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Northwestern football roster: A class-by-class breakdown of scholarship allotment

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The Wildcats have numbers in the trenches and plenty of skill on the defensive side of the ball.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

With National Signing Day come and gone and 20 recruits on board, Northwestern's 2016 football roster is beginning to take shape. Here is what the roster currently looks like, sans non-scholarship players. The Wildcats, like all Division I football teams, are allowed 85 scholarships.

Senior Junior Sophomore RS Freshman Incoming Total
QB 0

1

Matt Alviti

1

Clayton Thorson

1

Lloyd Yates

1

Aidan Smith

4
RB

1

Warren Long

2

Justin Jackson

Solomon Vault*

1

Auston Anderson

1

John Moten IV

2

Jeremy Larkin

Jesse Brown

7
WR

2

Austin Carr

Andrew Scanlan

1

Macan Wilson

2

Jelani Roberts

Flynn Nagel

2

Cameron Green

Charlie Fessler

3

Ben Skowronek

Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman

Riley Lees

10
SB

0

2

Garrett Dickerson

Jayme Taylor

1

James Prather

0

1

Eric Eshoo

4
OL

4

G/T Shane Mertz (6th year)

C/G Ian Park

G Connor Mahoney

T Eric Olson

2

C/G Brad North

G/T Sam Coverdale

2

T Blake Hance

T Tommy Doles

3

C Jared Thomas

T Adam Lemke-Ball

G/T Andrew Otterman

4

G Cameron Kolwich

G Nik Urban

T Jesse Meyler

T Gunnar Vogel

15
DL

3

DT C.J. Robbins (6th year)

DE Ifeadi Odenigbo

DT Greg Kuhar

2

DT Tyler Lancaster

DE Xavier Washington

3

DT Ben Oxley**

DT Fred Wyatt

DT Jordan Thompson

2

DE Joe Gaziano

DE Trent Goens

4

DE Tommy Carnifax

DT Jake Saunders

DT Alex Miller

DE Mark Gooden

14
LB

2

OLB Joseph Jones

OLB Jaylen Prater

3

ILB Anthony Walker

ILB Brett Walsh

OLB Josh Roberts

3

OLB Nate Hall

ILB Cameron Queiro

OLB Tommy Vitale***

2

OLB Simba Short

ILB Nathan Fox

2

OLB Jango Glackin

ILB Paddy Fisher

12
DB

1

CB Matthew Harris

4

CB Keith Watkins II

S Godwin Igwebuike

CB Marcus McShepard

S Kyle Queiro

3

CB Parrker Westphal

CB Montre Hartage

S Jarred McGee

4

S Jacob Murray

CB Alonzo Mayo

CB/S Trae Williams

S Steven Reese

3

CB Roderick Campbell

S Travis Whillock

CB/S Brian Bullock

15
Specialists

2

K Jack Mitchell

LS Chris Fitzpatrick

1

P Hunter Niswander

0

0

0 3
Total 15 18 16 15 20 84

BREAKDOWN: 40 offense, 41 defense, 3 special teams

Note: Jack Schwaba, Blake King, Tommy Fuessel and Eric Joraskie are all medical non-counters, meaning they are still on scholarship at the university, but don't count towards the 85-scholarship limit because they are no longer with the program for medical reasons.

*Vault is a candidate to switch to wide receiver.
**Oxley has been a defensive tackle since he came to Evanston, but is a candidate to switch over to the offensive side of the ball.
***Vitale is a linebacker, but also saw time at superback last year. He suffered an injury about midway through the season, but he played in too many games to be eligible for a redshirt.

According to NCAA rules, teams are allotted 85 scholarships. With the addition of 20 new scholarship players Wednesday, the Wildcats are now at 84 heading into 2016.

There are two ways the final spot could be filled — though it's not necessary to get to 85. Northwestern could look to add a graduate transfer. Or, closer to the season, Pat Fitzgerald could extend a scholarship to a walk-on — like he did to Austin Carr, Jack Mitchell and Josh Roberts this past season.

Analysis

This roster has some clear strengths. Starting on the offensive side of the ball, the backfield is once again a strong point, as all contributors from last year's running back stable return. Justin Jackson had another outstanding year, and Warren Long showed major progress as his backup, finishing tied for second in touchdowns with Jackson and behind only Clayton Thorson. While Solomon Vault may move to wide receiver, Auston Anderson has a good chance to take his role as a change-of-pace back. John Moten IV, who redshirted this past season, also drew rave reviews. Incoming freshman Jeremy Larkin was Ohio's Offensive Player of the Year, and he likely won't even see the field in his first year in Evanston.

The offensive line returns several players who saw major playing time last year. According to our way-too-early starting depth chart projection, four of Northwestern's starters up front will have had significant experience. The future of the unit is a bit of an unknown. Jared Thomas was a big get as a recruit, as were both sophomore tackle prospects. The incoming class of linemen is promising as well. But they'll need to develop better than the current crop of upperclassmen did.

There's also talent all over the defense, where we predict an upperclassman-laden starting lineup. The line is strong up the middle, with C.J. Robbins, Greg Kuhar, Tyler Lancaster and Jordan Thompson all back, but the departures of Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson leaves question marks at defensive end. Ifeadi Odenigbo will look to finally translate his immense physical skillset into consistent play on the field. Joe Gaziano is a promising prospect, but the depth chart is somewhat thin. Xavier Washington and Trent Goens are likely candidates to see playing time too.

The linebacking corps loses Drew Smith to graduation but retains All-American Anthony Walker and starters Jaylen Prater and Nate Hall. Prater, however, will need to recover from a late-season knee injury. Joseph Jones, now a senior, also played a decent amount on passing downs in 2015. There's nice depth here, especially with Tommy Vitale and Nathan Fox. Simba Short is a bit of a wild card, but was a nice prospect coming out of high school.

The cornerback duo of Matt Harris and Keith Watkins could be just as good as Harris and Nick VanHoose were this year. Watkins was one of Northwestern's few bright spots in the Outback Bowl, and Harris is as good as they come. Behind those two, Marcus McShepard has experience, Parrker Westphal is going to be just a sophomore and was one of Pat Fitzgerald's best recruits ever, and Montre Hartage impressed coaches enough for him to bypass a redshirt year. Roderick Campbell could be ready to play as an underclassmen too. Corner should continue to be a position of strength.

Safety is a major concern behind the two junior starters though. Kyle Queiro and Godwin Igwebuike are a hyper-athletic tandem, but none of the underclassmen safeties were highly-touted recruits. Perhaps Westphal could move to safety to jumpstart his college career?

There are plenty of other questions as well. Things are quite muddled at wide receiver. Even if Vault makes a permanent switch, the development of the class of 2015—Jelani Roberts, Flynn Nagel, Cameron Green and Charlie Fessler—will be crucial. Last year, Fitzgerald played both Nagel and Roberts as freshmen, so if Ben Skowronek, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman or Riley Lees impress, they could find their way onto the field in their inaugural college season.

Superback could also be a position of concern in the coming years. Prather isn't yet a viable option. Eshoo could be the lead superback as a redshirt sophomore. Replacing Dan Vitale is also an immediate concern. Garrett Dickerson will need to make a major jump to replace last year's leading receiver. Additionally, Jayme Taylor, who is more of a pass-catching threat than Dickerson, is returning from an injury that caused him to miss all of 2015.

Finally, Northwestern is set at the three major specialist positions this season, but will be in desperate need of a kicker and punter in next year's class.