It's been a quiet few weeks for Northwestern football on the recruiting front. We just got out of a two week-long "dead period" in which no in-person contact can be made between coaches and players. And now we're in the midst of a "quiet period," during which players can only talk to coaches in-person if they are on campus. The quiet period will end at the end of July before contact is open once again. So now that things have been somewhat quieter, we can look at Northwestern's current recruiting class of 2017 and assess where it stands and what still needs to be done.
There's little doubt surrounding the 2017 quarterback position. Andrew Marty is the guy. The former Miami (OH) commit is a good get for the Wildcats given that Clayton Thorson is around for three more years, and impressive Aidan Smith represents the class of 2016. Marty's tape is fun to watch; he's very poised in the pocket and isn't afraid of pressure in his face. He's nearly 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds — basically the same as Thorson in high school. Marty is more of a pocket passer, but he still has the athleticism to escape the pocket and even run the option. Fitzgerald likes to have one quarterback per class, and he has his for 2017 in Marty.
This is absolutely a position of question for the class of 2017, but there's no reason to be worried. The Wildcats will have another year of Justin Jackson, two more of Auston Anderson, three of John Moten, and likely four of Jeremy Larkin and Jesse Brown (pending redshirts). That said, Northwestern doesn't need a running back in this class, although it would be nice. The program has an offer out to uncommitted Deon Jackson, but the best bet might be Kentucky commit Bryant Koback. The Springfield (Ohio) product committed to Kentucky back in January, his first college offer. He has since picked up offers from Indiana, Syracuse, Virginia, Purdue, and Boston College, as well as Northwestern. You have to think Fitzgerald would love to poach Koback from the SEC.
A month ago this was perhaps the biggest worry for the class of 2017. Two solid commits later, wide receiver could be a strength of this class. There's still work to be done, but Jace James and Berkley Holman are good pickups. James doesn't have blazing speed (4.58 40-time), but he's a track and field athlete who runs well and has good hands; he should have no problem fitting into the offense. Holman has a terrific highlight tape. He's fast, fearless, and shifty, and could contribute immediately on special teams as a returner. Ideally, Northwestern would pick up one more commit here to solidify the position, but it's unlikely. Cameron Sullivan-Brown is uncommitted but holds 28 other offers, and Detroit athlete Scott Nelson is likely staying in state. Kyric McGowan had narrowed his options down to Duke and Vanderbilt, but he just reopened it yesterday to include Mississippi State and Northwestern as well. Fitzgerald probably doesn't mind taking just two receivers, though it also wouldn't be surprising at all to see a third added. It's currently a weakness for the Wildcats, but the solution lies more in quality rather than quantity.
Trey Pugh is legit and has a great chance to make an immediate impact. His tape is effortless; he has crazy natural athleticism. The two-superback class looks like it isn't happening, though it would have been interesting to see how Pugh and former commit Bryce Wolma would be used together. Northwestern will likely check in on local committed recruits Cole Kmet and Jake Marwede, but don't expect anything to change at this position.
Northwestern finally got Ethan Wiederkehr on board, who has terrific size and at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, should fill into the tackle position nicely. It's too bad that both Joel Honigford and Andrew Steuber committed to Michigan, but that doesn't mean Northwestern is done recruiting at this position. California product Ryan Nelson received an offer in June and appears to be seriously considering the Wildcats, although he could be destined for the Pac-12. It would be no surprise if Fitzgerald offers another couple of tackles this month. It would be nice to add another to this class, you can never have too many big guys.
Rashawn Slater committed back in January and that's a good thing, it means Northwestern got its top realistic target here. Slater is physical enough to be a very good guard, and although he won't be playing it in college, I love his tape on the defensive side of the ball. He has some work to do to be an interior offensive lineman in the Big Ten and needs to play a bit lower to the ground, but he has the intangibles to be a solid starter. There is likely one more offensive lineman spot available in this class, and it would make more sense for Fitzgerald to dedicate that to the tackle position or a guy who can play both guard and tackle.
Sam Gerak is the guy here. He's a consensus top five player at this position and that's exciting. Any changes at center would be very surprising.
The only question about defensive end is the strength of Earnest Brown's verbal commitment. We know Trevor Kent will be coming, but Brown has shown interest in Ohio State, and the feeling is mutual. I don't think there's too much reason to worry, Brown and Kent have an opportunity to be one of the best defensive end duos in the Big Ten and could contribute right away. I might be a little bit ahead of myself, but what's so exciting about these two is not only their offer lists, but their athleticism; it's something that will translate well at the next level. I think this position is set.
Sam Miller committed very early, but nobody is complaining about that. He was surprisingly lightly-recruited, but his tape is phenomenal. Miller needs to add a little bit of size, but will be a very solid defensive tackle. I could see someone on the roster — think Joe Gaziano — make the switch to defensive tackle at some point, because the staff seems content with just Miller here. This is one of the deeper positions on the roster, too, and the class of 2016 has Sam's older brother Alex as well as Jake Saunders in the middle.
Blake Gallagher is the inside linebacker of the class and projects as likely a MIKE linebacker. He's explosive to the ball and already looks physical enough to play in the Big Ten, but might need to add a bit of size. Peter McIntyre is the outside linebacker and projects as a SAM linebacker. His speed and athleticism are clearly on display in his tape. ESPN says he has a 4.11 shuttle, best among outside linebackers in the class, and McIntyre claims (go to "My Stats/About Me") he runs a 4.52 40-yard dash. Fitzgerald knows what he wants from his linebackers, and Gallagher and McIntyre are really good gets. With the possibility of Austin Hiller playing linebacker, I don't think another addition is necessary. Don't sleep on athlete Jordan Genmark-Heath who likely projects as a linebacker at the next level. He's an exciting player; perhaps Northwestern can pry him from the Pac-12.
Cameron Ruiz flew under the radar and the in-state recruit is a really solid get for Northwestern. There's a lot of young depth at this position with Trae Williams and Alonzo Mayo both redshirting last season, and true freshmen Roderick Campbell and Brian Bullock coming in this year. Bryce Jackson is the second corner of this class, but he has the flexibility to play safety as well. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the final additions to this class is another true corner. Russ Yeast decommitted from Kentucky back in June and holds a Northwestern offer, and both Tyriq Hardimon and Elijah Hicks would be big gets for the Wildcats. Keep an eye out for a late addition here.
This position seems pretty set in stone, especially considering Jackson has the ability to switch safety from corner. Austin Hiller has nice size for a safety at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. It's hard to imagine that Fitzgerald doesn't see at least a little of Brian Peters in him. If you forget how good Peters is, or want to take a trip down memory lane to the days of high scoring Northwestern football, this is for you. J.R. Pace is the other commit, he's a versatile guy that can cover receivers and make a big play in the backfield. Safety continues to be a strength for Northwestern.
Charlie Kuhbander is the first true kicker commit since All-American Jeff Budzien, although Hunter Niswander was recruited as a kicker. Northwestern will be happy if he can be any bit of the kicker that Budzien was, and Kuhbander's tape looks promising. He'll contribute immediately with the departure of Jack Mitchell.
Northwestern offered Drew Schmid back in June, but he received a Vanderbilt offer just three days after and a Boston College offer later in the month. Schmid would be a solid get for the Wildcats, who have often struggled with punting.