In continuing our summer football coverage, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 most important players in 2022. We’ve created a composite averaging the rankings of each of our staffer’s respective lists, revealing who we believe to be the most crucial to the Wildcat’s upcoming success.
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.
No. 9, CB A.J. Hampton Jr.
Gavin Dorsey (9)
There aren’t many other ways we can state it that we haven’t before. Northwestern’s defense was awful in 2021.
Even if you take out how atrocious it was on the running side (213 YPG, sixth-worst in Power Five), the secondary was still gashed with deep passes seemingly every game. As one of the top two corners on the team, Hampton plays a major part in whether these struggles improve or become a trend.
Just like the defense as a whole, Hampton struggled mightily last season. If you needed any proof of that, there’s an entire Purdue YouTube video with clips of Milton Wright III leaving him in the dust. Hampton’s play overall was not fast enough for the outside corner job, and if he can’t improve his speed, then he may be better suited for a role in the slot.
The silver lining is that Hampton was second in the Big Ten last season in pass breakups. His ability to disrupt passes is certainly there, but staying in position is the main issue considering the lack of speed he displayed last season. His ninth ranking on this list is representative of how crucial his performance is to the success of the Wildcats in 2022. If Hampton and Cameron Mitchell can both improve in coverage, Northwestern has a chance to at least jump into the respectable tier of Big Ten defenses.
Sarah Effress (4)
As a senior, this year will have to be the year Hampton Jr. establishes himself as a top corner in the conference if he wants a serious chance at making it to the next level. Based on his performance last season on a less-than-satisfactory defense, where Gavin mentioned above he still managed to become notch the second-most pass breakups in the B1G, I believe he has the ability to separate himself from the pack.
Because of his seniority and predominant leadership role in the 2022 secondary, Hampton Jr. deserves a top five spot in my book. It’s no question there is mounting pressure on his shoulders to lead a better squad than the one fielded by Jim O’Neil last year. That being said, spring camp optimism brings a positive attitude toward the secondary and corner room, at the forefront of which will undoubtedly be Hampton Jr. come August.