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Northwestern in the NFL: Wildcats prepare for Week 1 matchups

Let’s see how our old friends are doing.


The NFL is officially back with a full slate of games this Sunday, and a number of former Wildcats are set to compete. Seven former wreckers of Ryan Field found themselves on NFL rosters along with five on practice squads (Austin Carr, Nate Hall, Trevor Siemian, Ibraheim Campbell and Joe Gaziano) and one who chose to opt out of the coming season (Dan Vitale). This marks the second consecutive year that over 10 Northwestern alums will be signed to NFL organizations.

Here is your guide on who to watch this Sunday:

Ifeadi Odenigbo: Minnesota Vikings, second-string DE

Odenigbo broke out in the second half of last season, recording seven sacks on the year, six coming in the final nine games. That level of production while playing in just 34 percent of defensive snaps combined with the departure of longtime starter Everson Griffen should leave Minnesota fans relishing at the thought of watching Odenigbo line up as a regular starter.

Then, the Vikings traded for star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, pushing Odenigbo back to the bench. Regardless, the former Wildcat’s role will surely be expanded, as he could even see an opening day start Sunday against the Packers with Danielle Hunter’s health in question.

Week 1 opponent: Home vs. Green Bay (12:00 pm CT)

Justin Jackson: Los Angeles Chargers, second-string RB

When on the field the past two seasons, Jackson has been impressive. As a third-string back, he has surpassed 200 yards rushing both seasons in limited action, averaging a fantastic 6.9 yards-per-carry last season. Melvin Gordon leaving town for the division rival Broncos should translate to an uptick in production. Even with rookie Joshua Kelley showing promise and Jackson coming back from a toe injury, he is expected fill the backup role behind Austin Ekeler.

Week 1 opponent: At Cincinnati (3:05 pm CT)

Tyler Lancaster: Green Bay Packers, starting DE

The Packers had a hole to fill at defensive end last season, and it appears Lancaster has been their answer. The second-year edge rusher started 10 games and recorded 30 total tackles. Lancaster has always been a standout run-stopper, and the Packers, who ranked 23rd in run defense last year and gave up 285 rushing yards in the NFC Championship Game, are desperate for help in that department. Between that and his improved pass rushing, Lancaster is a prime candidate to have a breakout 2020 campaign.

Week 1 opponent: At Minnesota (12:00 pm CT)

Anthony Walker, Jr.: Indianapolis Colts, starting LB

2020 will be Walker’s third year starting for the Colts, as he contributes to one of the league’s best linebacker duos along with former All-Pro Darius Leonard. Walker had a strong 2019 season and ranked 15th in the league in total tackles with 124. Walker is entering this season looking for a third straight season of over 100 tackles, which can help resurrect a much-improved Colts team from a mediocre 2019.

Week 1 opponent: At Jacksonville (12:00 pm CT)

Dean Lowry: Green Bay Packers, starting DE

Dean Lowry enters his fifth season on the Packers needing to bounce back. After signing a three-year, $20 million contract a season ago, regressed from a strong 2018. Lowry recorded no sacks and just two tackles for loss. If Green Bay wants to bring the Lombardi Trophy home, they’ll need Lowry to return to his old form with his old buddy Lancaster.

Week 1 opponent: At Minnesota (12:00 pm CT)

Sherrick McManis: Chicago Bears, second-string CB

McManis enters year 11 once again as a majority special teamer. He battled injury all throughout training camp yet was able to earn a roster spot as one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. The 32-year-old has made a lengthy career out of providing secondary depth and being an impact player in the third phase, where he’s never played below 40 percent of the snaps.

Week 1 opponent: At Detroit (12:00 pm CT)

Joe Jones: Denver Broncos, third-string LB

Jones, like McManis, is a majority special teams player now in his fourth season in that role. With just 28 total tackles over three seasons at linebacker, Jones isn’t expected to do much on defense, but with the long-term injury to Von Miller, anything is possible, especially if he can stay healthy.

Week 1 opponent: Home vs. Tennessee (9:20 pm CT)