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.
Up now is Paddy Fisher at No. 4.
Talia Hendel (Rank: 2): Fisher took control of the defense before Northwestern students even arrived on campus last fall. As a redshirt freshman, he earned All-American honors and was one of two first-years to appear in the top 20 for most forced fumbles among FBS players. He has undoubtedly created a reputation for himself as a force for running backs to reckon with, showcasing his field vision through his consistent success in stopping the run.
The reason he deserves this high of a ranking in my book, however, is not simply because of his impressive stats, but rather the ease in which he’s stepped into his role. In a few short games, Fisher went from a member of the defense to its uncontested leader, exhibiting confidence at the middle linebacker position particularly through the more difficult games. I’m sure everyone remembers the fear brought on by the early loss to Duke which threatened to take away all the hope of a promising season. But what you might not remember (or may not have seen if you couldn’t bear to watch anymore) was that Fisher had 18 tackles. He didn’t even consider giving up when the offense struggled time and again, and instilled faith that no matter the situation, he would ensure the defense did its job to the best of its ability. The fact that he succeeded in garnering the trust of teammates and fans alike in just his second game on the field as a Wildcat leaves no doubt in my mind that he will not only continue to improve, but also to instill confidence in his teammates and continue to assert his role as the leader of the defense.
Caleb Friedman (Rank: 9): Last season when we did this series, Fisher was in my top three. He was locked in a battle with Nathan Fox for the middle linebacker job (that sounds crazy now), and he was trying to replace NFL-bound Anthony Walker Jr. This time around, he is a legitimate star on Northwestern’s defense. To me, we know what he is: a really good in-the-box linebacker who eats running backs for breakfast. His performance is almost somewhat of a given — last season, he was the constant, even in losses. Barring injury, I see that happening again.
I’m just not sure how much Fisher can really improve. I mean, if he does, he’ll be in the conversation for first or second team All-American next season. The area he could improve is his coverage, but that isn’t really the role he plays in Northwestern’s defense. Last season, it was often Nate Hall dropping into coverage. I think Fisher will be very good, but his game doesn’t have as much variability for me, which is why I ranked him a bit lower.