiting defensive linemen very successfully lately, and you can start trying to talk yourself into things like “A 5-Star recruit who lives 20 miles away from the Horseshoe is going to attend a college other than Ohio State”.  Yeah…that sounds like a stretch.




All Hail the amazing psychic powers of the West Lot Pirates!  We told you that guy who could practically see The Horseshoe from his house and took roughly 500 visits to OSU would sign with the Buckeyes…and miraculously, it happened!

Yeah…geography was always working against us on this one.  We do firmly believe, however, that had Harrison not been SO close to the Ohio State campus, we would have been more in the game.  Harrison supposedly considered Penn state and Michigan, but that felt like more of a formality than anything.  He was a born Buckeye.




The sensible yet idealistic thing to do is take all 4 players in Category 2 as a group.  Stats indicate a likelihood that one of them will sign with Notre Dame/Northwestern.  If that player exists, there’s about a 1 in 4 chance that he becomes a Wildcat!




Two of the four Category 2 players did, indeed, sign with either Notre Dame or Northwestern.  According to our model (and it’s admittedly small sample size) we had a 43.8% of landing either Correll OR Carroll.  We were in the game!  We just didn’t get the win.


But there’s no time to lick our wounds! Bigger things are on the horizon!






To say that the 2020 Recruiting crop is more favorable to Northwestern than the 2019 crop is putting it EXTREMELY mildly.  There has probably never been a class more loaded with elite recruits who–based on the positive indicators we have identified–would have very solid reasons for choosing the Wildcats.


As we did last year, we’re going to break these 4-star recruits down by the four categories we have identified as most reliably turning a potential 4-star Wildcat into an actual 4-star Wildcat.  As always, we are using the prospect rating system for our analysis.


*Note:  For what it’s worth, Rivals’ highest rated THREE star recruit with a Northwestern offer, Cam Porter, has already signed with the ‘Cats.



CATEGORY 1: 4-Star recruits in the state of Illinois.


We’re not putting anyone into Category 1 right now, and there is a very good reason why.  Moving on…



CATEGORY 2:  4-star recruits with Notre Dame offers who attend public schools in the Midwest.



Makari Paige

Northwestern is absolutely in the running for Paige.  He attends West Bloomfield High School in Michigan, and though he holds Notre Dame, Michigan, and Michigan State offers, no clear front-runner has emerged yet.  Northwestern has a history of recruiting Michigan well, and more importantly, we have a strong history of recruiting big-time safeties.  Definitely keep an eye on Paige.



Zak Zinter

This is a fascinating one.  Our friend Louie Vaccher has an article up on Zinter at WildcatReport right now,  and with good reason.  Zinter holds both Notre Dame and Northwestern offers, and though he’s not from the Midwest and does not attend a public school, there are major asterisks next to both of these exceptions.


First of all, Zinter hails from Massachusetts.  The argument can honestly be made that no one is recruiting the state of Massachusetts better right now than Northwestern is.  Second, Zinter’s school may be private, but it isn’t Catholic.  It’s…what is it, exactly?  “Buckingham Browne & Nichols School…is an independent, co-educational day school in Cambridge, Massachusetts educating students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.”  Thanks, Wikipedia.  If we need any more details about BB&N, we could ask former Wildcat tackle Eric Olsen, who also attended the school.


The bottom line is that Northwestern has a real “in” here, at least as much as Notre Dame does.  Zinter presents a major opportunity for Northwestern to land an impact offensive tackle.



Michael Drennan II


The main problem for NU relative to Drennen II is that recruiting one of the Top 5 All-Purpose Backs in the nation takes serious, serious effort.  Drennen II is from Ohio, and we would be going up against both OSU and Notre Dame, among many others, for his services.  This, however, isn’t the problem.


The problem is this:  Drennen II may be one of the top-5 APBs in the nation…but he ISN’T the highest rated APB Northwestern is chasing.  There is another massive fish in these waters for the ‘Cats, and NU is going to be devoting so much effort to landing that player that it’s going to be extremely hard to target another high-caliber player at the same position.  More on this in a bit.



Jay Hardy


This one is a bit of a stretch, though not impossible.  Hardy is from Tennessee, which is more South than Midwest.  He’s also a monster DE recruit with a slew of offers including Alabama and LSU.  Furthermore, though Hardy’s high school isn’t Catholic, it is private.


Still, Hardy qualifies as a fringe candidate for both Category 2 AND Category 3, holding offers from both Notre Dame and Stanford.  In other words, if Northwestern is talking, Hardy’s family is listening.  We’ll see if NU gets in the game here at a position we are recruiting fantastically right now.



CATEGORY 3 :  4-star recruits with Stanford Offers who are from cold-weather states.



Ayden Hector

Hector is weird case to consider relative to Category 3, one that our model hasn’t had to deal with yet.  Yes, he has both Northwestern and Stanford offers, and yes, he’s from a cold-weather state.  The problem is, that cold weather state is Washington.  So we can assume that the Cardinal have a big advantage geographically on this one.  Still, though Hector holds offers from pretty much the entire Pac-12, no one seems to have a clue which way he’s leaning yet.  We’ll see if any future list-trimming vaults NU into contention here.



Lukas Ungar


Remember the last time Northwestern went head-to-head with Stanford for a 4-star Superback in the state of New Jersey?  Allow us to remind you.


Rivals seems to feel that Ungar is leaning Stanford, but remember, Northwestern beats Stanford 50% of the time on cold-weather recruits.  If anything, the worrisome opponent here is Penn State, where Ungar has already taken several visits.



Kalel Mullings

We have a good feeling on this one.


Mullings would have been a fringe Category 2 guy thanks to his ND offer and non-Catholic high school.  He’s a blue-chip Category 3 guy:  He has a Stanford offer, and he hails from the EXTREMELY fertile Wildcat recruiting ground of Massachusetts.


Let’s put it this way.  Mullings is the best linebacker from his state in the class of 2020.  The best linebackers from the state of Massachusetts in the 2017 and 2019 classes play for Northwestern now.  Northwestern’s biggest rival for Mullings’ services may actually be Boston College.  We’ll see if we have a bit more success with ol’ Kalel than this guy did.



CATEGORY 4: “Sweet Spot” Players



Ah, the Sweet Spot.   The dream set of characteristics that have historically given Northwestern at least a 50% chance of landing a 4-star recruit.


There are many recruiting classes in which Northwestern doesn’t have the opportunity to target a single 4-star public school recruit from the state of Illinois who also holds a Notre Dame offer, a Stanford offer, or both.





Peter Skoronski

Skoronski has probably been the least-discussed of the three Sweet Spot recruits, but he just may be the one with the greatest chance of picking Northwestern.


For starters, Skoronski plays in Northwestern’s backyard:  Maine South High School in Park Ridge.  Second, Skoronski would not be the first 4-star recruit from Maine South to sign with the ‘Cats.  Third, Skoronski’s offer list looks like a classic Northwestern recruiting battle:  Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa.  We can handle this.  The fight for Skoronski’s services will be the first major recruiting test for new OL Coach Kurt Anderson.



Rylie Mills

The first of two monster recruits whom Northwestern is right in the mix for.  Mills is a prototype strong-side defensive end, top 10 nationally at his position and top-150 nationally regardless of position.  He’s a thoroughbred, a dominating force in the Gaziano/Lowry mold with a potentially higher ceiling.  Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma,  Notre Dame: They all want him.  But from his hometown of Lake Forest, IL, Mills has had a front-row seat for Marty Long’s fantastic development of Defensive Linemen.  Northwestern offered Mills eons ago and has been right at the head of the line on his recruitment.  It will be a tough fight, but the ‘Cats are in the hunt.




AJ Henning


At last, we arrive at AJ Henning.


Henning is Venric Mark.  He’s Rondell Moore.  He’s electrifying.   There may not be a more exciting athlete to watch in the class of 2020.


Henning isn’t just a Sweet Spot recruit.  He’s a SWEET SPOT RECRUIT:  Not only does Henning hold both Notre Dame AND Stanford offers (along with, well, everyone else), he’s also the biggest recruit from Illinois powerhouse Lincoln-Way East since…this guy.


So yes, there are very good reasons why, when Henning trimmed his list to 9 potential schools, Northwestern was one of the 9.  The West Lot Pirates have watched Henning on tape.  We have watched Henning give interviews.  We love AJ Henning.  He would be a perfect Wildcat.  Let’s bring this young man home.



So, as you can see:  The 2020 class is EXACTLY the kind of class you want to be attacking having just won the Big Ten West.  There are dream scenarios here that see Northwestern obliterate the Wildcat standard for an on-paper recruiting class.  It would literally be a mathematical failure if Northwestern didn’t land at least ONE of the Sweet Spot recruits listed above, and there are several other Category 2 and 3 players who are definitely right there for Northwestern to grab.


Buckle up, Wildcat Fans.  It’s going to be an exciting ride.


The Carmody Era And The Collins Era Are Starting To Look Pretty Similar

As our point guard-less Men’s Basketball team slogs through Big Ten play, the name “Bill Carmody” has started coming up.


Specifically, many Northwestern fans are muttering, “This reminds me of the Bill Carmody era.”  These statements may be accurate…but they may be even more accurate that most NU fans realize they are.


Few would say that Carmody had an amazing coaching career at NU.  Many would say he did a decent job given the constraints of the program at the time, still more would say that he was a good on-court coach and a bad recruiter, and just about everyone would agree that Carmody was ultimately done in by his failure to make the NCAA Tournament.  We all certainly also agree that we want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Carmody and his family as he takes a leave of absence from Holy Cross to support his wife in her fight against cancer.


Chris Collins, now in his 6th year at the helm of the program, has the NCAA berth that Carmody could never reach, and for many NU fans that will always leave him a rung above Carmody in the pecking order.  If we actually dig into the stats, however, we see two coaches who have had a very similar level of success.


As we examine the numbers, we’re going to go by Conference Record.  Feel free to prefer overall record yourself…as long as you can cite Northwestern’s non-conference record from any single season off the top of your head.  Let’s be honest: The Big Ten wins are the ones that matter.  (Ahem)


During his time at NU, Carmody had 5 unequivocal “stinker” years:  His 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 13th(final) seasons.  Carmody’s Big Ten record in those 5 years was 13-71.

However, if you take out two of those 5 years, Carmody was as good, and arguably better, than Collins has been.


Now, we hear what you’re saying:  “That’s stupid, why would I ignore Carmody’s worst seasons?”  Consider this:  Carmody inherited a team that Kevin O’Neill had basically driven into a wall.  In the three years prior to Carmody’s arrival, Northwestern won 9 Big Ten games, including an 0-16 record in O’Neill’s final year.   Carmody started at ground zero.  He can be forgiven for winning 13 conference games in his first 3 years.  As for the other 3 seasons:  Well, one of them got him fired, so it’s not like no one held it against him.  The other two are squarely on Carmody.  We were there for them.  They stunk.


Still, if we ask Northwestern fans to name the thing that ticked them off so much about Carmody, they’re not going to say “He had five god-awful seasons.”  They’re probably going to say “He recruited poorly and never made the Dance, and we still kept him around for 13 years.”  So let’s not act like tons of Big Ten losses are what everyone remembers about the Carmody era.


Chris Collins’ worst conference record in a season thus far is 6-12, a mark he has achieved in three of his five full seasons at NU.  This after inheriting a program that had won 38% of its Big Ten Games, made four postseason appearances, and won three postseason games in the five years prior to his arrival.  Let’s just say that Collins had a little more to work with at the start than Carmody did.


That 38% Big Ten win percentage is important.  First of all, it includes one of Carmody’s five worst seasons at NU.  Second, it’s almost identical to Collins’ current career Big Ten win percentage of 39%.


Let’s circle back to the fact that, in 8 of Carmody’s 13 seasons, he won a bunch of games.  Let’s compare the best Big Ten seasons of the Carmody era with the best Big Ten seasons of the Collins era (with the better season in bold):


Season     Carmody        Collins

Best:        8-8 (’03-04)     10-8 (’16-17)

2nd Best   8-10 (’08-09)  8-10 (’15-16)

3rd Best    8-10 (’11-12)  6-12 (’17-18)

4th Best    7-9 (’01-02)    6-12 (’14-15)

5th Best    7-11 (’10-11)  6-12 (”13-14)


If your reaction to this data is “Yeah, but Collins would have to seriously stink for the next decade to produce a low end to his tenure that is on-par with Carmody’s low end”, you’re right.  Understand, however, that the OPPOSITE is also true.  Consider this set of data:


Yrs W/Big Ten Record      Carmody                Collins

–.500/Better                            1                        1     

–.400/Better                            4                        2

–.350/Better                            6                        2

Postseason Trips                       4                        1


There’s a good possibility that Collins’ 6th season isn’t going to improve his stats in any of the groups listed above.  If we then suppose that the second half of Collins’s tenure matches the first, Collins would enter year 13 of his Northwestern Career (Carmody’s final year) with 2 NCAA tournament appearances, two winning seasons in the Big Ten, and almost certainly more career Big Ten wins than Carmody.  Collins would also have several less seasons above .350 in-conference than Carmody had.  Collins’ time at NU would mainly be comprised of low-mediocre years just like the one we’re experiencing right now, seasons that match or actually dip below a standard year from the Carmody era.


Were all of this to come to pass, of course Collins would still be remembered much more favorably.  A hypothetical second tourney trip would bring Collins’ total to two, and two NCAA trips beats zero by a mile.  But let’s not pretend that the Collins era has produced a level of overall success that stands above the Carmody era.  It hasn’t.


Thus far, there has been another unfortunate similarity between the eras: Both Carmody and Collins have been dogged by high profile transfers, departures, and questions, from THIS to THIS to THIS to THIS to several others.   (It’s worth noting that this guard-starved 2018-2019 Wildcats team has three guards who once signed or played with the Wildcats sitting on the rosters of other teams RIGHT NOW.)  The players Collins has brought in to Northwestern may have more stars next to their recruiting profiles, but the results–on and off the court–have been pretty much the same.


Carmody didn’t win as much in the Big Ten as we wanted him to, he played an objectively unattractive brand of basketball, and he didn’t recruit players who could have pushed NU over the top.  But that certainly doesn’t mean  that the Carmody era stands in stark contrast to the Collins era.


Carmody has three NCAA appearances on his coaching resume, but he never did it at Northwestern.  Collins will always have that leg up on his predecessor.  Beyond that, Chris Collins has a ways to go if he wants to differentiate himself from Bill Carmody.

























We feel like this massive exercise has done a couple of important things:


1.We feel like we now have a clearer understanding of why the Offensive Line has been bringing up the rear when it comes to Northwestern’s position groups.


2.Our eyes have been opened to the problems within the the Running Back position and the need to address these issues going forward.


3.We are now able to appreciate just how good Randy Bates and Jerry Brown were and just how good Marty Long, Bob Heffner, and Dennis Springer continue to be at recruiting and developing talent.


4.Finally, we’re able to double down on the good feelings coming out of the Holiday Bowl by considering this fact:   Kurt Anderson and Louis Ayeni have a chance to make real impacts at Northwestern by strengthening the overall development within their respective positions.  There is every chance that one or both of these groups can improve going forward.  At the same time, the linebacker corps needs to continue the level of quality that Fitz embodies and that Bates built.


Ayeni, Mcgarigle, and Anderson have vital work to do going forward.  Their ability to do that work will be hugely important to laying the foundation on which future Big Ten Championships are built. 


We hope you have all enjoyed our Developmental Deep Dive.  Give No Quarter!


–The West Lot Pirates


























Cut Line:  8 players


2014:  Cut Grade A-/B+ True Grade  B/B-

2015:  Cut Grade A-/B+ True Grade  B/B-

2016:  Cut Grade A-/B+ True Grade  B-/C+

2017:  Cut Grade A-       True Grade B/B-


This is arguably the trickiest position group to evaluate, for a couple of reasons.


First, across the windows in our model, the amount of cornerbacks and safeties on scholarship varied from 18 to 20 players.  Even factoring in a nickelback, this blows away the amount of players needed to actually start or play at a given time.  The reason for this disparity is that these scholarships are actually stocking two separate entities: The Secondary, and Special Teams units.


Second, there’s the cornerback/safety conundrum we talked about in the introduction.  What we decided to do is lump everyone together for our grades, but discuss the positions individually.  


When looking at the true grade, understand that we probably rounded up a little bit.  There were a TON of Cs given out, and it’s tough to know what to do with those. This is clearly the one area where NU coaches are saying “You know what? This guy’s ceiling is probably special teams, but we need him to fill that spot, so he gets a scholarship.”  We tried to account for that a little bit, but not TOO much, for a major reason: The better the secondary is, the better special teams will be.  This is the massive hidden advantage that teams like Ohio State–which, at times this year, had as many as four 5-star cornerbacks NOT STARTING–have over everyone else.  All of that recruiting talent may not make the starting lineup, but it’s certainly available on kick and punt units.


Northwestern doesn’t recruit like OSU, but the reality is absolutely the same.  If, for example, you’d like to see a hot-shot reserve cornerback block a punt in a nationally televised game against Notre Dame, you need to recruit very well in the secondary.


NOW, with all of that out of the way:


We set a deep cut line here: 8 players.  We figured NU needs 4 starters, plus a nickelback, plus guys to account for injuries across those 5 positions.  If anything, we threw an extra guy above the cut-line, and you could read that as accounting for the value that a deep roster brings to special teams.


Let’s just get this out the way right here.  Yes, the cut grade is awesome, and yes, that is all about Northwestern’s unreal recruiting and development of safeties.  But here is a very important note to add: Safety is by far the position Northwestern RECRUITS most effectively.  In other words, just about every guy crushing it back there from 2010-2017 was a major recruit.  


Ibraheim Campbell picked NU over Stanford and Michigan State.  Traveon Henry picked NU over Florida State.  Godwin Igwebuike picked NU over Nebraska, Wisconsin, and many others.  Kyle Queiro picked NU over half of the ACC.  Travis Whillock (B+ for now, but let’s put a fat pin in that grade) was slightly less highly rated but was still part of  “Katy Triplets” and still had a Wisconsin offer. JR Pace (GIANT ditto on the pin front) picked NU over at least 20 other schools.  


Jared McGee (who earned a B+ from us but seemed determined to raise that grade during the Holiday Bowl) is really the only player to log significant minutes at safety during our four windows who WASN’T a major recruit.  Hey, no complaints from us! Jerry Brown & Co were crushing it out on the road!


In terms of raw recruiting potential, Northwestern’s safeties match up with just about any school in the Big Ten.  To the now-retired Brown’s credit, they have all played the way they were supposed to.  Above all, this is Brown’s legacy; few coaches have done a better job with the safety position.



As far as Northwestern’s Cornerbacks are concerned:  Cornerback is a fascinating position to look at for the ways in which it is similar to the Offensive Line, and the ways in which it is different.


The main similarity is that Northwestern has shown the ability to produce top talent at cornerback, but never enough of it.  


Hey, it’s not like Northwestern hasn’t had awesome cornerbacks.  Nick Van Hoose, Matt Harris, and Montre Hartage (who BARELY missed an A+) were all fantastic.  You know what else they were a lot of the time?  HURT.  That’s not weird, it’s normal.  Weird is having an entire offensive line start for a full season, or having a single running back carry the hopes of a fanbase for 4 full years.  In real life, guys get hurt a lot in football.  Cornerback has had the same depth issues as Running Back and Line, but none of the luck.  And what we have seen is that, until relatively recently, there has been a big dropoff between Van Hoose/Harris/Hartage and everyone else at corner.


The main difference between corner and line comes in the actual development of players.  By and large, the top performers in the OL were usually also the top recruits at OL. This hasn’t been the case at all at cornerback.  Northwestern has had some devastating misses here on the recruiting front.  Multiple 4-star recruits at corner failed to ever crack the starting rotation, and several high 3-star recruits also didn’t pan out.  The saving grace is that Brown was phenomenal in turning TWO 2-star cornerbacks into All-Big-Ten players, and that doesn’t include Harris, whose recruiting didn’t pick up until midway through his senior year and who was still a mid 3-star recruit.  This was fantastic work by Brown, but we do find it a little puzzling that a unit so successful at grooming top-shelf safeties didn’t repeat the same success with top-shelf corners.  


Pulling back to look at the secondary as a whole compared to the offensive line, there is one other notable difference:  The presence of “bonanza” classes in the secondary.  In 2012, Igwebuike, Queiro, and Harris signed on in a single class.  2017 brought us Pace AND Cam Ruiz (he of the aforementioned blocked punt), and the jury is still out on other players in that class.  As we said when discussing the OL, this doesn’t need to happen every year, but it sure is great when it DOES happen.


BOTTOM LINE:  In 2018, Northwestern’s cornerbacks continued to absorb most of the rotten injury luck for the rest of the team.  Still, what we saw for the first time was two major recruits–Ruiz and Greg Newsome–immediately playing at a high level.  If these two guys can stay healthy going forward (a big if) and if NU can continue this new trend of bringing the best out of top CB recruits, we could turn the corner here.  Northwestern’s safeties have been, are, and will continue to be flat ridiculous. If Matt MacPherson can build on the excellent foundation that Brown laid, WATCH OUT, BIG TEN.


























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.


I mean…


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…


(Chuckling Again)


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.


Thanks again, Randy.