Auston Anderson and Justin Jackson are two of the most highly regarded freshman on the Northwestern football roster. They both have the talent to contribute right away. The problem is: they play the same position.
Anderson and Jackson both play running back, which is a rather crowded position for the Cats right now. There is a chance neither will see the field this season. But the injury bug is bound to bite and both of these freshmen will be ready to fill in when it does. So, which tailback has a better shot to play instantly?
First, here's a quick bio of each:
Auston Anderson: A three-star recruit out of Plano, Texas, Anderson is a small and shifty runner who has drawn comparisons in style to Venric Mark. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound burner boasts a 4.44 40-yard dash time and chose NU over Texas, Stanford, Baylor, Arizona and UCLA among others. Anderson should (eventually) thrive in NU's
Justin Jackson: Jackson is a homegrown, four-star talent from Glenbard North High School (35 miles west of Evanston). At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Jackson is a deceivingly quick bruiser. He posted video game-like numbers in high school and was named the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois.
Whose number will Fitz call first?
These backs will make a dangerous duo in a couple years. Anderson was the first of the two to commit to NU. That Jackson still signed with the Cats suggests these two will be comfortable sharing the load when the time comes. But as far as immediate impact goes, there is only room for one. Mark and Treyvon Green will get the lion's share of the carries next season. And even Stephen Buckley and Warren Long should see the field before either of the two rookies.
Nevertheless, Jackson has a better chance than Anderson to play next season. Had Mark not returned for this season, Anderson could have played instantly. The Cats envision Anderson replacing Mark's role in the offense, and they showed him Mark's film on his visit to show how he would fit in.
But Mark's return implies Anderson will now have to wait his turn. Anderson will likely redshirt and learn under Mark. That way, if Mark gets injured early in the season, the Cats can burn the redshirt and plug in Anderson. As of today, though, the Cats have less of a need for Anderson next season.
Jackson, on the other hand, may come in handy in 2014. His powerful running style better complements Mark's. With Malin Jones out of the picture, Jackson now only has two "physical" runners to compete with: Green and Long. I don't see Jackson surpassing Green on the depth chart. But the true freshman could edge out Long and become the third option as the season progresses. However, the coaches very clearly like Long, and Jackson needs to get a lot bigger to be a versatile "bruiser" and "speedster" on the field.
Barring injuries, neither freshmen running back will play a major role in the offense next season. But if one somehow squeezes his way through the cracks of the cramped depth chart and on to the field, it'll be Jackson.