The hustle was admirable, and though I questioned whether Ellis would match the production of Northwestern's other two standout linebackers, I dubbed him as my sleeper for week one. Two pick sixes later, "The Hype Machine" was born.
The next 11 featured players may strain their necks gazing up at the bar that Ellis just set, but "The Hype Machine" disregards expectation. Instead, it gives a nod to the hardworking, under-the-radar cog that's so prevalent in this program. This week's projected breakout against Syracuse is Traveon Henry, who already showed signs of promise with six stops and some steady center field coverage Saturday.
Before we think about Henry's impact as a safety, it's important to remember his role as a safety net for Dwight White and even Nick VanHoose. Northwestern's corners struggled mightily against Cal, and if Syracuse opts to target White the way Jared Goff did in the second half, the Wildcats could be in for more unexpected difficulties.
Henry's athleticism and football smarts give the Cats a reliable deep defender who can perhaps break off assignment and shade to a struggling White. And his aggression in run defense doesn't hurt--a former high school running back himself, Henry jumps toward the line of scrimmage with serious instinct. Last year, you may have known him as the dude that laid out BC's Spiffy Evans on a kick return.
But hard hits only go so far, especially for a defensive back. Henry's my pick to surprise against ‘Cuse mainly because he has such a playmaker's instinct. I saw him snag an interception in the flat during 7-on-7s Wednesday, and jog toward an open end zone like it was nothing (watch out, Collin). I saw him pick up streaking wide receivers and blanket them with confidence. And I saw him come down with a deflected pass and create a turnover, all in the span of about 30 minutes.
Henry's game is versatile, and opposite Ibraheim Campbell, he'll have ample opportunity to fill the stat sheet. But stats won't tell the whole story for "The Hype Machine." So long as second-level runs from Syracuse's Jerome Smith don't turn into double-digit gains, and so long as Dwight White has some help over the top, Henry lives up to the hype for me.
Don't quote me on any defensive touchdowns from him, but against a quarterback that threw two interceptions last week and a running game that struggled with consistency, Henry is poised for a memorable game. The Orange doesn't make much use of its tight ends--starter Beckett Wales had just one catch Saturday, and neither Smith nor fellow halfback Prince-Tyson Gulley are particularly active in the passing game. Advantage Henry.
Now get hyped.