It's been well-documented, but Northwestern's recent recruiting haul has been pretty unprecedented, as far as NU's recruiting history goes. The Wildcats already rank in the top 25 of some 2014 recruiting rankings, and they'll move up even higher with the commitment of four-star running back Justin Jackson, who became NU's ninth commit of the class of 2014 today. Jackson has listed NU as his No. 1 school for quite awhile, and today he pulled the trigger, picking the Wildcats over Iowa and Vanderbilt, as well as a number of others. Check out more on Jackson below, and as always, make sure to keep up on NU recruiting with our 2014 football recruiting board.
School: Glenbard North (IL)
Other offers: Boston College, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri, Purdue, Syracuse, Vanderbilt
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
What's the Hype?
Ever since Jackson listed Northwestern as one of his top schools awhile back, he's been on the short list for virtually anyone who follows NU recruiting. All of the recent commits have turned down some impressive schools to attend NU, but Jackson's commitment stood out for a couple reasons. First off, he's a four-star recruit, and that will always turn some heads. Four-stars make up a third of NU's current class, with Jackson joining quarterback Clayton Thorson and wide receiver Dareian Watkins. Star ratings can be misleading at times, and Pat Fitzgerald isn't a huge fan of them, but they help determine public perception of the program's recruiting success, and in that sense, NU is certainly climbing the ranks.
Secondly, Jackson received a lot of attention because he's from the area. The Glenbard North product had plenty of opportunities to leave the state, but he decided to stay home at NU, which is a good sign for the Wildcats. NU recruits nationally — the biggest "pipelines" outside of Illinois are Ohio, Texas, California and New Jersey — but they want to establish a base in Chicago, too. NU has just two recruits from Illinois in this class, but both are four-stars and both turned down programs that usually raid the Chicago area. Illinois and Northwestern have both done a bad job of keeping recruits home, as many of the best recruits in the Chicago suburbs have opted for Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Notre Dame and even the SEC in recent years. The more top players NU can get to stay home, the better for the program.
Where He Fits In
Northwestern has gotten two different styles of players with its last two running back commits. First came Auston Anderson, a small, shifty running back who has drawn comparisons in running style to Venric Mark. Now the Wildcats have added Jackson, who has speed, but is a bigger, more powerful back than Anderson or Mark. By the time Anderson and Jackson get on campus, NU will have two running backs to fit each style — Anderson and Stephen Buckley in the "small, quick" style, and Jackson and Malin Jones in the "big, powerful" style.
To place these players in either of category might be unfair, since small running backs can be break tackles and run up the middle — just look at Mark — and Jones and Jackson both are more elusive and quick than they get credit for. However, both of these groups of runners do have distinctly different styles. All of them are talented, but the question becomes how they'll be used. Buckley will be used a lot in the option, and Anderson said he expects the same thing. The option is enticing for a lot of recruits, because it's an exciting wrinkle to add to the offense. Jackson has never run it:
“I’ve never been in that type of offense,” he said. Fears of bad fit or problematic scheme-to-skills adaptability were quickly erased by running backs coach Matt MacPherson’s informative sit-down with Jackson, wherein MacPherson clearly delineated Jackson’s envisioned role in the offense and eased whatever fears he may have had about running into problems learning the option-read.
“That made me more comfortable,” he said. “It [the option] would be an adventure, but it intrigues me. Definitely.”
The Wildcats' coaches will change its offense to play to the strengths of its best players, but it's unlikely NU will just become a power running team with Jackson. Rather, they'll mix it up with standard and option run plays. If Jackson and Anderson are capable of running in both kinds of plays, it opens up a lot of possibilities, including the Oregon zone read triple option and the pistol. The dual-threat quarterbacks coming in — Thorson and Matt Alviti — and the recent offensive line recruiting make those offensive looks possible, too. That's a long ways off, and maybe NU won't choose to go that route. But it's an option, and there are plenty more possibilities as well, which makes the prospect of a Jackson-Anderson backfield look pretty exciting for NU down the road.