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5 redshirt first-years to keep an eye out for in 2019

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Despite being used only sparingly last year, this group is primed for a big role.

Northwestern Athletics

With the season fast approaching (16 days away!), we here at Inside NU continue to take a closer look at the 2019 Wildcats. Today, we examine the 2018 redshirts. The majority of this group have yet to make their collegiate debut, but there are definitely a few who have seen some action thanks to last year’s new rule, and many have the potential to make an impact. Here are the five to keep an eye out for this season.

Drake Anderson (RB)

The Arizona native appeared in two games as a true freshman. He garnered a career-high 24 rushing yards at Rutgers and recorded 12 carries total in 2018. Expect him to be an option to step in behind Isaiah Bowser and John Moten IV. It’s in his blood — his dad, of course, was inducted to the Northwestern Hall of Fame in 2009 and held the program’s all-time rushing record until 2017, when it was broken by Justin Jackson.

A.J. Hampton (DB)

Hampton made his collegiate debut against Purdue in 2018 and went on to appear in two more games as a true freshman. He recorded three total tackles (2 against Illinois and 1 against Purdue). Though the Wildcats do not lack experience in the defensive backfield, Hampton may see significant playing time as the loss of Montre Hartage turns heads toward the cornerback position.

Khalid Jones (LB)

With Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher both returning as key playmakers for one of Northwestern’s strongest units, there are high hopes for the Wildcats linebackers this year. Nonetheless, the loss of Nate Hall leaves the third spot up in the air. Though Jones saw action in only one game last year, he was the Wildcats’ top linebacking recruit in the 2018 class and was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN. He may not start, but will almost certainly prove part of the rotation among Chris Bergin and others. Jaylen Rivers and Grayson Mann are two other redshirt linebackers that have a little game experience and may be possibilities for the unit.

Devin O’Rouke (DL)

Northwestern already has a solid defensive line, particularly on the ends. But despite their strength, the depth issues at defensive tackle may push players like the Miller brothers and even Joe Gaziano into service in the middle of the line, opening up spots on the edge (especially in pass-rushing situations). O’Rouke appeared in three games last season, so he is close to as experienced as a redshirt can be. The Illinois native made two tackles as a true freshman, and was rated a four-star prospect and the No. 33 defensive end in the nation by ESPN.

Wyatt Blake (OL)

Though Blake did not appear in any games as a true freshman, he is the biggest of the redshirted offensive lineman, and the highest-rated. ESPN deemed him a four-star prospect and the No. 20 guard in the nation after his high school career in Crystal Lake, Ill. Though it is impossible to know how he will perform in Big Ten action, the loss of three starting offensive linemen may mean he or one of the other redshirts will see significant action in a crucial role in the trenches.