To kick off a summer of football preview content at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players for 2019.
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 the best player. It could mean a player in a crucial role, or even players who have underperformed in past seasons who now need to step up.
Our staff has created a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement, but ultimately highlights ten players that will factor heavily into the seasons success. For each player, we’ll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.
Slotting in at second is the MIKE linebacker from Katy, Texas
Joe Weinberg (3)
If for some reason you don’t think Paddy Fisher has been the centerpiece of this Northwestern defense the past two seasons, he most certainly is now. In fact, he’s the centerpiece of this entire Northwestern program.
In his past two seasons at middle linebacker for the ‘Cats, the Texas native has embodied everything this Northwestern football is about. He flies around the field on defense. He won’t let you run through him. He forces turnovers. And perhaps most importantly, he plays. He always plays. No matter how banged up or hurt he is, Fisher’s always on the field in the middle of the defense where he knows he belongs.
As essential as the junior has been to Northwestern’s success the past two seasons, he’s been nowhere near perfect. Like any college linebacker, he misses his fair share of open field tackles and has plenty of room to improve defending the passing game as well. Furthermore, Fisher’s speed in closing down runners outside the tackles is good, but it’s not great. As remarkable as he’s been since arriving in Evanston, it still doesn’t feel like he’s maximized his potential.
He’s recorded 229 tackles in two seasons playing for the ‘Cats, yet it still doesn’t seem like Fisher has reached the top of his game. If anything, that should make Northwestern fans more excited for what’s to come in these next two (hopefully) seasons.
That being said, Fisher has benefited greatly from having some key pieces around him in the Northwestern defense that won’t be around in 2019. The linebacker’s total tackle number were aided by the fact that Jordan Thompson virtually took the attention of two offensive lineman on every running play. He also had an outstanding linebacker in Nate Hall next to him on most plays who (when he was healthy) provided Fisher with a ton of support, particularly in defending the pass. Hall won’t be by his side this time around.
But if there’s anyone on this team willing and prepared to take on more responsibility, Fisher is the guy. The former three-star prospect who had just a handful of Power 5 offers coming out of high school has transformed himself into a Preseason All-American and one of the most feared linebackers in the Big Ten in just three short years. There’s no telling what’s in store for him this fall.
Claire Kuwana (2)
Northwestern football is grounded in defense — and linebacker Paddy Fisher is at the heart of it. Fitz’s experience as a linebacker shines through in Fisher’s development: Fisher finished with over 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons, and he led the Big Ten in both total tackles and forced fumbles his sophomore season.
Fisher made an impact immediately in his first season playing for the ‘Cats. He was named the Big Ten Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and was the only Power 5 player to record two or more games with 18 tackles. Toward the end of the 2018 season, he proved to be Northwestern’s core defenseman, leading the team with 11 total tackles (eight solo) in the Big Ten Championship and 13 total tackles in the Holiday Bowl.
As he steps into his junior season, it is undeniable that Fisher will have to bear even more weight defensively. Like Joe said, without Thompson and Hall next to him, it’s going to be much more difficult for Fisher to defend both the running game and the passing game.
Nonetheless, Fisher’s standout performances so far have proved that he will be able to step up this coming season. And with only two years of playing under his belt, he has shown that he can develop quickly. With his energetic and consistent play, there is no doubt in my mind that Fisher will be key to Northwestern’s defense this fall.