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Northwestern’s 2018 NFL Draft prospects

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Let’s take a look at some Wildcats who may be on NFL teams this time next year.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Northwestern vs Pittsburgh William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

This past week saw Anthony Walker Jr. and Ifeadi Odenigbo get drafted into the NFL, making this the third straight year that Northwestern has produced two draft picks. The NFL has shown some recent interest in Evanston’s finest, which begs the question: who will be next?

Going into the 2017 season, Northwestern has 17 seniors on the roster and 14 redshirt juniors. Given that most Northwestern players finish their degrees, these 31 players are the extent of the pool we will examine. Now, of course, most of these players won’t get drafted, and many might not even see much of the field in 2017. However, there are a few that have a legitimate chance to make it to the next level, whether that is right now, or after one more great season.

It’s probably too early to start talking about this, but there are only 358 days till the 2018 NFL Draft, which means we need to get started right away.

Safety - Godwin Igwebuike

Igwebuike is a near lock to be drafted next year, as long as 2017 goes smoothly. The hard-hitting safety considered declaring for the 2017 draft. He and Walker both asked for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. While Walker did wind up leaving and getting drafted, Igwebuike decided to come back for his senior season. Given the fact that Walker didn’t go until the fifth round, that was probably a solid decision.

In 2017, Igwebuike will be the leader of the defense and have a chance to add to his already impressive tape. He’s a rangy safety that can cover and come down and play in the box. His versatility will ensure that someone will take at least take a flyer on him if it comes to that. If we compare his stats to Ibraheim Campbell, the last Northwestern safety to get drafted, he has a real shot to be pretty highly drafted.

Ibraheim Campbell vs. Godwin Igwebuike

Players Tackles TFL INT PD FF
Players Tackles TFL INT PD FF
Ibraheim Campbell 2011-2014 317 7.5 10 12 3
Godwin Igwebuike 2014-2017 239 11 4 18 2

Campbell was drafted in the fourth round, at No. 115 overall to the Cleveland Browns in 2015. With the exception of interceptions, Igwebuike has pretty much done in three years what Campbell did in four. If he can replicate his 2016 stats in 2017, he may get drafted in third round or even higher depending on how the class pans out.

Running Back - Justin Jackson

The other big name alongside Igwebuike, Justin Jackson has been one of the best running backs in all of college football the past few years. He’s received All-Big Ten honors all three years (honorable mention, second team, first team) while rushing for an obscene 3905 yards and 27 touchdowns. He absolutely took over the Pinstripe Bowl on national television and people took notice.

Jackson comes back for his senior year gunning for the Northwestern all-time rushing record and has a real shot to cement his spot in the first two days of the draft. The only concerns will be his usage — he’ll almost certainly top 1000 collegiate carries — and his speed. But he’s shown time and time again that he’s one of the shiftiest running backs in the country and dominates because of it. His speed and workload in college could be a problem, but he should get a shot in the NFL.

There were some people who thought that Jackson should have declared after last year, but he wanted to come back and finish his degree. If he can put together another solid season, he too has a chance to be the earliest Wildcat to hear his name called since 2005.

Defensive Tackle - Tyler Lancaster

Lancaster is an athletic freak; he’s 6-foot-3, 310 pounds and can allegedly bench 225 pounds 40 times. But he hasn’t entirely been able to transfer that onto the field as of yet. Now a lot of that has to do with the fact that he was double-teamed a lot last year, but still only 59 tackles, 9.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks aren’t huge numbers for his two years as a starter. The sacks aren’t too much of a concern, since he plays defensive tackle, but he’ll need a big season to really jump firmly onto draft boards.

The last defensive tackle to get drafted from Northwestern was Barry Cofield in the fourth round in 2006. During Cofield’s senior campaign, he recorded 62 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks and 1 INT. A season like that would probably get Lancaster onto draft boards. He certainly has the physical skill and power to play in the NFL, now is the time to make his arrival known.

Safety Kyle Queiro

Queiro has had injuries problems throughout his career at Northwestern, but finally got on the field in 2016. While he will be overshadowed by Igwebuike, Queiro was still quite impressive, recording 50 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 7 pass defenses and one absurdly good interception. He plays more as a free safety alongside Igwebuike and should put up solid numbers when healthy. He’ll get a look at the NFL, but unless he really impresses in 2017, it probably won’t be through the draft.

Wide Receiver - Solomon Vault

Vault’s speed makes him an intriguing prospect, but he would need to have an absurd 2017 to get a look in next year’s draft. He only has two years as a collegiate wide receiver. While he was good in spurts last season, he doesn’t yet have the numbers to propel him onto any draft boards. He has just 32 receptions for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns so far. He’s also a bit small for an NFL wide receiver, coming in at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, and we all know how obsessed the NFL is with size. However, we’ve also seen plenty of speed guys go as return specialists, and that’s where Vault really has a chance. If he can take a couple more back for TDs in 2017, a team will almost certainly bring him in as an undrafted free agent. The flashier the returns, the better.

Superback - Garrett Dickerson

This would be more of a physical fit than anything else at this point. He would need around 90 catches and over 1000 yards in 2018 to match Dan Vitale’s college stats, so unless he becomes a monster pass catcher this year, it’ll be up to his physical skills to get him in. His ability to block doesn’t hurt either. Dickerson has the build to play fullback or tight end in the NFL. If he can show some more development in the passing game this year, he’ll get a look.

Potential Juniors

The current junior with the most NFL potential is probably cornerback Montre Hartage, but he’s a true junior this year, so unless he has a season for the record books, he’ll probably be staying another year. Other than Hartage, the only players that may even consider leaving with a year of eligibility left may be Nate Hall and Clayton Thorson. We covered Thorson on Monday, but Hall would need a monster season (i.e. Anthony Walker 2015) to decide to leave early. Thorson may have a real shot if he plays well enough, but at this point only graduating seniors will be the ones heading to the draft in 2018.

Outlook

As we sit here in early May 2017, the likeliest scenario would be that Godwin Igwebuike and Justin Jackson are drafted in 2018. Tyler Lancaster may get drafted but is more likely to end up as an undrafted free agent. Plenty can change over the next year, though. This time last year, we likely wouldn’t have expected Ifeadi Odenigbo to sneak into the draft and we would’ve called you crazy if you said Austin Carr would be a New England Patriot.