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Mailbag: Clayton Thorson as an NFL Draft prospect and White Castle, begone

We’re two weeks away from Northwestern-Purdue, which means there are only two more weeks of Clayton Thorson speculation.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s speculate about the NFL Draft instead.

Do you think that the coaching staff is holding back Thorson from being a better quarterback? I don’t mean this question negatively, Thorson has been a solid QB, but IMO, I haven’t seen him produce good enough numbers to warrant a 1-3rd round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. — @cheech21097

This question seems to raise an eyebrow at the buzz around Thorson as a 2019 NFL Draft prospect, including this Bleacher Report mock which has Thorson going third (!). I think a big part of this has to do with the recent trend of NFL talent evaluators frothing at the mouth for prototypical quarterbacks — tall, big arm, athletic, look great in shorts. We’ve seen more and more signal-callers drafted in the first round (there were four first-round QBs in 2018) and we can point to cases (Josh Allen) where a quarterback who doesn’t even put up great stats in college can be a top-ten pick.

Sure, Thorson doesn’t get to throw the deep ball in NU’s offense as much as Justin Herbert does for Oregon, but that’s also not his game. His skillset is highlighted in different ways, and he’s put together a unique NFL Draft resume.

He’s a four-year college starter who has led his team to a great deal of on-field success in a difficult conference. He makes good reads and delivers short and intermediate passes accurately. He’s quick and athletic. He’s a great leader.

So, to answer, the question, no, because Thorson has earned the draft buzz he’s garnered for attributes beyond his basic numbers. Ask Josh Allen — he didn’t get drafted seventh because he completed 56 percent of his passes in the Mountain West Conference. Scouts seem to value size, athleticism, and arm strength over pure statistics.

If Thorson leads NU to a bowl game with similar stats as his sophomore and junior seasons, he probably will be a third-round pick or better, perhaps in spite of his statistics.

Now that basketball is away from the giant White Castle of Allstate Arena, do you think attendance and atmosphere will go back up now that you’re back at Welsh-Ryan? — @ChicagoStation


To answer your question, yes, and yes. The Northwestern basketball product was not good last year, and it was compounded by a gameday experience that was sub-par. The athletics department did a good job incentivizing student engagement by providing transport and a whole lot of free stuff, but not a lot of students found it worthwhile to take almost five hours of their day to watch a below-average basketball team. With a capacity of around 18,000, Allstate Arena felt more like a cave than a suitable environment for Big Ten basketball at times.

That will change in 2018-19. The renovations to Welsh-Ryan Arena will make the space more intimate, and therefore, a whole lot louder. A crowd of 5,000 (and probably more) will feel a lot louder at Welsh-Ryan than it did at Allstate Arena. Student engagement should rise — it wouldn’t be hard to improve on the couple dozen faithful undergrads who showed up to some late-season mid-week games.

The product on the court may not be that much better, but the gameday experience should be.

Coming off a 10-win season, and with a harder schedule, regression to the mean (record wise) is probable. What is the baseline for this season for Northwestern to maintain its momentum? — @Naasir37

You’re right — Northwestern has a much tougher path to ten wins this year. S&P+ sees the most likely probability at six or seven regular season wins, which feels about right.

Still, Northwestern can go 7-5 and have a ~good~ season if it wins of its marquee home matchups (Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame) or wins a bowl game. (Or both!) At the minimum, the Wildcats need to make a bowl game to maintain what they have going and keep up their national exposure.

Moreover, I think the program already has a great deal of momentum. You might have heard our head coach explaining how NU has won 27 games in the past three years, or you might have seen the brand-new Walter Athletics Center — the House That Fitz (and a handful of generous donors) Built. There’s been plenty of success on and off the field, and Northwestern will have Hunter Johnson to presumably cushion their fall in 2019 when Clayton Thorson is gone.

Who is emerging as the number 3 corner? — Caleb Johnson on Facebook

Roderick Campbell would be my best guess. We saw him getting lots of reps at nickelback in Kenosha, and with Brian Bullock presumably moving to safety, I’d expect Campbell to come in on nickel packages or if Montre Hartage or Trae Williams need a rest. Alonzo Mayo and Greg Newsome II will get chances to play, too.

The honorary Clayton Thorson knee injury section™

Is Thorson a go for Aug. 30? — @JGoldsborough

Who’s the qb until Thorson’s ready to go? (If he’s not ready to go) David Miller on Facebook

We reported that Thorson looked good in Kenosha. The team says he is still limited and won’t give an outlook for Aug. 30. But he looked like a quarterback doing quarterback things, so take that as you will.

As for his backup, I don’t have any earth-shaking insights, either. TJ Green has looked the best in practice to me, and I would guess it’s between him and Aidan Smith for Thorson’s backup role. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if either signal-caller wins the battle.