Being the head football coach at Northwestern is not an easy job. Recruiting for the school is just as tricky. Academic standards are high, so borderline qualifiers and JUCO transfers are a no-go. The tradition of the football program is modest and the stadium is half the size of some of its neighbors in the Big Ten. With all of this in mind, I become more and more impressed with the job Pat Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern, and this recruiting class features several testaments to his ability as a coach.
Northwestern's offenses, for as long as I can remember, always seem to have one or two playmakers to keep the defense earnest, with an intelligent field general running the squad. Although Fitzgerald didn't bring in a quarterback in the class, he replenished the depth at running back and wide receiver. IL RB Malin Jones split carries with (University of) Illinois RB Josh Ferguson and USC Commit Ty Isaac throughout his career at Joliet Catholic in Illinois. Still, I don't believe lack of production is to blame for his lower rating; the long strider isn't especially explosive or shifty, although his top gear is above average. FL RB Traveon Henry is a bit quicker, but still lacks elite speed or explosion.
The Wildcats may have landed a bit of an underrated gem in PA WR Andrew Scanlan. He's a good size/speed combo guy that could thrive in the Northwestern offense. MO WR Mike McHugh isn't the flashiest athlete ever, but probably deserved a third star. I'm a little surprised the hometown Tigers didn't jump on McHugh, but with Texas transfer Darius White and Dorial Green-Beckham in the fold, I'm not sure they'll be too upset anyway. Fitzgerald also added PA TE Jack Schwaba, an aggressive blocker that could add to the passing game, as well.
While the last couple of classes have focused more on bringing in skill players, Northwestern desperately needed to upgrade the depth and talent of the offensive line in 2012, and they did just that. OH OT Kenton Playko should be able to contribute, once he fills out his somewhat lanky (260) frame. Some of you surely remember MA OT Eric Olson, who briefly held a Michigan offer. I'm still a bit puzzled as to the reason Hoke pursued him with better options still on the board, but he ended up signing with the Wildcats, anyway. He's another kid that will need to add weight and could contribute later as well, but I'm a bit higher on Playko. The real gem of the offensive line haul came with PA OL Adam DePietro, who picked the Wildcats over Pittsburgh, Michigan State, and Rutgers, among others. The four star needs time to develop, but could be the future anchor of the line. Northwestern would go on to grab their second player from Upper Saint Clair HS (along with Jack Schwaba) in Pennsylvania, landing OL Ian Park. Park's upside may be limited by his lack of elite athleticism, but he is a tenacious run blocker.
The Wildcats also needed to upgrade a defensive line that helped the defense to only 14 sacks on the year. OH DT Greg Kuhar, teammate of Sam Grant and Kyle Kalis, is a blue chip four star that's also a pretty good wrestler, something any defensive line coach salivates over. Kuhar was offered by Michigan along with Kalis, but ended up signing to Northwestern. PA DL Connor Mahoney plays with good leverage and was athletic enough to play DE in high school (at 270 pounds), but seems to have a fairly low ceiling. IL DE Dean Lowry is long and athletic, but will need to get much stronger to become an every down DE at the next level.
Without a doubt, the prize of the class was LB/DE Ifeadi Odenigbo. While some of the other Wildcats earned offers from playing close to their ceiling already, Odenigbo hasn't even scratched his. With offers from pretty much every major school in the country (including the likes of USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, etc), Odenigbo is one of the most highly touted recruits in school history. The only thing keeping him from being a five star is his size (or lack thereof), at only 210 pounds. Still, the Wildcats will plug him in wherever they can this fall, likely as a situational pass rusher, in the same way South Carolina used Jadeveon Clowney this year, and West Virginia used Bruce Irvin his first year on campus. The Wildcats added some depth to the position with the additions of MI LB Eric Wilson and OH LB Jaylen Prater, both of whom will need a redshirt year and some weight.
The recruitment of the secondary focused predominantly around adding depth to the safety spot. IL DB Joseph Jones has good size and athleticism, but probably scared off other schools after breaking his leg during his junior season, an injury which he's in the final stages of recovering from. TX DB Dwight White loves to hit, but looks like he may be more of a corner at 5'11, 165. IL DB Dan Vitale is another kid with good size, but he may end up a WR in college. CA S Terrance Brown reminds me a bit of Allen Gant, although he's already up to 220 pounds. He may end up sliding down to the linebacker position at Northwestern. TX DB Stephen Buckley played the QB position in his high school's Wing-T system, so he's probably a smart kid (add on the whole 'Northwestern' thing and you can probably accept that as being true), but I'm not sure he has a top gear of speed to be an effective DB in college.
Northwestern topped their class off with the addition of Long Snapper Chris Fitzpatrick from Kentucky. I don't know much about the finer mechanics of being a long snapper, but I'm going to assume he's good, since he was worthy of a scholarship instead of a preferred walk-on offer.
All in all, this sort of class is what will help propel Northwestern to the upper tier of Big Ten programs. Some guys, particularly the defensive back group, look like what you'd expect Northwestern to recruit. However, blue chippers are scattered throughout the various positions, and several lower touted guys could make meaningful impacts during their careers, as well.