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Which recruit does Northwestern need to land in 2015?

As Northwestern fills out its 2015 recruiting class, we are left trying to guess who will commit next. There are plenty of realistic candidates (and not-so-realistic ones). But today’s debate topic focuses less on what could happen that what NU fans should want to see happen. Which 2015 prospect do the Wildcats need to land?
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Equanimeous St. Brown

The answer to your question is yes: part of the reason I chose St. Brown has to do with the fact that his first name sounds straight out of The Myth of Prometheus. St. Brown was a 9-seed on Deadspin’s Name of the Year competition and he’ll be a frontrunner for the totally made-up title of “Best Name in College Football.” A few years ago, NU alum and ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell named rising senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo to his list of the top 25 names in college football. It’s obvious St. Brown has Ariguzo beat on that front. He is also trilingual, having taken the SAT in French, German and English.

St. Brown’s interesting name, though, is not the only reason Northwestern needs him. The 6-5, 190-pound wideout has drawn offers from Notre Dame, UCLA, Stanford, USC and LSU, among others, and received a four-star rating from three major recruiting services. St. Brown is big, strong – his father, a two-time Mr. Universe champion, works him out several days a week – and moves well for a player his size. Here is an excerpt from SB Nation’s scouting report:

St. Brown is a huge target. He has a slender build and is a bit thin through the hips, but has room up top for additional mass. He should eventually top out close to 225 pounds. 

Despite his thin frame, St. Brown is physical versus press coverage. He has quick and strong hands, which he uses to keep defensive backs out of his frame coming off the line. St. Brown is a bit of a tight mover, however. He does take some time to accelerate, however, and doesn't project to win off the line with a burst.

St. Brown has plus-level ball skills. He picks up the ball early in flight and has the body control to adjust his frame, so he is able to get proper positioning and attack the ball at its highest point. St. Brown flashes better short-area quickness once he has some momentum going. He can chop his feet at the top of his routes and he gets in and out of cuts cleanly for such a taller receiver. 

None of that describes why NU specifically needs to land St. Brown. The Wildcats, after all, received commitments from three receivers (Charles Fessler, Jelani Roberts and Camerom Green) just last week. What separates St. Brown from those three? The above scouting report paints a pretty clear picture. Further, St. Brown can address arguably NU’s biggest problem on offense last season: a lack of big plays. The Wildcats ranked 113th in the country in explosiveness, one of Bill Connelly’s Five Factors. St. Brown, with his combination of size and speed, can be the game breaker NU needs to stretch defenses. Even if the ball isn’t always thrown to him, St. Brown’s presence can open up space for short and intermediate routes.

And with Christian and Tony Jones, NU’s top two receivers, graduating this offseason, St. Brown would have an opportunity to earn early playing time. Before advancing this discussion, it’s important to recognize NU probably won’t get St. Brown. The crystal ball predictors have him at 50 percent Notre Dame, 30 percent UCLA and 20 percent USC. I spoke with St. Brown late last year and came away impressed after watching him at a camp earlier this summer. “They said they need a big receiver on the wide side of the field to match some of the bigger corners,” he said of NU in December. The need for NU to land a big receiver in the mold of St. Brown is very real – even though Green (6-2) and Fessler (6-4) both technically fit that bill, to say nothing of other wideouts on the Wildcats’ roster.

St. Brown is different for reasons that don’t involve his name. But let’s be honest: being able to shout Equanimeous! two or three times every fall Saturday afternoon is something we can all get behind.

- Chris Johnson

Sam Darnold

Despite its (lack of) history and even its shaky teams over the past few years, Northwestern has had tremendous luck with quarterbacks since Pat Fitzgerald became coach. CJ Bacher, Mike Kafka, Dan Persa and Kain Colter were all stars, while Trevor Siemian has the potential to be just as serviceable as a senior. Much of that is due to the quarterback brilliance of Mick McCall, and it's attracted some very good recruits for the future of the program.

The Wildcats have gotten four-star quarterbacks in each of the past two years, both of whom fit different molds but still fit in the spread. 2013 recruit Matt Alviti had offers from Notre Dame and Nebraska, among others, while 2014 recruit Clayton Thorson had Penn State and Iowa on his offer list.

With such an impressive group of quarterbacks heading into 2014, some Northwestern fans have opined that the Wildcats really don't need a quarterback in this class (the last time that happened was the class of 2012). If everyone panned out like they were supposed to, that might be true, but what if only one of Alviti and Thorson pan out, and that one gets injured? Then the Wildcats would be in quite the pickle. As a rule, NU will always try to get a quarterback per class, and this year, with just a few spots left, it's coming down to the wire.

While the situation has become more fluid as other prospects have dropped out of the picture, NU's quarterback recruiting sights are focused on California QB Sam Darnold. This is a down year for quarterback recruiting in general, but Southern California is by far the best area for the position in this class.

Darold is clearly No. 1 on NU's board, but the Wildcats have stiff competition for the Elite 11 quarterback, including USC, Oregon and Duke. Both the USC and Oregon offers have come in the past month, and while the Trojans and Ducks each have star quarterback recruits in their 2015 classes, the 247 Crystal Ball predictor gives NU only a 9 percent chance of winning Darnold.

If NU doesn't get Darnold in this class, it will probably be okay. Odds are, the Wildcats won't absolutely need him. However, he could be the best quarterback to ever commit to NU if he chooses the Wildcats, and he's clearly No. 1 on the team's board.

NU needs a quarterback, and it has a chance with a really good one. That makes Darnold the most important prospect left for the Wildcats' class of 2015.