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Northwestern recruiting update: Who’s next?

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The Wildcats will hope to be rounding out its class and are in contention for several key names.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Northwestern vs Tennessee Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the football recruiting cycle currently in a dead period, most recruits are narrowing down their options and making decisions. Because most prospects have finished up their visits and because signing day is under two months away, we should be seeing some significant action around the country.

For Northwestern, that means a chance to round out an already-impressive recruiting class. The Wildcats have reeled in 18 current high school seniors — evenly split with nine on offense and nine on defense — but are not quite done yet. The Wildcats currently have 15 scholarships seniors on the roster, but the medical retirements of underclassmen such as Jayme Taylor, Cameron Queiro and Tommy Vitale open up football scholarship spots (these are medical non-counters, meaning they remain on scholarship at the school but do not count against the team). Of course, it is impossible to tell how many players will return for a fifth (or even a sixth) year as well as who will quit or medically retire following Northwestern’s Pinstripe Bowl game against Pitt.

But Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff remained active on the recruiting paths through late November. The open period, which allows greatest access to recruits, ended November 27. That means they envision that the class is not quite wrapped up.

Offense

The Wildcats have their quarterback, a bevy of wide receivers, a superback and three linemen. That leaves one position out: running back. That certainly isn’t from the world — far from it, in fact. With Justin Jackson and John Moten IV having stellar seasons and both set to return next year, the Wildcats have good depth. Throw in the possibility of Warren Long returning for a fifth year — the senior has missed every game except the Western Michigan game after a breakout junior year — and this is the Wildcats’ strongest position by far. And that’s not to mention impressive freshmen Jeremy Larkin and Jesse Brown, both of whom redshirted this season.

The Wildcats currently have one offer out to an uncommitted running back: Eno Benjamin. The four-star recruit out of Texas initially committed to Iowa but then decommitted. It seems like a stretch for the Wildcats to secure his services — 247’s Crystal Ball lists several schools ahead of Northwestern — but as detailed above, not having a running back in this class certainly is not an issue.

So where could Fitzgerald turn to, if anywhere, on the offensive side of things? Perhaps the offensive line is the answer. The Wildcats brought in four linemen last year, so precedent is there, and the Wildcats will lose two starters in Connor Mahoney and Eric Olson, as well as sixth-year senior Shane Mertz. The Wildcats recently offered 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive tackle Jax Wacaser out of Arizona. He holds lots of impressive offers, though, so Northwestern will have to make a strong push for his services.

Overall, even if Northwestern doesn’t add another player on the offensive side of things, it checked off every box it typically does every year — quarterback, superback, wide receivers, three linemen — and the only position unfilled is far from a necessity.

Defense

With three impressive recruits up front, the Wildcats are likely done in the trenches. They haven’t had more than three in a single recruiting class in a long, long time (since at least 2010, per 247).

But at linebacker, the Wildcats could be looking for a third commit behind Blake Gallagher (ILB) and Peter McIntyre (OLB). The Wildcats offered four-star inside ‘backer Ellis Brooks in early November. The Virginia native has offers from programs far and wide, including several Big Ten schools such as Maryland and Michigan, which are his top two choices per 247.

On the outside is Michael Scott, a three-star out of Tallahassee, Florida. He has a huge offer list as well and just decommitted from South Florida. This could be a boost for Fitzgerald, who has three linebackers in two of his last three classes.

The secondary could also be a spot the Wildcats add a late commitment. Mahkai Lee is a name to keep an eye on. Lee holds just two Power Five offers — Northwestern and Missouri — but is the most realistic option at cornerback, a spot where the Wildcats have just one other commit. At safety, Scott Nelson is the lone uncommitted prospect with a Northwestern offer. NU did make his top five back in June along with four other Big Ten schools.