To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2018. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy, and created a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement.
We’ve chosen to loosely define the criteria for our list as the players “who will have the biggest impact on the overall outcome of the season.” However, we recognize that that’s still open to interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of a player over his replacement. It could just mean best player. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could mean players who have underperformed who need to step up.
One thing is certain though: no two lists will be the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.
To kick things off, we have senior safety Jared McGee.
Caleb Friedman (Rank: No. 5): We have McGee rated in similar spots on our lists, but I’ll make the case why he really important for Northwestern next season.
With both of their starting safeties gone, the Wildcats enter 2018 with uncertainty at a position that has been certain for the past several years. Godwin Igwebuike was a key communicator on the back end, and the safeties are important and movable pieces in any defense. McGee has proved to be a big hitter, and that he can make good plays on the ball in coverage, but now he’ll have to prove he can be consistent in an every-down role. If I were to guess, he’ll play closer to the line of scrimmage, and JR Pace or Travis Whillock will drop deeper in coverage. McGee isn’t Igwebuike, but he doesn’t have to be. If he can limit mistakes, Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall are talented enough in front of him to be disrupters for the defense.
Northwestern has the pass-rushers and linebackers to wreak havoc in the box, but will it be able to hold up in the secondary? I think that’s a major question mark for Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Hankwitz’s defense, and I see McGee playing a big role in determining the answer to that question.
Davis Rich (Rank: No. 7):
Jared McGee definitely belongs among the top ten most important players for 2018. Caleb’s right— there is a lot of uncertainty in the defensive backfield with Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero graduated to the NFL. Someone is going to need to step up and be a playmaker and havoc-creator at safety. As a veteran, McGee is probably going to have to be that guy.
Still, I have him ranked as the fourth-most important defensive player in my top ten. In my opinion, the most pressing concerns for the defense come up front. I know I ranked Montre Hartage third, but that ranking stems more from Hartage’s importance to the team as an emotional leader. How Northwestern’s front seven fare without Tyler Lancaster drawing double-teams and pushing the line of scrimmage back? And more importantly, what can we expect from Northwestern’s primary havoc-creator on defense, Nate Hall? The senior, who finished 2017 with 16.5 tackles for loss, eight passes defensed, five sacks, and two interceptions, is coming off a pre-Music City Bowl knee injury that kept him out of spring ball. Hall was a huge part of Northwestern wins over Michigan State, Maryland, and Minnesota last season.
I’m expecting McGee, with 30 games under his belt, to be fine in his role at safety. Moreover, if Northwestern can avoid the scourge of injuries that befell its defensive backs last season, guys like Pace, Bryce Jackson, and Jeremiah McDonald should be able to contribute as well.
In a conference like the Big Ten, how the Wildcats perform around the line of scrimmage will determine the success of their season.