As Inside NU continues to count down our top 10 players of 2022, we approach the very top of the list. Just off the top spot was running back Evan Hull, who was the only other player besides our number-one player to earn votes as NU’s best player this past season.
Ryan Cole (2)
Stats: 913 yards rushing, 513 yards receiving, seven touchdowns, 4.1 yards per carry
Here at Inside NU, we do a weekly series during the football season where we list three reasons why Northwestern might win its upcoming matchup, and three reasons why it won’t. This year, it was often difficult to come up with three reasons the ‘Cats had a shot, and arguably even harder to list just three reasons they’d lose. But there was one constant, and his name was Evan Hull.
The Incredible Hull, as he’s been dubbed, gave ‘Cats fans hope week in and week out. He was always a reason they might win. Sure, Northwestern was often overmatched at every single position on the football field. But at running back? They always had Hull.
Using the eye test, Hull was head and shoulders above every other offensive weapon the Wildcats had this year. He was both shifty and hard-nosed at the same time, he was just as effective in the receiving game as he was as a runner and it always seemed like he wanted the ball in his hands for the big moments (though those were few and far between).
Statistically, he was just as good. On an abysmal offense that ranked last in the Big Ten in virtually every category, Hull had 1,426 all-purpose yards on 55 receptions and 221 carries. He finished with 4.1 yards per carry and seven total touchdowns.
Hull’s season started with a bang against Nebraska in Ireland when he had 119 yards on 22 carries in Northwestern’s only win of the season. He followed that up with a monstrous performance against Duke, putting up 278 all-purpose yards and almost willing the Wildcats to victory in a game in which they didn’t deserve to make close. He did fumble the game away on the one-yard line on the last play of the game, but Northwestern wouldn’t have been in that situation without him. It felt like every play against the Blue Devils was designed to get No. 26 involved somehow, and he delivered every time… until the fumble.
As the season wore on, Hull had a couple of less impressive performances, but for the most part he dominated all year. He had 100 yards rushing five separate times, went for 122 against the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes and finished second on the team in receiving yards at 546, nearly doubling his output from last season.
Would his numbers have looked as good if Northwestern had any other consistent weapons? Probably not. But, nonetheless, the junior from Maple Grove, Minnesota provided an offensive spark for a team that desperately needed it. And, most importantly, he gave the fans a reason to come out to Ryan Field and watch games even as the season become a lost one.
Hull has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft and will leave a gaping hole in the Northwestern offense. Cam Porter has potential, but he was one of the biggest disappointments on the roster this year. Outside of a couple of flashes, Porter was unproductive and clearly leaps and bounds behind Hull. On 87 carries, Porter managed just 286 yards on 3.3 yards per carry. It was a bad enough season that audible groans could be heard in the student section when Hull would run off the field and Porter would come on.
Without Hull and number one wideout Malik Washington, Northwestern will need somebody to step up next season and make plays. Replacing its offensive production will be extremely difficult, but Pat Fitzgerald will be tasked with finding some assortment of weapons to give whoever is playing quarterback any chance to put points on the board.
As for Hull, it’s unclear where in the draft he’ll be selected. Due to his stature and relatively small sample size of success, he’ll likely be a Day Three pick if he’s selected at all. But Hull is the type of runner that often gets overlooked on draft night. If he makes his way onto an NFL roster for training camp, he is going to surprise some people. Running back is a weird position in the NFL and there are almost always a few rookie backs who emerge that had no hype heading into the season. Hull is in prime position to be one of those guys.
Evan Hull was a bright spot in Evanston this season, and I think there is a super legitimate argument to make him the number one player on the roster this season if it weren’t for a certain stud offensive tackle likely to be picked in the top 10 this spring. Northwestern had a historically terrible season, but without Hull, it would have been on a level of horrendous never before seen by the college football world. He saved the school from that embarrassment. For that, he’s our superhero. The Incredible Hull.