The Zone Read: Art of filling needs

Northwestern has filled any lingering needs with direction and purpose, making this class greater than the sum of its parts.

There's hardly anything missing. When Northwestern closes out its 15-player class for 2014, the coaching staff will have addressed every position of need.

This is not uncommon, but it came together cleanly and quickly—leaving this as one of the most special recruiting classes in program history. Noah Westerfield filled the true position of need by committing on Monday, as he'll provide the defensive end presence the Wildcats badly need.

Now, the coaching staff stares at one need: defensive back. They can easily close on someone special, with Parrker Westphal perhaps the top priority, but the class reflects an uncanny ability to follow through on vision.

It seemed like at every phase, this clinical, focused and organized approach paid dividends. Early in the process, they found several strong fits, and even "filled up" on some desirable candidates.

The needs don't feel like needs with the demand this high. Yes, NU had to land a defensive end, but four others ranked the school near the top of their respective lists.

Nothing's changed since the class was nearly empty. Clayton Thorson knew that NU would only take one quarterback, and rather than risking a commit from Chris Durkin, he made his decision early. Thorson's stock continues to rise, with rave reviews flying in from every direction. But this coaching staff applied the pressure early, and helped to close on Thorson.

Then, the group focused on running backs. It's among the staples of this recruiting vision: They create this stable of running backs. You could argue that there are five serviceable options on the current roster. There might be that many on the depth chart for years to come. They landed Justin Jackson–one of the jewels for this class–and added nice pieces with Auston Anderson and Solomon Vault.

The offensive side took shape quickly, and I'd even argue that they cooled on Derek Kief. There just weren't any spaces left. Dareian Watkins adds another exciting presence at wide receiver, with several already on the roster. And then a standard clever move from the coaching staff ensured them filling out their offensive line.

Blake Hance picked up an offer, and ideally, the three-star offensive lineman could have waited out his decision. Still, he loved NU, and it was nice for him to play close to home. He understood the practice: NU planned to evaluate other offensive linemen to be safe. Though the team didn't appear bound to anyone else, Hance refused to risk anything and made his decision shortly after that high-impact and well-timed offer.

NU, right now, is like that pitcher completely in control. Without being dominant, he throws strikes, finds his location and earns the solid win. It all took shape perfectly. Needs never feel urgent. They'll get their defensive back and perhaps another end or four-star outside linebacker Brandon Lee. So, again, the race is on. The 15-man class could be finished within the next two weeks.

It's the simple things that propelled NU to one of its best classes in recent memory. And the saying rings true: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The staff will not just sign 15 players they think are great. They'll welcome a group that, without question, fits right in.

Purple Wildcats Top Stories