With the season in the rearview mirror, it’s time to assess how Northwestern’s individuals performed this season. All classes are according to the 2016 season. The linebackers came in as one of the most talented and deepest units on the team, and it performed well for the most part.
Anthony Walker Jr. (junior): B+
105 tackles (62 solo), 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, 6 quarterback hits, 2 fumbles recovered, 4 fumbles forced
If Walker Jr. circa 2015 was an A+, Walker Jr. of 2016 was certainly a letter grade back — though it would have been unrealistic to expect him to be as good as he was in 2015 considering the talent around him that year. Teams were also able to gameplan against Walker Jr. better in 2016 considering he came out of nowhere in 2015. Walker overcame a nagging knee injury to post his second straight 100-plus-tackle season. He showed glimpses of his 2015 form late in the year, and he will be sorely missed next year.
Nate Hall (sophomore): B
73 tackles (43 solo), 6 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 quarterback hits
Hall boasts fantastic physical skills and put together his most complete campaign in 2016. He’ll be counted on much more next year, and he certainly has the size, speed and experience to help limit the drop off from Walker Jr.
Jaylen Prater (senior): B+
61 tackles (31 solo), 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 quarterback hit
Prater was well on his way to having his best season before a season-ending injury against Ohio State. The senior was very good against the run and was Northwestern’s leading tackler through a significant part of the season. His injury was really unfortunate, and he was missed against the run-heavy teams such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Joe Jones (senior): B
46 tackles (26 solo), 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 fumble recovery
A speedy outside linebacker, Jones made an impact in both the defensive and the special teams phases of the game. He put up the best numbers of his career as a senior, often splitting time at the outside linebacker spots, and losing him hurts the linebacker depth heading into next year.
Brett Walsh (sophomore): B
37 tackles (21 solo), 2 TFL, 1 sack
If you answered “Brett Walsh” to the question “Who had Northwestern’s first sack in 2016?” you’d be a winner. Though Walsh didn’t see a ton of time until Prater went down, he made the most of his time and stepped up in the absence of a senior leader. He’s a little undersized, but his speed helps. He’ll be an important part of the equation next year.