by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
A new class of Northwestern recruits will make it official on Wednesday, when an expected 19 commitments will sign their national letters of intent to give their official pledge of loyalty to Wildcats football. As is the case with most true freshmen classes, only a few players will see the field in their first years on campus. Last season, only three – defensive end Dean Lowry, safety Traveon Henry and superback Dan Vitale – burned a year of eligibility as true freshmen, and with a generally young and maturing roster intact, the chances of even a small majority of the 2013 eschewing redshirts to play this season are not high.
There are a few first-year players who could enter the grind of Big Ten football in the fall, guys physically and mentally prepared to make a seamless transition into the college game. Final redshirt/eligibility decisions won’t be made official until the Fall, but here are three true freshmen you can look forward to seeing take the field in September.
*All star ratings according to Scout.com’s ranking system.Godwin Igwebuike Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 190 pounds Position: safety/running back Other offers of note: Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois, Cincinnati, West Virginia Nebraska, Wisconsin, NC State, Pittsburgh, Boston College Star rating: four-star
When Igwebuike made his commitment back in August, he made no specific stipulations about which position he would play for the Wildcats. At Pickerington North High School, he starred at safety and running back, so his skills are well-developed on both sides of the ball. What separates Igwebuike from other two-way players is his athleticism. Igwebuike shows great burst off the snap and is an excellent natural strider with great open-field burst. It’s the type of speed that translates on both sides of the ball. He’s also excellent in run support, with instinctual ball pursuit skills and sound open-field tackling. Igwebuike is as complete a defensive back prospect as Northwestern has reeled in since Ibraheim Campbell, and his upside, like Campbell’s, is likewise glimmering.
You may see Igwebuike contributing more on special teams, at least early on, but as he gets more comfortable with teammates and coaches, I fully expect him to suit up this season. My best guess is that Igwebuike will end up at safety, where he can compete with Campbell, Traveon Henry and (possibly) Jimmy Hall for playing time. I can realistically see him pushing Henry for the starting spot opposite Campbell. The other option is sticking him at running back; Igwebuike would make a nice complement to Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy.Keith Watkins Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio Height/Weight: 5’10’’, 175 pounds Position: cornerback/running back Other offers of note: Arizona State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Iowa, Minnesota, West Virginia, Kansas, Indiana Star rating: three-star Scout Profile
He made his name at Moeller High (Cincinnati) as a running back, and several schools recruited him at that position. At Northwester, the prevailing expectation is that Watkins will find a home on the other side of the ball, at cornerback. His offensive skill set – great hands, elusive running ability, excellent understanding of leverage and body control – should allow for an easy conversion to DB. Watkins has all the right tools to excel at the position, even if his high school track record speaks more to his offensive capabilities.
Last season, Northwestern used seniors Quinn Evans and Demetrius Dugar as starters and/or heavily-used reserves. With both gone, there is a need for quality corner depth. Nick VanHoose should lock up one starting spot, but the other side – occupied by Daniel Jones in large stretches last season – could come down to training camp competition. Watkins can play his way into a starting spot, or at least work his way into the third corner position.Eric Joraskie Hometown: Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 255 pounds Position: Defensive tackle Other offers of note: Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Syracuse Star rating: three-star Scout Profile
If there’s one major critique on this class, it’s the defensive tackle position. Joraskie is the only player suited to play on the D-line (EDIT: high school center Tyler Lancaster is planning to switch to DT), and for a tackle group that’s already thin entering this season – Chance Carter, Will Hampton and Sean McEvily are the only returning players with any significant experience – the Wildcats could have used a ready-made space eater to throw in the mix as early as this season. One of the main reasons behind Northwestern’s defensive improvement last season was the D-tackle spot, but after losing Brian Arnfelt to graduation, Northwestern needs to atone for his absence with viable replacements. Joraskie can help in that regard.
There has been quite a bit of buzz about C.J. Robbins and Greg Kuhar, but I envision Joraskie making a push to enter the fold as a major contributor upon arrival. Defensive line depth is crucial, and if Carter, Hampton or McEvily either a) get injured or b) aren’t replicating the formidable run-stuffing work of last year’s Arnfelt-led group, Joraskie is in position to fill in.