Northwestern kicks off its college football season in Palo Alto against Stanford in less than a month, but while we wait for college football to start, the NFL preseason has already begun, giving us a chance to take a look at how the pro ‘Cats are doing.
Nineteen former NU players — six of whom are rookies — are in an NFL training camp. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the only member of NU’s rookie class who was selected in the NFL draft, but beyond the rookies, seven former Wildcats should have a secure spot on an NFL roster. Three of those players are on the Green Bay Packers where Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern athletic director, is the team president.
Here is where each pro Wildcat stands as the NFL season commences:
Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers- Last season, Jackson was given a major opportunity for significant touches when Melvin Gordon missed games due to injury. In Week 13, he capitalized on his chance and burst onto the NFL scene with an 18-yard rushing touchdown to give the Chargers a late lead in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football. Jackson, along with Austin Ekeler, became the Chargers primary running back during Gordon’s short absence. Jackson finished the season with 50 carries for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 15 receptions for 135 yards. Now, Gordon is holding out of the Chargers training camp and has reportedly asked for a trade in hopes of a new contract. As a result, JJTBC could find himself as LA’s starting running back when the season begins.
Trevor Siemian, QB, New York Jets- Trevor Siemian had an unparalleled experience in his first two seasons. In his rookie season, Siemian won a Super Bowl ring serving as a backup quarterback to Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler at times. He was named the Broncos’ starting quarterback the following season after Manning retired. Siemian played well in his first season as a starter for the Broncos and was even invited to the Pro-Bowl. Since then, his career has turned south. Last year the ex-’Cat was the backup for the Minnesota Vikings, and he’s now a backup for the New York Jets. When Siemian signed with the Jets, people believed he would be the number two to Sam Darnold. Now, there are rumblings that Cal alum Davis Webb has surpassed Siemian on the depth chart. He’ll have to establish his position in the preseason.
Anthony Walker Jr, MLB, Indianapolis Colts- After seeing limited playing time in his rookie season, Walker took over as the starting middle linebacker for the Colts in his second year. Walker played well in his starting role last season with 105 tackles, one interception and one sack. The Colts have one of the better linebacker tandems in the AFC with Walker and last year’s second round pick Darius Leonard. He’ll be a starter and a leader again this year.
Dean Lowry, DE, Green Bay Packers- After three solid seasons for the Packers in the NFL, Lowry was rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason. Lowry reportedly signed a $20 million 3-year contract extension. After Lowry signed his extension, the Packers released star defensive lineman Mike Daniels. With Daniels’ release, Mark Murphy is putting in a vote of confidence for Lowry. He is now projected to be a starting defensive end. Last season, Lowry finished with 44 tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble.
Tyler Lancaster, NT, Green Bay Packers- After facing long odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent last season, Lancaster joined Green Bay’s practice squad. Nearly a month into the 2018 season, Lancaster was promoted to the active roster and did the most with his opportunity. The former Wildcat became a dominant run stopper and force in the middle of the defense. With the Packers plagued by injuries last season, Lancaster started five games and finished with 26 tackles. Entering 2019, Lancaster will be the backup nose tackle.
Dan Vitale, FB, Green Bay Packers- As the third member of the Wildcats’ contingent in Green Bay, Vitale has found his home in the NFL. The former superback for the Wildcats appeared in five games for Green Bay last season and may be the team’s starting fullback this season. It appears Vitale serves a critical role in the Packers offense. Aaron Nagler, the co-founder of Cheesehead TV, has raved about Vitale’s role in the Packers offense so far during training camp. While Mark Murphy was unable to lure Fitz to Green Bay, he may have struck gold with new head coach Matt LeFleur as he is similar to Fitz with his love for the do-it-all fullback!
Clayton Thorson, QB, Philadelphia Eagles- As a fifth round draft pick, the former Wildcat QB is third on the Eagles quarterback depth chart. With backup QB Nick Foles’ departure in free agency, Philadelphia drafted Thorson hoping the team could develop him into a solid long-term backup to starter Carson Wentz. According to various Eagles reporters, Thorson started training camp inconsistently, but is starting to perform better.
Sherrick McManis, S, Chicago Bears- While McManis did an admirable job filling in as a starting safety for the Bears last season, he will start the season as a backup in Chicago’s secondary and member of the special teams. There are rumors the Bears may cut the veteran before the season begins, but McManis is off to a solid start in training camp with two forced fumbles.
Joe Jones, LB, Denver Broncos- After playing in 16 games and finishing with 15 total tackles in his second NFL season, Jones looks to become a staple in the Broncos linebacker rotation this year. He has been solid in training camp as he picked off Broncos second round QB Drew Lock and returned the pass for a touchdown. Jones looks to be in a good position to make the Broncos roster as a backup linebacker. Off the field, Jones is also making an impact in the Denver community by taking a visit to a hospital to help children in need.
Austin Carr, WR, New Orleans Saints- After signing with the Patriots two years ago, Carr made an impression before barely missing New England’s roster. Last year, he really established himself with the Saints, amassing nine catches for 97 yards and helping the team go on a run to the NFC Championship. He’ll have to fight for his spot again, but he’s in a much more stable place in heading into this year’s camp.
Godwin Igwebuike, S- Igwebuike earned snaps with the Buccaneers and 49ers last year, but couldn’t establish himself in either place. Just two days ago, he was waived by the Eagles after three months with the team. He’ll get a crack with another team soon, but the former anchor of the Northwestern defense will have to fight to land on a 53-man roster.
Nate Hall, LB, Dallas Cowboys- Hall signed as a UDFA with the Cowboys and has some of the longest odds of the pro ‘Cats to find himself on a 53-man squad. He enters Dallas with a stacked linebacking core awaiting him, and a spot on a pro practice squad would be a victory for Hall.
Garrett Dickerson, TE, New York Giants- The ex-superback impressively made the Giants roster last year and played in four games. It’ll be another challenge to make the roster again, but if he can he might the chance to run some RPOs with Daniel Jones and come full circle! Truth be told, if Dickerson can’t make the Giants roster, he’ll likely latch on with another team, and if not, will comfortably be on a practice squad.
Blake Hance, OT, Washington Redskins- One of three senior offensive linemen to leave NU this past year, Hance is the only one of the trio with a true shot to make a 53-man roster. He is way down the Redskins roster, but could find some assistance if reports of Trent Williams asking for a trade are true.
Montre Hartage, CB, Miami Dolphins- Evanston’s finest island has been showing out well in Miami since the start of OTAs earlier in the year. Hartage is one of eight cornerbacks on the Dolphins roster, but has a very real chance of making the practice squad or roster with a strong showing in the preseason. Out of the fringe players vying for roster spots, Hartage arguably has the best shot at a spot on an NFL roster.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Minnesota Vikings- The most highly-rated recruit to enter Northwestern as a freshman played in one game with the Cardinals last year, but enters the Vikings training camp this year with an uphill climb. He’s currently the third string left end for the Vikings, but could find himself on a practice squad or a 53-man roster with an impressive preseason.
Kyle Queiro, LB, Dallas Cowboys- Queiro returns to Dallas for his second season. He didn’t feature in any regular season games, but retained a place on the practice squad throughout the year. Like Hall, he faces an uphill battle to make the roster, but a place on the Cowboys’ or another team’s practice squad is likely there for him.
Flynn Nagel, WR, New York Giants- After Sterling Shepard broke his thumb, Nagel was brought in for a workout. We haven’t really heard anything but the receiver wasn’t signed. He could see some opportunities later in the summer when injuries occur, or he may find a spot in another professional league. Nagel’s career certainly has not seen its final chapter.
Jordan Thompson, DL, San Francisco 49ers - Just last week, the 49ers completed their 90-man training camp roster by signing Jordan Thompson, who originally inked a deal with the Colts after going undrafted in April. The run clogger is a bit undersized for an NFL roster, but will at least get a chance to compete for a spot in training camp.