A big recruiting week just got even better for Northwestern. After picking up commitments from Tommy Doles and Dareian Watkins in the past week, the Wildcats received a big commitment from three-star Texas running back Auston Anderson. That puts NU at eight commits overall and makes an already top 25 recruiting class even more impressive. We'll analyze Anderson's commitment below, and as always, check out our 2014 recruiting board for more details.
School: Plano West (TX)
Other offers: Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Baylor, Cal, Georgia Tech, Navy, Nebraska, Rice, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, Washington, Washington State
Profiles: Rivals, ESPN
What's the Hype?
Anderson is a three-star recruit, but he has the offer list of a four-star, and considering that I usually base projections for a kid off his offers rather than his star-rating, this a really solid pickup for NU. Anderson had offers from Stanford, Texas, Nebraska, UCLA and a host of other schools, and he was gaining momentum by the day. If you're looking for a sign that the times have changed for NU football, consider this: Anderson is from Texas and had a Longhorns offer, yet he signed with Northwestern. It's pretty incredible to think back to four or five years ago, when that would have been considered impossible. Texas does have two other running backs in this class, so maybe that played a role, but regardless, it's still strange to hear of NU taking a Texas kid — or a recruit anywhere — that Texas wanted.
Before Anderson's commitment, NU was ranked in the top 25 of the Rivals team rankings, and Anderson's commitment will give the Wildcats and even higher rankings. Again, I'm not a huge fan of following these rankings by the book, but they do a good job of showing a rough estimate of how much talent is coming into the program, and it's clear that this class has the most talent NU has ever brought in. Or if you prefer to look at it from a "who NU beat out" standpoint, these are the other schools that have offered recruits the Wildcats have gotten in the past week: Texas, Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin, UCLA, Louisville, West Virginia and many others. Not to be redundant, but that's incredible for just a week's work.
A program with a lot of momentum in recruiting just got even more of it, and there could be more to come, with four-star running back Justin Jackson, who has NU as his leader, likely to commit in the near future. But today is Anderson's day, and as far as hype goes, he brings plenty of it to Evanston and adds even more of it to an already impressive 2014 class.
Where He Fits In
Anderson is of the Venric Mark mold, with a 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame. He runs a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and will be a quick, shifty running back for NU, just like Mark has been. Anderson visited NU in April and he and the the coaches both saw a resemblance between him and Mark:
"What (Anderson) left with is a refined perspective on the Wildcats offense, and how he sees himself – more specifically his size (5’9’’, 180 pounds) – and his explosive skill set fitting in the Wildcats’ spread attack.
'He juxtaposed my stuff with Venric’s,' Anderson said. 'It was really cool. It’s easier for me to see now how I could perform in that offense.'
Obviously, it's too early to say Anderson can be just like Mark — as Fitzgerald says with his freshmen, let them prove it on a college field — but he certainly has the tools to be a similar kind of player. NU's offense will change as new quarterbacks and linemen rotate into the starting lineup over the years, but the Wildcats will always have a commitment to running the ball if they're able to, and considering the offensive line depth they've built up recently and the running backs coming into the program, the opportunity looks like it could be there to do that.
NU did more with the option last year than it ever has under Fitzgerald, and the Wildcats will use it similarly this year. NU's coaches adjust their offense to take advantage of the strengths of their personnel, and while the offense could become a little less option-intensive once Mark leaves, Anderson could become a very productive option back once he earns a significant role at running back. He saw that on his visit:
MacPherson explained the system, how it creates mismatches and how Anderson’s breakaway speed and elusiveness are a perfect match for the Wildcats’ vision of a spread-savvy back .
Better yet, Anderson got a breakdown from Mark himself.
'Venric told me about all the calls and that stuff,' he said. 'I’ve only really seen an option like that on NCAA [video game], but it’s pretty cool.'
NU will have a lot of good running backs on the roster once Anderson gets on campus. Redshirt freshman Stephen Buckley has a similar mold to Mark and Anderson, while redshirt freshman Malin Jones is bigger, but still has speed. If Jackson commits, he'll join Jones as one of the bigger, more physical runners on NU's roster. Anderson adds a lot of speed and "option potential" to an already impressive group.