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Northwestern football’s most important players — #5: Greg Newsome II

Can Newsome emerge as a conference leader this season?

Iowa v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

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 Northwestern’s best cornerback — Greg Newsome II.

Will Karmin (3)

This number may seem a bit high as even I initially questioned whether Newsome’s ranking seemed warranted, but when analyzing from a micro-standpoint, his value to the ‘Cats cannot be understated.

Paddy Fisher should be a stud this season (he is ranked first on my important list). And while the performance in the trenches from Earnest Brown and Samdup Miller will be vital to NU’s defensive success, neither has an opportunity like Newsome to significantly alter the outlook on that side of the ball. The Wildcats front seven has was strong in the 2010s under Mike Hankwitz and Marty Long. I don’t envision that changing next season based on the unit’s returning players. That is why Newsome is so important.

With J.R. Pace and Travis Whillock handling the back end of the secondary, Newsome is the final piece in improving NU’s defense to the upper echelon of the Big Ten. He played at an All-Big Ten level last season, finishing second in the conference with 11 passes defended despite appearing in just nine games.

In 2019, Northwestern’s defensive struggles last season revolved around generating turnovers. If Newsome takes the next step in 2020 by turning into a ballhawking cornerback, his ability to create impact plays will elevate his status on the team to that of Fisher.

Daniel Olinger (NR)

The ideas of being important and being the best are two different things. For example, Leslie Knope is the most important character from the NBC show Parks and Recreation. She’s the protagonist with most closely followed story, but, while being a very good character, she is not the show’s best character in my opinion. I found characters like the goofy Andy Dwyer, the deadpan April Ludgate and the immortal Ron Swanson to be funnier, more memorable and ultimately better characters.

In the same vein, I believe Newsome will be one of Northwestern’s 10 best players in the 2020 season, but not one of its 10 most important. The quarterback room is the worst position group on the team, and therefore its success is the most important to the team’s success. If Kyric McGowan can’t become a true explosive playmaker, the offense will suffer. If Charlie Schmidt struggles as the lone new offensive lineman, then that puts a chink in the armor protecting an already shaky backfield.

Newsome was an above average corner last year, and as Will mentioned above, finished with an impressive 11 passes defended in nine games (though it should be noted that CFB Reference has him at only nine passes defended).

But just think about it — were you talking about Newsome every week last fall, was his performance always on your mind? Probably not. What you were likely musing about was how important it is for the quarterbacks and halfbacks to rebound from a dismal season, how important it is that Paddy Fisher returns to superstar form as a senior or how important it is that someone on the defensive line fills in the gigantic shoes Joe Gaziano left behind.

Newsome is a fine player, and barring injury, should produce for the ‘Cats in 2020. I just don’t find his individual success to have as strong of a positive correlation to the success of the team going forward.