It’s well documented that Northwestern consistently develops talent out of generally middling recruits. Examples abound. Venric Mark – a 2-star wide receiver out of high school according to Scout turned 1,000-yard rusher at Northwestern. Corey Wooten – a 2-star defensive end turned 4th round NFL draft pick. The list goes on and on.
Every once in a while, however, Northwestern lands a top end recruit (I’m defining "top end recruit" as a 4/5-star according to multiple recruiting outlets). The following post is dedicated to evaluating how these rare and elusive top end players have fared at Northwestern.
Unfortunately, this post might disappoint, because 1. There haven’t been very many and 2. Most are at early stages of their Northwestern careers (yay young talent!). Anyways, here it goes.
(Note – Rivals/Scout recruiting services started in 2002. No real recruiting data exists prior to that.)
(Note 2 – If you are confused by what the stars mean, click here)
Scout: 4-star #13 DT
Rivals: 4-star #26 DT
Consensus: (Averaged among all sites) 4-star #20 DT
Offers: Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington, Nebraska
Career: As a true freshman in 2002, Howard started every game at defensive end, accumulated 81 tackles (2nd among NU linemen), and earned First Team Freshman All American honors. As a sophomore it was much the same, as Howard started every game, led all defensive linemen with 65 tackles, and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. Five days before the start of his junior season, Howard injured his left ankle and was limited for most of the year. Prior to his senior season, Howard transferred to his hometown school – Arizona State. Howard redshirted in 2005 before quitting football altogether prior to the 2006 season. He left Northwestern ranked 5th on the all time career Tackle for Loss (34) and Sack (11) totals, and finished with 171 career tackles. Before he quit football, Howard was considered the #11 DE in the 2007 draft by ESPN, and #13 according to Phil Steele.
Evaluation: If it hadn’t been for the injury, Howard could have become one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. He had great explosion, power, and speed, and emerged as a dominant force on Northwestern’s defensive line. I know this is cliché to say about injuries, but jeez, this injury in particular really stings. Even though he was unable to finish his football career, Howard undoubtedly deserved his 4-star rating.
Most Accurate: Scout
(Huge gap without a highly touted recruit)
*While he only earned 4-stars from one recruiting service, he was close enough on the other two to be considered a "top end" talent.
Scout: 3-star #25 OT
Rivals: 4-star #17 OT #219 overall
ESPN: 79 (3-star) #18 OT
Consensus: Borderline 3/4-star #20 OT
Offers: Illinois, Iowa, Notre Dame, Purdue, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin
Career: Ward played on the offensive line starting his true freshman year, which is practically unheard of for an offensive lineman, and locked down a starting spot sophomore year and onwards. This past season, Ward started every game at left tackle where he earned honorable All-Big Ten considerations. He finished his career with 39 career starts. Ward will most certainly find a home in the NFL either as a late round draft pick, or more likely as an undrafted free agent.
Evaluation: Ward excelled at Northwestern as a consistent and even dominant force on the offensive line. A solid 4-star rating accurately depicts his play.
Most Accurate: Rivals
*Initially committed to USC
Scout: 5-star #2 WR #4 overall
Rivals: 5-star #1 WR #3 overall (Rivals placed Prater higher than Robert Woods – you know, the guy with nearly 3,000 receiving yards in his past 3 years at USC)
ESPN: 4-star #9 WR
Consensus: 5-star #4 WR (Even while taking into account outlier ESPN)
Offers: USC (obviously), Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Michigan, Missouri, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee. Surprisingly, I don’t see a reported Northwestern offer coming out of high school. Obviously wasn’t good enough for us.
Career: Unlike Howard and Ward, Prater’s career is still in progress. He committed to USC in 2010 and redshirted his first year. As a redshirt freshman, Prater caught 1 pass for 6 yards. Then he transferred to Northwestern, where he subsequently caught 10 passes for 54 yards. Prater may be able to crack the starting rotation this upcoming season with the graduation of Demetrius Fields.
Evaluation: Wow! Northwestern has never come close to having a player as talented as Prater on its roster. Unfortunately, the hype he received coming out of high school has not yet come to fruition. Hopefully Prater shows off his 5-star abilities the next two seasons, gains 2,000 yards, scores tons of touchdowns, and eventually becomes a 1st round draft pick. If his current trend of play continues, however, it would be hard to justify granting him anything more than a 3-star ranking.
Most Accurate: ESPN
Scout: 4-star #5 OLB #76 overall
Rivals: 4-star #9 DE #99 overall
ESPN: 4-star #6 DE #51 overall
247: 4-star #8 OLB #98 overall
Consensus: 4-star #8 DE or #7 OLB #81 overall (Odenigbo is the highest ranked player that Northwestern has ever picked up on the recruiting trail)
Offers: Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, and others
Career: Odenigbo is a 6-3, 220 pound defensive end (a safety's build playing defensive end). He’s also a player that chose Northwestern over powerhouse programs such as Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, etc., so he’s loaded with talent. Even with his weight limitations, Odenigbo cracked the two-deep and played five plays against Vanderbilt (I’m pretty sure they were all third-and-longs – AKA definite passing downs). After the game, Odenigbo suffered a super inconvenient/convenient and secretive shoulder injury that forced/allowed him to redshirt the season. If Odenigbo can gain 20-30 pounds and retain his quickness of the edge, he may turn into one of the premier pass rushers in the Big Ten.
Evaluation: TBD. Odenigbo has the talent, but not the size. I expect he will one day be a dominant force on the defensive line – maybe as early as next year. (Edit: just discovered this is only Odenigbo’s fourth year in organized football. He sure is an amazing athlete who has a super high ceiling).
Most Accurate: TBD
Scout: 4-star #22 QB
Rivals: 4-star #11 Dual Threat QB
ESPN: 4-star #2 Dual Threat QB #164 overall
247: 4-star #7 Dual Threat QB #225 overall
Consensus: (Now made easy thanks to 247’s composite score) 4-star #7 Dual Threat QB #222 overall
Offers: Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Purdue
Evaluation: Northwestern has churned out some top-notch QB’s in recent years, and Alviti arguably has more talent than any of them. Most likely will redshirt next year, backup Trevor Siemian for a year, and then duke it out Zack Oliver for his chance to start as a redshirt sophomore. This is all speculation – he may be good enough to take the job as a redshirt freshman, he may not get his chance until after Oliver graduates. Unless something goes awry, however, Alviti should be a multi-year starter at quarter back.
Most Accurate: TBD
Scout: 4-star #22 S
Rivals: 3-star #39 ATH
ESPN: 4-star #55 ATH
247: 3-star #58 ATH
Consensus: Borderline 3/4-star #18 ATH #380 overall
Offers: Boston College, Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, NC State, Wisconsin, and others
Evaluation: I’m not going to lie – Igwebuike is a bit of a question mark. His offer sheet is not 4-star worthy in the slightest, and his future position is still murky. It looks like he’ll get a shot at running back, however, and I think that’s where he’ll stick. Nonetheless, I’m extremely excited for Igwebuike. He’s an amazing athlete who brings it every play, and will most likely make an impact at Northwestern in some way, shape or form. He’ll get a shot at the starting running back spot once Mark graduates, and may take the reigns as a redshirt freshman/true sophomore.
Most Accurate: TBD
While Northwestern has only landed a few top-notch recruits, they sure have gotten their money’s worth. Both Howard and Ward made impacts from the get-go, playing as true freshmen and locking down starting roles as sophomores. Prater has the talent to be a special player at Northwestern, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the top guy next year (but then again, I said that prior to this season as well…). Odenigbo has the tools to be an All-Big Ten defensive end once he tacks on the weight. I’m especially excited to have top-end talent at the quarterback and running back spots in Alviti and Igwebuike – and we may see those two starting in the backfield a year and a half from now.
I think the above shows two things in particular.
1. While stars aren’t the defining characteristics as to whether or not a Northwestern player will be a difference maker, the extremely small sample size above indicates that top end recruits are more likely to make an immediate impact. Is this a cut and dry statement? Absolutely not (see: Prater, Kyle). But in general, the 4-star is more likely to make an immediate impact than the 3-star.
2. Northwestern’s recruiting is on the upswing. After Odenigbo committed, he said, "I’m hoping that by me committing there, hopefully I can attract a lot more big-time recruits to Northwestern. That’s the plan. It only takes one guy to make that happen." Well, that same year Northwestern scored Prater, and a year later landed two more 4-stars in Alviti and Igwebuike. That’s four top-end guys in two years, compared to just two in the previous ten years. This is really exciting. Northwestern was able to win 10 games with middling talent, just image the possibilities when this talent gets an upgrade.