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.
We continue the list with defensive tackle Jordan Thompson.
Caleb Friedman (Rank: 7): I know Noah has Thompson a bit higher than I do, so — while I agree he is one of the most important players on the team — I’ll make the case why he isn’t higher on my list.
For one, Thompson has started 25 games already, so he’s a known commodity. He’s proved himself to be a stout run defender and an adequate disrupter. But, given that he’s played a lot, it’s tough for me to envision him making a huge leap next season — and that’s fine. I understand that Tyler Lancaster’s departure makes Thompson’s role on the interior more important, but I think improvements from Jared McGee, for example, would translate more to on-field success. My logic is a bit different with Nate Hall being No. 2 on my list, but that has a lot to do with his status coming off a serious knee injury.
The way I see Thompson rising up the importance rankings is his pass-rushing. If he can get into the backfield a few more times per game, then he elevates to an All-Big Ten player, which fills the Lancaster gap and then adds a different component to the NU defense. The outside of the defensive line could be ferocious, so the inside is more of a question mark, more because of the tackle spot that Thompson won’t occupy. So, my answer is kind of a cop out because I think Thompson is important but not the most important player on the defense.
Noah Coffman (Rank: 3):
For the past two years, people around the Northwestern program have targeted Thompson as a breakout candidate. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t happened yet. But Tyler Lancaster’s continuous presence opposite Thompson has limited the rising senior’s impact. Thompson was, as Caleb mentioned, a starter both years, but ultimately he was just one piece in a pretty significant rotation. Because of his limited use, I don’t think Thompson’s stats actually do represent the limit of his abilities.
Thompson came into the program in 2015 as the highest-rated recruit in his class. His combination of strength and speed had Northwestern dreaming of a dominant defensive tackle. And this year, with the uptick in usage that should come from Lancaster’s graduation, he could finally step into that role. Potential increased success from Thompson could take Northwestern’s talented defensive line from a force to be reckoned with to flat-out dominance, and the talent needed to fuel such a jump is clearly there. On the other hand, if for whatever reason Thompson disappoints in his senior season, valuable veteran leadership of a relatively young group along with a lot of potential would be lost.
In my Gaziano writeup, I projected that a dominant defensive front could patch over many of Northwestern’s weaknesses. On both passing and rushing downs, a Thompson that lives up to his lofty potential could be that front’s focal point. The veteran, finally, will almost certainly get the snaps to be a constant difference-maker. Whether he can take the leap will go a long way towards answering the same question for Northwestern’s defense writ large.