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 discuss the merits of the player and their ranking. Moving to number two on the list, we’ll be focusing on a man who many have compared to Pat Fitzgerald himself.
Ben Finkelstein (2)
This was a particularly tough placement for me because while Paddy is easily the most influential player on the defensive side of the ball, I think he could be the most critical player to take the field on game days period.
In his first two years, Fisher averaged an absurd 115 tackles per game, consecutively ranking top five in the Big Ten in that category. In 2019, this number dropped to 89, which still tied him for the team lead with Blake Gallagher, during a down year. This unfortunate drop-off might have been a major gain for the ‘Cats defense, as Fisher decided to return to Evanston rather than entering the NFL draft, which most thought he would do before the season began.
Paddy has always been an outstanding run-stopper, but his pass coverage could definitely use some improvement. If he can take that next step, not only will he be better suited to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, but he could see his draft stock creep up as 2021 approaches.
Fisher is the primary playmaker and one of the in-game leaders for this team. He’ll be asked to do it all this season in hopes of bringing Northwestern back to the Big Ten Championship.
Eli Karp (2)
It’s fairly simple: the defense goes as Fisher goes. Ben gave some numbers up top, and last year’s stats weren’t terrible, but the quarterback of the defense didn’t quite look the same as he did in his first two seasons.
Fisher was competent last season, but he didn’t excel, and for a team captain with NFL aspirations, that isn’t enough. You generally know what you’re going to get from Chris Bergin and Blake Gallagher, but without the senior from Texas, the position group isn’t anything to rave about. When he’s playing at a high level, Northwestern’s defense looks comfortable and in control of what it wants to do: stop the run on early downs and make the opponent make plays and force things, which eventually leads to mistakes.
However, when the linebackers take poor angles or can’t make important tackles, bend-don’t-break doesn’t exactly work. The scheme works and thrives when Fisher forces fumbles, as he did four times in both 2017 and 2018. His execution can lift the confidence of the entire defense.
He’s got the size, athleticism and usually the instincts, especially on the ground. But NU needs him to make plays, whether that’s returning to 110+ tackles this season, forcing fumbles or causing teams to think twice about running at his area of the field. If he can do that, this defense will rise to a level we know it’s capable of reaching.