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Wildcat Throwaround: Northwestern’s Best Position Group

We’ve previewed every unit, now we debate which one is the strongest.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With our position previews in the books, it’s time to make some assessments of the roster as a whole. In this Wildcat Throwaround, a few of our staffers discuss which Northwestern position group is the strongest heading into the 2017 season. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Tristan Jung: For me, the best position group will be running back. Justin Jackson is one of the best Big Ten running backs of the last three seasons, and he’s got depth behind him even without Warren Long. John Moten IV, Auston Anderson and the young guns (Jeremy Larkin and Jesse Brown) are a solid core to build around behind Jackson. Northwestern’s running game has consistently been good over the past few years, and for me it remains the strongest position.

Caleb Friedman: I considered choosing the running back here, but I’m going with safety. Justin Jackson gets a lot of love — and deservedly so — but Godwin Igwebuike is really good too. He makes a ton of plays in the box, and rarely makes a mistake; he’ll most likely be Northwestern’s top player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. Plus, his partner, Kyle Queiro, is talented as well. Queiro turned in a solid 2016 campaign and could be a candidate to rise to an All-Big Ten level next season. Together, the duo forms one of the best safety pairings in the conference, if not the country. Plus, Jared McGee is a proven commodity and a quality backup, and should see the field plenty in 2017, even alongside Igwebuike and Queiro in certain packages. Northwestern also brings in some talented freshmen at the position in J.R. Pace, Austin Hiller and Bryce Jackson, so the unit is among the team’s deepest.

Ian McCafferty: This is a bit of weird year because a lot of Northwestern’s position groups either have a star and not a ton of depth, or a lot of depth but no real standout. For me there are only two position groups that I would consider as the best: safety or running back. My tiebreaker here is the position that has the best player on the team — and that would be running back. Godwin is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but Justin Jackson has been this team’s offense for the last three years. Running back gets that boost from not only having a star player but also a very good backup in John Moten IV. Add in some bonus points for a couple of promising younger backs, mainly Jeremy Larkin, and you’ve got yourself the Wildcats’ best position group.

Will Ragatz: I agree with everyone above that it has to come down to safety or running back. For me, safety gets the nod because while Jackson is slightly ahead of Igwebuike in star power and importance, Quiero and McGee are significantly further along in their development than Moten and Larkin. Northwestern has three starting-caliber safeties, which makes it the strongest position on the roster.

Martin Oppegaard: I’m going out a bit of a limb and saying the best position group is quarterback. Clayton Thorson earned a spot on the Maxwell Award Watch List after his breakout season last year, and he’s among Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Sam Darnold in Mel Kiper’s top five underclassmen quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Veteran Matt Alviti is a very capable backup while Northwestern has plenty of depth with redshirt freshman Aidan Smith, redshirt sophomore T.J. Green, and true freshman Andrew Marty. This group pairs nicely with the running backs to form a talented backfield.

There really isn’t too much more to say about the S vs. RB debate, so just for fun, here’s how I would sort the position groups into tiers.

Tier 1 - Elite: Running back, Safety

Tier 2 - Strong: Quarterback, cornerback, superback

Tier 3 - Talented but with question marks: Wide receiver, offensive line, defensive tackle, linebacker

Tier 4 - On paper weaknesses: Special teams, defensive end