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Northwestern football 2020 recruiting update: Work left to be done

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Ten recruits have already committed, but the Wildcats still need to fill out the rest of their class.

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern’s 2020 recruiting class is off to a hot start.

Pat Fitzgerald and co. have already pulled in the best offensive line recruit in program history, the third-best wide receiver prospect in program history (both being compared only to recruits in the rankings era), and another four-star quarterback. Seven other recruits have also committed, and the Wildcats’ class ranks 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.

It’s still early, though, and Northwestern has plenty of work left to do in terms of filling out a full, well-rounded class. Seven of the Wildcat’s ten commitments have come on the offensive side of the ball, and Fitzgerald has landed just one prospect that plays on the defensive line — Terah Edwards, who was listed as an offensive guard by 247.

NU has plenty of high-level offers still out there, but will have to continue to beat out Big Ten rivals like Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa to keep its high class rank. Let’s take a look at some of the guys the ‘Cats have their eyes on:

Skill positions

As mentioned above, Northwestern has gotten off to a great start in regards to the offensive side of the ball, including several important gets at the skill positions.

The ‘Cats have already taken care of quarterback for the class with the commitment of 2020 four-star Aidan Atkinson. They have also nailed down a running back in three-star Cameron Porter and bolstered their receiving corps by bringing in highly-rated Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen along with superback Hunter Welcing.

Still, Northwestern is targeting additional talent at the latter two positions NU has an offer out to four-star back Michael Drennen II, the fifth-ranked rusher in his class nationwide, though they’ll have to beat out Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and 31 others in order to get him. The only other running back the ‘Cats have offered is three-star Tim Baldwin. Baldwin is the 27th-ranked back nationally and has offers from Michigan, Boston College and Maryland.

With the three highest wide receiver recruits in program history already committed in the 2019 and 2020 classes, Northwestern isn’t in need of too much help here. The Wildcats do have offers out to Johnny Wilson, A.J. Henning, Collin Sullivan and Xavier Watts, though, and will likely try hard to land at least one of them.

Wilson is a long shot, ranking 24th nationally and coming in as the fourth-best receiver in the 2020 class, and Henning won’t be an easy get either, as the four-star receiver seems to favor Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State. Sullivan and Watts certainly seem more likely candidates for Northwestern, but as we have seen extensively this year already, anything can happen on the recruiting trail.

Sullivan is set to visit Northwestern on May 17th, and the Wildcats could certainly use his 4.47 speed. They’ll have to beat out Arkansas, Texas and Oregon to get him. Watts is the 95th-ranked receiver in the country and seems likely to go to Nebraska, though Michigan and Notre Dame are also in pursuit of the 6-foot-1 recruit from Omaha, NE.

Any of the four would be an impressive add for the 2020 class, but the Wildcats have already done pretty well for themselves at the position over the past two years.

The lines

Northwestern has already signed three highly impressive offensive lineman for the 2020 class, just about locking up their group on that side of the trenches. The Wildcats still have offers out to four four-star tackles along with three-star Jeffrey Persi, and could very well end up with another highly-touted big man up front.

Chad Lindberg, Michael Carmody and Zak Zinter all seem likely to end up elsewhere, but 6-foot-7 Connor McLaughlin from Tampa, FL could be the next addition to an already loaded offensive line class. McLaughlin is the 25th-ranked tackle in the country and would have the second-highest 247 composite rating in Northwestern’s 2020 class.

With McLaughlin looking like the only focus remaining on the o-line, the Wildcats will pivot their efforts towards the opposite side of the trenches. NU has offers out to eight uncommitted defensive lineman, so we’ll take a look at each of them individually.

Jay Hardy, DE

247 Composite: .9535

Rank: 86th nationally, fourth at his position

Hardy is a four-star recruit from Chattanooga, TN with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. Hardy has NFL potential and is probably out of the question as far is Northwestern is concerned.

Braiden McGregor, DE

247 Composite: .9530

Rank: 87th nationally, fifth at his position

McGregor is another highly-touted four-star prospect with offers from a plethora of blue-blood programs, including Notre Dame, Clemson and Michigan. He falls in the same category as Hardy in that he likely won’t end up playing in purple.

Deontae Craig, DE

247 Composite: .8688

Rank: 566th nationally, 26th at his position

Craig is a three-star recruit from Culver, IN. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound defensive end has offers from Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State.

Kris Jenkins, DE

247 Composite: .8678

Rank: 596th nationally, 28th at his position

The son of a former two-time all-Pro defensive tackle, Jenkins hails from Olney, MD. He’s a three-star recruit and has offers from 21 other schools including Maryland, his father’s alma mater.

Sean McLaughlin, DE

247 Composite: .8516

Rank: 872nd nationally, 42nd at his position

A three-star recruit, McLaughlin stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 220 pounds. He has offers from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Harvard, and appears to be relatively high on Northwestern. McLaughlin is certainly less immediately projectable than others thanks to his lean frame, but has the body type and talent to eventually become a difference-maker.

Lance Keneley, DE

247 Composite: .8299

Rank: N/A nationally, 70th at his position

The 6-foot-5 defensive end from Mission Viejo, CA has offers from Utah, UCLA and Boise State, an overall impressive list, and it will be difficult for the Wildcats to coax him out of the west.

Isaiah Raikes, DT

247 Composite: .8577

Rank: 737th nationally, 59th at his position

Raikes is the highest-rated defensive tackle Northwestern is currently in pursuit of. He ended the 2018 season with eight sacks and has a college-ready frame, allegedly weighing in at 324 pounds. He has offers from Texas A&M, Penn State and Baylor.

Ali Saad, DT

247 Composite: .8499

Rank: 899th nationally, 65th at his position

Saad is a three-star recruit from Dearborn, MI with offers from Indiana, Boston College and Cincinnati. The Wildcats are almost certainly his best offer, and he seems high on the idea of coming to Evanston.

Linebacker

Northwestern already has added help to its linebacking corps with the commitment of three-star outside linebacker Xander Mueller, but with Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher set to depart within the next two years, the ‘Cats are in pursuit of additional depth.

The Wildcats have offers out to Carson Bruener, Kalel Mullings, Kaden Johnson and Cullen Coleman, and will hope to ideally land at least one of them. Mullings and Johnson are both four-stars that rank within the top 10 at their position (outside linebacker) and as a result have a ton of interest from top schools. The Wildcats will be competing with Notre Dame, Alabama and Michigan for Coleman, a three-star outside linebacker from Rye, NY.

Meanwhile, Bruener, a three-star recruit from Redmond, WA, is the lone inside linebacker recruit Northwestern has offered in this class. He’s ranked 29th at his position and is also the son of a former pro, tight end Mark Bruener.

Secondary

NU has just one commitment in the secondary so far, but has offers out to five others:

Ayden Hector, CB

247 Composite: .9105

Rank: 259th nationally, 19th at his position

Hector is a four-star corner from Sammamish, WA with offers from Stanford, USC, Oregon and Washington.

Collin Gamble, CB

247 Composite: .8366

Rank: N/A nationally, 99th at his position

A three-star from Argyle, TX, Gamble has offers from Michigan, Boston College and Duke.

Makari Paige, S

247 Composite: .9156

Rank: 240th nationally, 20th at his position

Paige is another four-star with impressive offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Gunner Maldanado, S

247 Composite: .8678

Rank: 587th nationally, 35th at his position

Coming in at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Maldanado is a three-star with just seven offers so far, including Arizona, Arizona State and Indiana.

Christian Gonzalez, S

247 Composite: .8667

Rank: 607th nationally, 38th at his position

The 6-foot-1, three-star safety received offers from Alabama and Ohio State earlier this month.

NU will likely try to sign two players out of this group - one corner and one safety. Hector and Paige seem unlikely to end up at Northwestern given the pedigree of the other schools competing for them. Hector and Maldanado living on the West Coast also won’t make matters easy. Out of this group, Gamble is probably the best bet for the Wildcats, who could also try to add to their defensive backs room with the ensuing group of offers.

Athletes

To finish things off, Northwestern has offers out to three three-star athletes: Cameron Martinez, Ethan Wright and Chayce Bishop. Martinez ranks as the 23rd-best athlete in the nation and has offers from 33 other schools (including Michigan and Notre Dame), though he is listed by 247 as “warm” on NU. The Wildcats have the same “warm” designation with Wright, who ranks a little further down the list at his position, and seems to be focusing on just Duke and Northwestern for now. NU looks primed to land at least one of this trio.


The Wildcats has done really well so far recruiting against other Big Ten schools and powerhouse football programs across the nation, and that’s largely why the class got off to such a solid start. The ‘Cats will have to continue to impress if they want to snag guys from the batch of offers they have out right now.

Plenty of new offers will still go out to prospects over the coming months, but for now, this is who Northwestern is looking at. With an emphasis on filling spots in the secondary, the linebacking corps, the defensive line, and the receivers, Pat Fitzgerald and co. have plenty of work to do.