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With seven Wildcats declaring for the NFL Draft, Northwestern football has a chance to make a quiet statement

NU has a chance to solidify its reputation as more than just a Big Ten program that punches above its weight.

NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Northwestern has had seven or more players drafted to the NFL in the same year five times since the first draft took place in 1936. But the last time it happened was in 1967, when tight end Cas Bazaszek was the first of seven Wildcat names called, as he was drafted 11th overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

This year, NU could make history again, with a record number of players hoping to have their names called in Cleveland this spring. Each player has announced his intentions of playing at the next level through social media or other media outlets, with star left tackle Rashawn Slater leading the way in August before the season even started.

Junior cornerback Greg Newsome followed suit after he was injured in the Big Ten championship and was unable to play in the Citrus Bowl, announcing he would forgo his senior season and becoming NU’s first true “three-and-done” of the Pat Fitzgerald era, according to Yahoo’s Pete Thamel.

After the culmination of No. 10 Northwestern’s historic season, linebacker Blake Gallagher, defensive end Earnest Brown IV, quarterback Peyton Ramsey, wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and safety JR Pace added their names to the bunch as well.

In the near future, senior linebacker Paddy Fisher, arguably NU’s second-most known prospect behind Slater, is expected to declare for the draft as well.

The standouts on this list are Slater, Newsome and possibly Fisher. The senior offensive lineman is projected to go early in the first round and was ranked 12th on Pro Football Focus’ latest Big Board. Newsome was ranked 62nd on the same list.

It remains to be seen how many of the declared players will end up being drafted, but it is likely that the majority will end up fighting for roster spots as undrafted free agents. Fisher is currently projected to be taken anywhere in the third-to-fifth rounds, according to NFL draft scouts, and Pro Football Network’s Big Board projects Ramsey and Brown to earn sixth-round selections.

It’s hard to know what will actually happen, and talent evaluation boards change all the time, especially with the NFL Combine and various pro days around the corner. But if five recently-graduated players earned spots on pro rosters to begin training camp, that’d be the most Northwestern has had since 1967.

The amount of NFL-caliber talent coming out of Evanston is a testament to the growth of NU, both in recruiting and player development. The program’s reputation, built on hard work and making smart plays, gives players who might not have NFL-caliber athleticism, many of whom entered the program as three-star recruits, the tools to compete with players coming out of traditional powerhouses. With the hard evidence of an uptick in NFL-bound Wildcats, an improving Northwestern program will only benefit from that, especially on the recruiting trail.