As summer gets underway and we get closer (hopefully!) to college football’s return, Inside NU is carrying on an annual tradition by counting down the players our staff has judged as most important to the team’s success in the coming season.
The definition of importance in this setting is, of course, up for interpretation, but that just makes this exercise all the more intriguing and, potentially, revealing. If you want to check out last year’s list, follow this link, and if you need a refresher on our overall rankings this time around, click on this one.
For each placement on the list, we’ve enlisted two of our writers to debate the merits of the player and their ranking. Next up, we’re taking a closer look at a defensive Trench Cat who needs to help fill Joe Gaziano’s shoes — Samdup Miller.
Eli Karp (4)
Defensive line coach Marty Long is arguably the best position coach on the team, and a main reason why is that he consistently develops talent so that when productive players graduate, there isn’t a drop off in quality of play. Northwestern’s d-line returns all its talent except for program great defensive end Joe Gaziano, and if there’s one knock on the position group, it’s that they don’t generate enough pressure on the quarterback. Gaziano was the undisputed top pass rusher on the squad, followed by Miller and Earnest Brown, both of whom saw their 2019 seasons abbreviated due to injury.
For NU’s defense to truly excel, it needs an effective Samdup Miller. In fact, he already flashed his potential in his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he started all 27 games, made 85 tackles, 15 of which were tackles for loss.
Miller is by far the most experienced defensive end on the roster. Brown has plenty of upside, but he hasn’t been on the field enough to prove the the same consistency. The defense has recorded just 24 sacks in each of the last two years but was more explosive in 2017 with 32 sacks (33 percent more). The overall unit was more dominant, allowing just 20 points and 357 yards per game while racking up 94 TFLs. Unsurprisingly, that was Miller’s best year, as he ranked second on the team behind Gaziano in both sacks and quarterback hurries with 5.5 and 4, respectively, and made 32 tackles.
It’s clear that when NU pressures the quarterback more, it creates both more consistent and better play from all levels of the defense. Now, the Houston native is the number one pass rusher, and if he can regain his form of his first two campaigns, a tandem of him and Earnest Brown could keep opposing quarterbacks up at night.
Mac Stone (NR)
Miller is without a doubt a very talented player, but with the defensive line returning all of their talent aside from Gaziano, I don’t know if he’s top 10 worthy.
Pass rush is important, yes, but considering the talent that this Northwestern defense has, some of the weight to stand out is lifted off of Miller’s shoulders.
There’s no arguing against his stats and he should be in for a monster year, barring any injury. Additionally, with Miller stepping into the role of the #1 pass rusher, he’ll be on the radar of opposing teams, potentially opening the door for Earnest Brown IV to have a big season as well.
Like I said, there’s no arguing against the stats. With the depth this defensive line has, however, Miller’s impact and overall importance could be limited.