Having finished our position previews, we wrap up the second part of our Summer Guide with a couple of bigger-picture reflections. The first question: Which position group is the strongest?
Zach Pereles: I think this has to go to the running backs. How many position groups in the nation have a projected first-team All-Big Ten starter and a backup that could probably start at a lot of schools? Not too many. Justin Jackson and Warren Long were outstanding last year, and with the impressive performances we've seen from John Moten this offseason as well as the gamebreaker potential of Auston Anderson, it's hard to argue against this group both because of its skill and its depth.
Most worrisome position group
Most worrisome position group
Ian McCafferty: The best position group on the team is the linebackers. Right off the top, they have the best player on the entire team, Anthony Walker. He's an All-American and probably the best middle linebacker in the entire Big Ten. Just by himself Walker brings this group into the upper tier of Northwestern position groups. Then he has a couple of great wingmen in Nate Hall and Jaylen Prater. Prater is a solid outside linebacker, while Hall was incredible down the stretch and looks to be ready for a breakout season. If Hall plays like he did late in 2015, Northwestern may have two of the Big Ten's best linebackers, and the linebackers will easily be this team's best position group.
Tristan Jung: I have to agree with Ian and go with the linebackers. The running back position has great depth but we may never see their full potential in a high-octane offense (whatever that means) or at least an offense that can threaten to have an aerial attack. Running back goes about three deep (assuming one of Moten and Anderson is given the opportunity to produce), but there are four good linebackers on the team (Prater, Hall, Jones and Quiero) and one game-changing star in Walker. I also like the potential of guys like Simba Short and Nathan Fox. Unlike running back, where Northwestern appears to be allergic to two-back sets, there are ample opportunities for Northwestern to use its depth at linebacker.
Rob Schaefer: It seems the consensus here is that Northwestern's best position group boils down to either the linebackers or running backs. I'm in agreement. Both positions run three-to-four quality players deep and Anthony Walker and Justin Jackson could be Northwestern's two best players right now (or at least most decorated). Ok, I'm setting up for a whale of a cop-out here, so let me take a definitive stance. I have a hard time crediting any position group on an offensive side that ranked 108th in the nation in total offense last season (43rd in rushing) as being the ‘best' on the team, so I'll go with the LBs here. The linebacking corps — especially Walker — are at the center of everything the Wildcats do on the defensive side of the ball and have helped create an identity for a team that almost exclusively rode its defense to a 10-3 finish last season.
Will Ragatz: I'll start this by saying that I'm in agreement with everything that has been said about the linebackers and running backs above. However, I'm going to go a little off the beaten path here and say that Northwestern's best position group is its defensive tackles. The argument for RBs and LBs is that they boast the two best individual players on the team and solid players behind/around them, but the case for the DTs is all about depth. It starts with Tyler Lancaster, who started all 13 games last season as a sophomore and should take another leap forward this year. Next to Lancaster, Northwestern has two legitimate starting-caliber options in C.J. Robbins and Jordan Thompson. Although only one will start, both will get plenty of snaps and should be in store for productive seasons. Behind those three, Greg Kuhar is a solid veteran option and Fred Wyatt could see time as well. The defensive tackle group will stay fresh by rotating players in and out, and won't be in trouble when the backups are in. It's a group that is full of depth and talent and will be a menace up front all season long.
Martin Oppegaard: It's hard to argue with the depth that the running backs and linebackers have, but for the sake of parity I'm going with the secondary. Yeah, it's not even a position, but I want to mention both the cornerbacks and the safeties. Fitz loves the "Sky Team," the self-proclaimed moniker of the secondary, and he knows they are so deep so he was willing to move both Marcus McShepard and Steven Reese to wide receiver. Northwestern is returning third team All-Big Ten corner Matt Harris, who will start for his fourth consecutive year, and ball-hawking safety Godwin Igwebuike. Yes, they're losing veterans Nick VanHoose and Traveon Henry, but I'm willing to argue that their replacements Keith Watkins and Kyle Quiero are more talented. The secondary is also very deep: redshirt freshmen Trae Williams and Montre Hartage have looked impressive and top true freshman Roderick Campbell could get a chance to play immediately. This is a young group with an abundance of talent that continues to flow in with each additional recruiting class.
Zach Wingrove: I agree with everything that's been said so far and while I think the linebackers and the secondary are both strong positions for the Wildcats, I think the deepest position has to be the running backs. As Pereles mentioned earlier, Justin Jackson is projected to be first-team All-Big Ten heading into this season and it's tough to do any better than Warren Long as a second stringer. Having a capable backup like Long who can take the pressure off of Jackson and make sure his carries don't get too high will be crucial for the offense, especially as the season progresses. Furthermore, Long and Jackson provide a great thunder and lightning combo with Long's strength and Jackson's quickness. Behind those two, Auston Anderson and John Moten are both young talented backs who have potential to make an impact in the future, if not this year.