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Counting down Northwestern’s roster: 29-20

Safe to say, the running back and defensive back rooms are EXTREMELY crowded.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Northwestern at Ohio State Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

As the days tick away till Northwestern takes the field vs. Michigan State and starts their 2021 campaign, we’ve got you covered with all the content you need to be ready for this football season.

Per tradition, we’re counting down the roster by jersey number from 99 to 0, while also providing stats, background and an outlook for each player’s projected role heading into the 2021 season.

The twenties contain playmakers on both sides of the ball, as well as several key breakout candidates.

29: Marcus Cisco

RB | 5-foot-9, 197 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Byron Center, Michigan

Likely Role in 2021: Reserve RB

As you’ll see frequently on this list, there are a lot of young running backs and only so many snaps to go around. Cisco appeared in the ‘Cats blowout win over Maryland, running for six yards on three carries. However, that was the only game the Michigan native appeared in during the 2020 season. With the depth chart just as packed in front of him this season as it was last year, it will be difficult for Cisco to get anything more than garbage time snaps again this year.

Career Stats: 3 attempts, 6 yards

28: Chris Bergin

LB | 5-foot-11, 223 pounds | Graduate Student | Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Likely role in 2021: Starting MIKE/SAM Linebacker

The lone remaining member of the Irish Law Firm, Bergin enters this season as the most experienced defensive starter, and one of the most important players to the Wildcats’ success. Without Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher beside him, the former walk-on will be tasked with leading a relatively inexperienced unit. While Fisher holed up the middle for much of the last two seasons, Bergin may be the choice to take over the middle linebacker spot as the “seasoned veteran” of the defense, or stay in his usual outside role and rely on a younger player to step up in the middle. The returning tackle leader will need to have another big season in order for the team to replicate last year’s success.

Career Stats: 46 games played, 227 tackles (115 solo, 112 assisted), 14 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 int, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 passes defensed

27: Anthony Tyus III

RB | 6-foot-1, 215 pounds | First-Year | Portage, Michigan

Likely Role in 2021: Reserve RB

Tyus joins the team like nearly every other incoming first-year does — buried behind veterans on the depth chart. However, Tyus’ playing situation for this year is less dire than most, given that the two leading veterans ahead of him are only a true sophomore (Cam Porter) and a redshirt sophomore (Evan Hull). While Porter and Hull are the clear leaders entering 2021, it’s certainly possible that their inexperience opens a pathway to some game time for the talented freshman.

Career Stats: N/A

26: Evan Hull

RB | 5-foot-11, 210 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Maple Grove, Minnesota

Likely Role in 2021: 2nd String RB

In his first two seasons, Hull primarily saw the field only for spot snaps, most notably his rampage against UMass in 2019 where he dominated with a 220-yard, four touchdown performance. Similar, he had a breakout game against Illinois in 2020 with a 149-yard and one touchdown outing, but it has yet to be seen what Hull can do on a consistent basis. With only late-season breakout Cam Porter in front of him, the sophomore should receive a lot more reps in split time this season.

Career Stats: 13 games played, 71 attempts, 495 yards, 6 touchdowns

25: Jaheem Joseph

DB | 5-foot-9, 190 pounds | Sophomore | Miami Gardens, Florida

Likely Role in 2021: Reserve Safety

Aside from returning All-American Brandon Joseph, the Northwestern secondary is far from set in stone. While the team plenty of candidates to fill the hole at cornerback left by Greg Newsome II, the second safety position seems a more likely fit for Jaheem Joseph. It will take a camp battle with redshirt sophomore Coco Azema to win the job alongside the nation’s leader in interceptions.

Career Stats: 1 game played, 1 solo tackle

24: Rod Heard

DB | 5-foot-11, 185 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Farmington, Michigan

Likely Role in 2021: Starting/2nd String Corner

Heard appeared in nine games last season, logging seven solo tackles primarily as a reserve corner. Given the aforementioned losses of Newsome and Pace, Heard seems the likely candidate to step into a starting role, along with Cameron Mitchell and AJ Hampton. Hampton seems cemented into the top corner role, so Heard will certainly have his work cut out for him to outperform Mitchell.

Career Stats: 10 games played, 10 tackles (7 solo, 3 assisted), 1 pass defensed

23: Raymond Niro III

WR | 5-foot-10, 190 pounds | Junior | Barrington, Illinois

Likely Role in 2021: Special Teams, Reserve RB/WR

The undersized wide-receiver-converted-running-back faces an uphill battle for playing time at either position this season. Niro has found most of his snaps on special teams, with the crowded back and receiver rooms leaving the junior to likely settle into that role yet again.

Career Stats: 11 attempts, 101 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 2 receptions, 17 receiving yards

22: Connor Newhouse

RB | 5-foot-11, 195 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Prospect, Kentucky

Likely Role in 2021: Special Teams, Reserve RB

Yet another member of Northwestern’s congested running back room, it’s unlikely the redshirt sophomore sees meaningful playing time this season. Newhouse could opt for the path of Niro and become primarily a special-teamer, but a shot at the backfield doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards for this year.

Career Stats: N/A

22: Bryce Jackson

DB | 6-foot-1, 190 pounds | Senior | Lantana, Texas

Likely Role in 2021: Reserve Cornerback

After making great strides as a defensive back in 2018 and 2019, Jackson seemed primed for a breakout junior season. As it turned out, that breakout junior season did not happen. The emergence of Hampton and Mitchell, combined with the already-present Newsome and Pace, buried Jackson on the depth chart. With the lack of experienced corners on the roster, Jackson could certainly find his way into a camp battle as a senior this summer.

Career Stats: 35 games played, 37 tackles (23 solo, 14 assisted), 1 pass defensed, 1 fumble recovery

21: Tyler Haskins

DB | 5-foot-11, 195 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Stafford, Virginia

Likely Role in 2021: Reserve Cornerback

Haskins is another defensive back on this list without a ton of experience. Fortunately for him, the majority of the secondary also lacks experience, leaving Haskins with a prime opportunity to move up the ranks of the depth chart.

Career Stats: 7 games played, 1 assisted tackle

20: Cam Porter

RB | 5-foot-10, 220 pounds | Sophomore | Cincinnati, Ohio

Likely Role in 2021: Starting Running Back

Anyone who frequently reads this site’s content understands the excitement that’s been inspired by one Cam Porter. I already wrote in our important player rankings about how Porter’s dynamic running ability brings a new dimension to the Wildcats’ offense, and I truly believe Porter has all the tools to break out over the course of an entire season. Although last season’s sample size was small, it should be enough to prove he’s the RB1 going into the year.

Career Stats: 81 attempts, 333 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns, 9 receptions, 57 receiving yards

20: Trent Carrington

DB | 6-foot-1, 190 pounds | Graduate Student | Fayetteville, Georgia

Likely Role in 2021: Backup Safety

Carrington comes to Northwestern as a graduate transfer from Presbyterian College, a small school in the FCS’ Big South Conference. The defensive back should provide much needed depth at the safety position, either behind or aside Brandon Joseph. Carrington had a knack for finding the ball during his three years at Presbyterian, but will certainly face a tougher test in the Big Ten.

Career Stats: 27 games, 161 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed