The 2018 NFL Draft gets underway Thursday evening in Arlington. Northwestern hasn’t had a lot of success on the first day of the draft, but safety Godwin Igwebuike and running back Justin Jackson are both projected to be drafted on either Friday and Saturday. Moreover, Kyle Quiero and Tyler Lancaster represent two other prospects with a great chance at getting their shot as an undrafted free agent, like Austin Carr did a year ago. Our writers discuss what will make this weekend’s draft a success for Northwestern.
Davis Rich— Justin Jackson gets a chance
Northwestern has featured a host of productive running backs in the past quarter century, but since 1997, only Noah Herron, Darnell Autry, and Sean Bennett have heard their names called in the NFL Draft. Talented rushers like Venric Mark, Damien Anderson, and Tyrell Sutton were passed over as draft prospects. Mock drafts have Justin Jackson going anywhere between the fifth and seventh rounds as an undersized running back. Despite his limitations, Jackson was the most productive running back in Northwestern history, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to carve out a role for himself at the next level. For Jackson, getting drafted is realizing a dream, and it’s also meaningful for Northwestern fans who enjoyed watching No. 21 carve up Big Ten defenses for four years.
Caleb Friedman — Godwin Igwebuike goes Day two
Realistically, whatever happens in the draft won’t be that significant for Northwestern. I think if a Northwestern player was in the running to be a first-rounder, it would be a bigger deal. Still, if Godwin Igwebuike goes Day two — so in the second, or more likely, the third round, it’s a win. Igwebuike is a phenomenal athlete and a baller, so he can clearly help a team. For him to go in the second or third round would be a nice addition to Pat Fitzgerald’s resume of developing pro talent.
Noah Coffman — Four Wildcats find squads
Northwestern doesn’t have any realistic possibilities for top-two round picks this year, as with most years, but their relationship with the NFL has never been about that. If Justin Jackson, Godwin Igwebuike, Tyler Lancaster and Kyle Queiro are all affiliated with teams by the end of the weekend, that’s four more Wildcats in the NFL. None of Northwestern’s current pro alums are stars, but there are plenty of role players out there, and what Pat Fitzgerald and his staff want to pitch to recruits is that Northwestern’s top players get NFL snaps. Adding another foursome to that mix can only help the Wildcats in that aspect of their pitch and their mission.
Talia Hendel - Jackson hears his name
I agree with Davis. It is not that Igwebuike doesn’t deserve a spot, nor that I don’t believe he will get one. But Justin Jackson has become nothing short of a celebrity in the realm of Northwestern football. His successful career earned him his own chant and an unwavering fan base that constantly defended him against the big name running backs as being underrated and just as talented. That’s why Jackson getting his chance would be so indicative of success for Northwestern - he’s become the heart of the program and has garnered the affection of practically every NU fan. If he gets drafted, he’ll be bringing those who supported him through his whole career as a Wildcat right along with him and it will be an achievement for everyone.
Martin Oppegaard - Three Northwestern players get drafted
Northwestern has had two players drafted the past three years. But Igwebuike could hear his name called on Day 2. Jackson is the program’s all-time leading rusher. Queiro is projected to go in the 5th round by Pro Football Focus. Tyler Lancaster says he’ll find a way. Let’s see some progress.
Graham Brennan - Lancaster makes an NFL roster
Partly due to a late, Inside NU-created, spark, Tyler Lancaster will find an extra gear, and earn an NFL roster spot. The huge behemoth of a man put up 36 bench press reps at pro day, a number that would have ranked inside the top five for defensive tackles at the NFL Combine. He’s certainly strong enough to play on Sundays. Hopefully, our latest article will prove to be the last added bit of motivation he needed to ‘find a way’ onto an NFL roster.