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Northwestern in the NFL: 2020 season recap

The ‘Cats stepped up in a wild year.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With the Green Bay Packers’ loss on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, there are no longer any Northwestern Wildcats competing for the Lombardi Trophy in the NFL this season — with the exception of Chiefs’ quarterback coach Mike Kafka. Although we won’t see any former ‘Cats winning the Super Bowl as players this year, there was no shortage of great performances from the Pro ‘Cats.

Let’s take a look back at how NU players in the NFL performed this year.

Anthony Walker: Indianapolis Colts, LB

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Walker proved to be dependable for the Colts again in 2020. He started all 16 regular-season games and one postseason game, recording 92 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and two passes defended.

Best Moment: In a Week 13 win against the Houston Texans, Walker jumped on an aborted snap just as the Texans were driving and about to score the game-winning touchdown. A close second was when he got teammate Jonathan Taylor to wear a Northwestern jersey after the ‘Cats beat Taylor’s alma mater Wisconsin in November.

2021 Outlook: The Franchise is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and he’ll be looking for a large contract. Even if the Colts don’t resign him, another team will pay the tackling machine to lead their linebacking core.

Justin Jackson: Los Angeles Chargers, RB

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: When Chargers starter Austin Ekeler went down with an injury in Week 4, Jackson moved up the depth chart and shared the feature back role with Joshua Kelley. In nine games, he carried the ball 59 times for 270 rushing yards and caught 19 passes for 170 yards through the air.

Best Moment: Jackson had his best game of the season in Week 8 against the Denver Broncos where he accounted for 142 yards from scrimmage, including runs of 22 yards and 18 yards.

2021 Outlook: Jackson will likely serve as a backup for the Chargers once again next year before he becomes a free agent in 2022.

Ifeadi Odenigbo: Minnesota Vikings, DE

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: In his second season with the Vikings, Odenigbo started in 15 games and had 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one safety. In all but two games he played over 50% of the team’s defensive snaps.

Best Moment: In Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Odenigbo blew past the left tackle and sacked quarterback Mike Glennon in the end zone for his first career safety, which extended the Vikings’ lead to five early in the fourth quarter.

2021 Outlook: Odenigbo is a restricted free agent this offseason, but assuming he returns to the Vikings, he should reclaim his starting spot on the defensive line.

Tyler Lancaster: Green Bay Packers, DT

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Lancaster appeared in 17 regular season and postseason games this year and started four, including the Packers’ divisional round against the Los Angeles Rams. Overall, he came up with 23 combined tackles and one pass defended.

Best Moment: Lancaster recorded four combined tackles on a 50% snap count (his second highest of the season) in Week 4 in the Packers’ 30-16 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

2021 Outlook: After putting up a subpar performance in 2020, Lancaster faces free agency with a small chance of returning to the Packers. However, his skillset and youth should be enough to land him another spot somewhere in the league.

Dean Lowry: Green Bay Packers, LB

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Lowry had another solid season in 2020, starting all 16 regular-season games and both postseason games for the Packers. He made 36 tackles, recorded three sacks and defended two passes over the course of the season. In their loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, Lowry finished second on the team with five combined tackles.

Best Moment: In the Packers’ Week 13 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, Lowry sacked Jalen Hurts as he attempted to escape the pocket late in the fourth quarter, which contributed to the Packers’ defensive stand and subsequent win.

2021 Outlook: Lowry is signed with the Packers through the 2021 season, but with the team $30 million over the cap, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back next year.

Sherrick McManis: Chicago Bears, DB

NFL: Houston Texans at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: McManis, who is both the longest-tenured Wildcat in the NFL and the longest-tenured Bear, played 11 games this season, finishing with 12 tackles and coming away with an interception and fumble recovery each.

Best Moment: In Week 15, McManis picked off Kirk Cousins in the end zone as time expired to give the Bears a 33-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

2021 Outlook: McManus returned to the Bears on a one-year deal in 2020, so with the organization looking to reload, he may not return to the team. But after nine seasons with the organization, it’s certainly possible.

Blake Hance: Cleveland Browns, OT

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-Training Camp Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Hance spent most of the season on the New York Jets’ practice squad but was signed by the Browns prior to their first playoff game. He played 21% of the team’s offensive snaps in their wild card game and 52% in their divisional matchup.

Best Moment: As an emergency signing, Hance made his season debut in a pivotal game without having spent much time with his new team. But Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield made sure to give Hance his props after the team’s Wild Card victory, saying “a guy named Blake…stepped up in the fourth quarter.”

2021 Outlook: Hance has bounced around the league for a couple years now, but his playoff performance may have earned him a spot on the Browns’ roster.

Hunter Niswander: Dallas Cowboys, PT

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Niswander replaced the Cowboys’ injured starting punter in November and played eight games. He punted 26 times for 1228 yards.

Best Moment: In the first quarter against the 49ers in Week 15, Niswander hung a 52 punt inside the 15, giving the Cowboys’ coverage team time to swarm the returner and force a fumble.

2021 Outlook: Niswander signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys, but he’ll have to earn his spot as the starting punter if he wants to remain on the 53-man roster.

Nate Hall: Houston Texans, LB

NFL: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: Hall was activated to the Texans’ roster about halfway through the season and played in five games, recording 11 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Best Moment: The best game of Hall’s career came on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions, where he made back-to-back fourth-quarter sacks on Matthew Stafford and forced a fumble on the first.

2021 Outlook: Hall was signed to a reserve/futures contract with the Texans this month, meaning he’ll likely start next season on the practice squad.

Austin Carr: New Orleans Saints, WR

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Season Recap: In Carr’s fourth season with the Saints, he caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in six games.

Best Moment: In the Saints’ final regular-season game, Carr found the end zone from 11 yards out, taking a huge hit in the process. It was his first touchdown of the season and third of his NFL career.

2021 Outlook: Carr was signed to the Saints’ practice squad at the end of the season, and that’s likely where he will start in September.

Here are some of the other pro ‘Cats who saw less of the field this season:

Joseph Jones: Dever Broncos, LB

Jones played seven games for the Broncos and made four tackles on special teams.

Ibraheim Campbell: Indianapolis Colts, SS

Campbell played five games for the Colts on special teams.

Joe Gaziano: Los Angeles Chargers, DE

Gaziano appeared in two games, totaling one assisted tackle.

Trevor Siemian: New Orleans Saints, QB

Siemian served as Saints fourth-string quarterback but didn’t play a snap this year.

Montre Hartage: New York Giants. CB

Hartage spent a few games on the Giants’ active roster but didn’t make an appearance.

Clayton Thorson: New York Giants, QB

Thorson served as the Giants fourth-string quarterback but was activated to the roster only once.

Dan Vitale: New England Patriots, FB

Vitale opted out of season due to COVID-19 pandemic.