To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2021. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy and created a list that has already caused plenty of disagreement.
The list’s criteria simply consisted of players we believe to be the most important to Northwestern football in 2021. However, we know that is up for interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of one player over his backup. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could also mean players who have underperformed and need to step up.
Only one thing is known: no two lists from our staff members are the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll have at least one member break down their placement for the aforementioned player.
Yesterday was wide receiver Stephon Robinson, today we go to the defensive side of the ball to look at redshirt sophomore Cameron Mitchell.
Michael Barthelemy (7)
I ranked Cam Mitchell No. 7 on my top 10 players list, tied for his highest ranking. Seven of the participating 10 Inside NU staffers ranked Mitchell inside their top 10’s as well. Even without having much starting experience, I think Mitchell is one of the key factors for Northwestern to have success in 2021.
As a redshirt freshman, Mitchell saw increases in playing time and in production as the season progressed. He appeared in eight of Northwestern’s nine games, but only registered eight total tackles and two passes deflected in the first six.
By the end of the year, he found himself in the secondary rotation and playing in critical moments down the stretch, such as the Big Ten Championship against Ohio State, where Mitchell recorded a sack and an interception off of collegiate superstar Justin Fields. Collectively, he was a part of the group that held Fields to his worst passing performance of his college career. Against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, Mitchell started in place of Greg Newsome II and played well. He recorded six total tackles and deflected two passes.
The reason Mitchell ranks as one of Northwestern’s essential players is due to the lack of experience in the defensive unit. Northwestern is returning just five defensive starters and has a new face leading the pack from the sidelines in Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil. With that being said, Mitchell’s time as a spot-starter and rotational piece in the secondary makes him one of the more seasoned players in the unit.
The 2020 Wildcat defense headlining as one of the best in the nation was the main catalyst behind NU’s success a season ago, and that pattern will hope to remain true once again. The ‘Cats don’t have the pieces to be an electrifying offense and will play a similar style to 2020, meaning that the defense is once again the backbone of the team. With all the new faces starting, Mitchell’s development as a reliable corner will be integral to team success.
The Bolingbrook native will have competition with fellow redshirt sophomore Rod Heard for the second starting corner spot, but Mitchell’s explosiveness and playmaking flashes should propel him to be amongst those in the first team once the season opener vs Michigan State rolls around.
If the version of Mitchell that the ‘Cats get is of him in the final few games, Northwestern has another stud corner. He showed flashes of his ability to disrupt a game with one snap. The question now revolves around if he can do this consistently. Northwestern, year in and year out, is reliant upon defense showing up in monumental moments, and in order to parallel their historic success in 2020, Mitchell must be one of the head pilots for this year’s Sky Team.