Jordan Thompson Jared Thomas Joe Gaziano Trent Goens Nathan Fox Simba Short John Moten Cameron Green Adam Lemke-Bell Tommy Vitale Montre Hartage Flynn Nagel Charlie Fessler Trae Williams Jelani Roberts Alonzo Mayo Steven Reese Andrew Otterman Lloyd Yates Jacob Murray
Following a relatively quiet offseason, Northwestern's football program will welcome members of its 2015 recruiting class to the program on Feb. 4 for National Signing Day. Even with de-commitments from some of the Wildcats' top targets, Pat Fitzgerald and co. still managed to put together a solid class. As of now, Northwestern's crop of new talent ranks 47th nationally, according to 247 Sports, the same rank they had last year. We'll be putting out player capsules like these in the lead up to National Signing Day so you can learn more about this new bunch of Wildcats.
Another recruit, another victory for the Wildcats over the likes of the Ivy League and Boston College. Tell me if you’re beginning to see a theme. Northwestern was once again the biggest fish in the pond and nabbed Jelani Roberts, the first of two members of the 2015 recruiting class to come from the Gilman School in Baltimore (Alonzo Mayo joined later).
Jelani Roberts is a certified athletic freak. Sub-4.4 speed and a 40-plus inch vertical is a heck of combination, and it may just be enough to overcome Roberts size issues. At just 5-foot-8 Roberts is going to be one of the smaller players on Northwestern’s, or really any Big Ten school’s, roster. Speedsters of this size should remind Northwestern of a certain return man who had a pretty solid career in purple -- Venric Mark -- and it was that player’s success that really turned on Roberts to Northwestern (Roberts, a returner himself, also sports No. 5). In an article in the Baltimore Sun, Roberts said "What really got me interested in Northwestern football was seeing people my size doing well. That’s the thing I can point to that really got me interested." It’s not super often that you see someone cite the height-weight of a successful player when asked why he committed to a program.
Unsurprising given the list of offers, academics also played a role in Roberts commitment. Roberts is the proud holder of a 3.9 GPA at Gilman School. Hey Jelani, want to trade report cards?
The big takeaways from Roberts’ highlight tape? Dude can run. Very fast. He returns punts, kicks, takes option pitches, catches deep balls, then becomes a blur streaking down the sideline. It’s not easy for a 5-foot-8 guy to get open, but when Roberts gets his hands on the ball, he can change directions on a dime and make exciting things happen.
Northwestern needs help at wide receiver, there’s certainly no question about that. But I don’t expect that you’ll see Roberts playing much, if at all, as a wide receiver in 2015. Northwestern lacks solid route runners, but they aren’t exactly short on speed with Stephen Buckley and Miles Shuler coming back next year. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Roberts on a special teams units, and maybe even fielding punts or kicks, following what is most likely to be a redshirt season.
A lot has been made of Northwestern’s complete lack of a punt return game, and having a specialist who can shift the field would be a huge help to Northwestern. If Roberts doesn’t field kicks or punts, he’d still be useful as a gunner. There aren’t a whole lot of guys who can keep up with him. Keep this name in your back pocket. If he’s blowing the tops off of defenses and taking punts back to the house in a few years, it wouldn’t be surprising. An extra 15-20 pounds wouldn’t hurt, but if Roberts is going to make it in college, it’s going to be because of that speed.