Take a look at Northwestern's 2016 recruiting class.
If you're looking for four-star recruits, you won't find any. If you're looking for those local under-the-radar prospects or the highly rated Chicago-area players that picked Northwestern over other national powers, you won't find any. Pat Fitzgerald didn't find a stud defensive end prospect like Ifeadi Odenigbo projected to be in 2012. Nor did he nab a Matt Alviti, like he did in 2013. Obviously, this year's coup has nothing on the 2014 quartet of four-stars, Parrker Westphal, Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson and Garrett Dickerson.
This class looks different than the Wildcats' recent groups.
As numerous studies have shown, recruiting ratings are a strong predictor of college success. But just because this class doesn't have the top-end studs that other classes have included, doesn't mean Fitzgerald and his staff have underwhelmed on the recruiting trail.
In fact, this class has the second-highest average recruiting rating behind only the 2014 class, with its four four-stars pulling up the rating significantly.
The reason for this stems from the middle and bottom portion of the class. The class's lowest-rated commit, Alex Miller, and his 0.8032 is actually the highest-rated "worst" recruit for a Northwestern class since recruiting rankings began to be compiled in 2001.
But the quality of this class can also be explained in its quantity of high-level—if not top-level—prospects. Take a look at Northwestern's top 100 highest-rated recruits since 2001.
First, let's just take a second to review Northwestern's improvement in recruiting over the past handful of classes: Over half (51 players) of Northwestern's top 100 recruits since 2001 come from the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 classes. Twenty-eight of Northwestern's 50 best recruits since 2001 come from those classes. Fifteen of the top 25. Six of the top 10. Also keep this in mind: Northwestern's 2017 class has just four commits at the moment.
And, when you take note of the size of each class, which hovers around 20, but has varied over the years from a high of 22 commits in 2001 to just 13 in 2004, this 2016 class stands out. Fifteen of the 2016 class's 20 players (75 percent) are listed among Northwestern's top 100 recruits since 2001. That's the highest percentage of any class, save the 2017 class's four commits.
Remember, Northwestern put in the vast majority of its work on this class on the back of two 5-7 seasons. While the 10-win season presumably helped the Wildcats on the trail throughout the fall, the only dividend seen in 2016 was running back Jeremy Larkin, who committed in mid-December after de-committing from Cincinnati. Otherwise, the reverberations from this season will be seen in the 2017 class, much like the 2014 class saw a major uptick after Northwestern won 10 game during the 2012 season.
Thus, this class was largely built by pure recruiting acumen, with little in terms of on-field success to show recruits. Now this staff needs to turn these prospects into contributors, a task that, at some positions, has proved to be far more difficult. But what Northwestern has done on the recruiting trail with the 2016 class has been extremely impressive.