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2017 Northwestern football position previews: Safety

This could be the best position group on the team next season.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The second part of our 2017 Summer Guide is position previews. For each position, we'll outline who's returning, who's gone and what the big question facing the unit is before finishing up with our projected depth chart for each position.

We continue the series with the safety position.


Returning starters (career starts): Godwin Igwebuike (31), Kyle Queiro (11), Jared McGee (3)

Key losses: None

Other returning players: Parrker Westphal, Travis Whillock

Incoming freshman: Bryce Jackson, Austin Hiller, J.R. Pace

Most coaches are just looking for two great safeties. Pat Fitzgerald has three. Godwin Igwebuike is one of Northwestern’s best players, and probably the best NFL prospect on the roster. He’ll be one of the best safeties in the conference next season, and could garner national recognition if Northwestern has a good season. People will remember Kyle Queiro’s insane one-handed interception against Indiana last season, but he’s a really solid overall player, too. Igwebuike and Queiro form what could be the best safety duo in the entire conference, and should lead the defense from the back end. Jared McGee started three games when Queiro was out last season and looked really good, so he will give the unit quality depth next season. Fitzgerald could even include some sub-packages in order to get all three talented players on the field at once.

Key Player

Godwin Igwebuike

Igwebuike has been a beacon of consistency on the defense, but in order to move into an elite category, he’ll need to force more turnovers. A lot of what he does goes unnoticed because he often has to clean up mistakes by those in front of him, but he’s everywhere on the field and racks up a ton of tackles. He’s smart and instinctual in the box, and rarely makes mistakes. He considered the NFL last season but chose to return to Northwestern, so a strong season from could catapult him up draft boards.

With Anthony Walker Jr. gone, Igwebuike will become the leader of the defense. It will be interesting to see how Fitzgerald plans to use Igwebuike’s talents because he’s a safety, which isn’t normally a dominant position on a defense. He’s started every game the last two seasons, and has been outstanding. In 2017, he has the opportunity to be even better.

Big Question

How dynamic can Igwebuike and Queiro be?

Having seen Igwebuike and Queiro play a fair amount, we more or less know what we’re getting. Both players are incredibly solid, and make a lot of tackles in the middle of the field. But if the unit is to have a major impact on the defense, Igwebuike and Queiro will need to take the football away and produce momentum-swinging plays.

The duo is experienced enough that it’ll be in a position to thrive, given that they’re accustomed to the rigors and expectations that come with Big Ten football. If they can be elite, Northwestern has a chance to make some noise in the Big Ten West.

Depth Chart

1st string 2nd string 3rd string
SS Godwin Igwebuike (Sr.) Travis Whillock (R-Fr.) Parker Westphal (Sr.)
FS Kyle Queiro (Sr.) Jared McGee (Jr.) J.R. Pace (Fr.)

The two seniors should be on the field every snap, though McGee will play a role too. It’s likely that one of the freshman forgoes a redshirt year, and so we’ll go with J.R. Pace here.