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Position groups Northwestern football must target in the transfer portal

The Wildcats have been no stranger to using the portal in recent years. That mantra rings especially true now.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

To put it mildly, it’s been an offseason of turnover for Northwestern, and it’s only mid-December. Between coaching alterations and players leaving for the NFL/other schools, this rate of change is not unexpected given the team’s 4-20 record in the past two seasons.

However, the reality has begun to set in: the present state of NU’s 2023 roster looks significantly worse than the team it trotted onto the field in 2022.

This point has been elucidated throughout the year (and in Inside NU’s player rankings), but the Wildcats boasted legitimate talent, a caliber of players that should have yielded more than just one victory. Five ‘Cats earned All-Big Ten marks, and NU even had a First-Team All-American at one of the most paramount 22 spots on the gridiron.

Yet, the vast majority of that star power is slated to depart from Evanston in the forthcoming days, weeks and months. If Pat Fitzgerald and his staff do not perform heavy lifting in the transfer portal, it’s hard to envision Northwestern making any sort of improvement, even marginal, next year.

Which position groups are in particular need of reinforcements? In an accompanying piece to Gavin Dorsey’s state of the roster assessment, take a peek below at the areas the Wildcats must focus on via the portal, ranked in terms of prioritization.

Defensive Line

In the preliminary days since the end of NU’s season, the ‘Cats have grown extraordinarily thin along their defensive line.

To start, Northwestern braces the loss of likely NFL draft pick Adetomiwa Adebawore, plus seniors/graduate students Devin O’Rourke, Ryan Johnson, Jaylen Pate, Taishan Holmes and Henrik Barndt. On top of that, Austin Firestone, Jason Gold Jr. and Jordan Butler entered the transfer portal.

While Sean McLaughlin showed promise as a defensive end, the incoming senior is the lone returner from the Wildcats’ Week Zero defensive line group, which is also in need of a new coach. Juniors Aidan Hubbard and Najee Story provided some pass rush and run-stopping, but Northwestern needs help with both edge rushers and interior D-linemen.

Top available edge rushers in the portal include Kevonte Henry (Oklahoma), Steve Linton (Syracuse), Chase Carter (Michigan State) and Shambre Jackson (Florida State), while defensive linemen possibilities are George Rooks (Michigan), Malik Langham (Vanderbilt), Keeshawn Silver (North Carolina) and Davon Townley (Penn State).

Wide Receiver

With the transfer of Malik Washington to Virginia, loss of Evan Hull to the NFL and expected graduation of Donny Navarro III, Northwestern cedes 58.5% of its receiving production from a year ago. It’s also worth noting that, aside from Washington (as a slot receiver), the ‘Cats had few consistent or dynamic playmakers at WR in 2022.

Younger receivers such as Jacob Gill and Reggie Fleurima are certainly options to witness expanded roles in 2023. Still, Fitzgerald must add one — if not multiple — wideouts this offseason, especially following today’s transfer of Genson Hooper Price. Ideally, Northwestern would land a bonafide outside threat, similar to Stephon Robinson Jr. in 2021, plus a slot man.

The ‘Cats are already on the recruiting trail regarding receiver, offering Arizona State’s Cam Johnson and Austin Peay’s Drae McCray. In addition to those two, options could be Arland Bruce IV (Iowa), Decoldest Crawford (Nebraska), Colby Bowman (Stanford) or DeMarcus Harris (Kentucky).

Offensive Line

As of now, Northwestern appears to be without center Charlie Schmidt, guard/tackle Ethan Wiederkehr and guard Vince Picozzi for 2023. That may just be scratching the surface, though, as star left tackle Peter Skoronski is yet to make an announcement about his future.

On top of departures, left guard Josh Priebe suffered a season-ending leg injury for the second consecutive season, and junior tackle Caleb Tiernan had ups and downs (11 pressures allowed in 240 opportunities).

The ‘Cats would be prudent to add depth to compete with Ben Wrather, Dom D’Antonio, Jackson Carsello and Max Skidmore, plus incoming first-years Dylan Senda, Jordan Knox, Anthony Birsa and Alex Doost. Beyond just more bodies, NU especially needs players with legitimate experience in the trenches.

Regarding tackles, names to watch could be Cameron Wire (LSU), Andrej Karic (Texas), Myles Hinton (Stanford), Aaron Frost (Nevada) and Cameron James (Minnesota). As it pertains to interior O-linemen, options at guard/center include Willie Lampkin (Coastal Carolina), Noah Fenske (Colorado), Paula Vaipulu (Georgia Tech) and Keiondre Jones (Auburn).


Given that Cam Mitchell declared for the Draft and A.J. Hampton Jr. put his name in the portal, the Wildcats will likely be without their top two corners in 2023.

Rod Heard II is a contender to move outside, but he seemed to thrive in a hybrid role, playing 348 slot snaps and 311 box snaps compared to just nine at true outside corner. Further, Devin Turner had some positive moments but also demonstrated inexperience; Turner could move from safety to corner with the return of both Coco Azema and Jaheem Joseph.

Regardless, the cumulative experience at CB is minimal, even considering players that saw time in 2022 like Garnett Hollis Jr. and Theran Johnson. At the moment, Northwestern does not have a proven No. 1 lockdown corner on its roster, let alone another tried-and-true second option.

It would behoove Fitzgerald to acquire one or more veteran outside presences. Possibilities are Storm Duck (North Carolina), Terry Roberts (Iowa), Davon Ferguson (Bowling Green), Miles Battle (Ole Miss) and Lem Watley-Neely (Indiana).

Running Back

Hull truly was the catalyst for any sort of offense that the purple and white established, eclipsing 1,270 scrimmage yards in each of the last two years. In fact, his 2,732 total yards in the past two seasons is more than that of household names like Blake Corum, Jahmyr Gibbs, Devon Achane and Braelon Allen.

The depth behind Hull was robust, with Cam Porter, Tre Tyus and Joseph Himon II all taking carries. Yet, after the presumptive departure of veteran Andrew Clair, it feels like NU could use to add another ‘back.

Yes, Porter was the team’s workhorse in 2020, but his 2022 did not go as envisioned. Porter had only 87 carries and was effectively relegated to Wildcat quarterback duties. Likewise, Tyus and Himon both looked explosive and elusive, though they combined for only 23 totes.

If Northwestern does want to add a complement to Porter — who is more of a bruising power runner without much receiving production — candidates encompass Marshawn Lloyd (South Carolina), Carson Steele (Ball State), Dominic Richardson (Oklahoma State), Jaquez Yant (Nebraska), Gavin Williams (Iowa) and Maurice Edwards (Vanderbilt).

Other Possible Adds: Quarterback, kicker, tight end