2015 Recruiting Intro

Our introduction to the 2015 recruiting class, with an eye on the early favorites to join Northwestern football.

-- It's never easy to evaluate the likelihood of a strong class this early in the process. Northwestern football has been off to a slower, but still strong, beginning to its 2015 group. Though there are fewer candidates than usual looking at the potential of an early commitment, the coaches are building strong relationships in key position groups. With a specific emphasis on outside linebacker, defensive end, and of course at running back, the Wildcats are guardedly ambitious. While they're offering some of the usual, attainable players, they're also actively pursuing several four-star players. This is becoming typical of the program.

-- It's looking as though Northwestern will take two defensive ends, or maybe even a radical three, for this upcoming recruiting class. They're in the door with several key players, including three who have spoken with PurpleWildcats.com about their NU interest. The ‘Cats have a strong opportunity to land Westfield (Ind.) prospect Jacob Robinson, who picked up his offer right before Junior Day and bought into the NU pitch. They're also treating three-star Malvern (Pa.) standout Ryan Buchholz as one of their top priorities—though he's a candidate to blow up and consider one of his ACC offers. Superbacks coach Bob Heffner is working on his D-end pipeline with Jamie Gordinier of Red Bank (N.J.), who called it an "offer that he wanted to get for a while." With Lowry, Gibson and Odenigbo growing up, NU will need to replenish its defensive end ranks. They're in good position early.

-- Although Matt MacPherson has earned recent, justified praise for his work on the trail, offensive line coach Adam Cushing is the assistant to monitor this year. He's been widely praised by recruits throughout the process. Their best "upset" bid at a prospect might lie with Charlotte center Brian Chaffin—No. 1 in the South at his position. When Brandon Vitabile graduates next offseason, it'll be a major difficulty to replace the productive four-year starter. They have one potential replacement in redshirt freshman Brad North, but need to ensure that they have a guaranteed long-term option at the position. He's also doing excellent work with three-star OG Jared Thomas, whose recruitment has blown up in recent weeks. The perk with Thomas: He's interested in being a broadcast journalism major, which makes him among my favorites to join the 2015 recruiting class at NU.

-- If I had to guess the team's "number one" defensive prospect, I'd bet on 2015 LB Tyriq Thompson. His dad played for Michigan, but that's not stopping Pat Fitzgerald from staging an inspired recruitment of the Detroit King HS four-star talent. He's one of those Parrker Westphal types, who, if his process stretches out, will find NU in the mix late. Thompson praised Fitzgerald for "his charisma and dedication to the program," adding that he's attracted to schools who invest the requisite time and effort in his recruitment. They're also extremely high on Indianapolis Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., though he might be an even tougher get. A tougher, 5-7 season didn't stop Northwestern for pursuing high-end prospect. They'll miss most, but that's more than okay if they can land a few program-turning talents.

-- The Scout.com Ohio team has done great work in covering some key NU prospects in the state. Dave Berk reported an offer for Kettering defensive tackle Kraig Howe, and guessed that "this one could be over early." With Northwestern his clear frontrunner, Howe appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for first commitment. Still, by not accepting his offer immediately, the Wildcats will have to remain a strong presence in the coming months. Even better, outside linebacker Markus Bailey called Northwestern his current "top choice." From all accounts, Bailey would be an enormous steal for NU. His recruitment is in its early stages, but he's still a candidate to "blow up." If NU can hang in there and maintain relationships, this would be a great pickup at a position of need.

-- Given their recent history, the Wildcats are strongly focused on cementing the depth chart at running back and cornerback. Even with some young reinforcements at both positions, they're looking to find a couple of additional RBs and perhaps another CB for the group. An early option for the former is John Moten IV, an under-recruited St. Louis prospect who recently picked up an NU offer and considers NU a potential good fit. As for the latter, they're in heavy pursuit of Nashville corner Ugo Amadi, who said NU has given him a "very strong recruitment" early on in the process. NU's in the position, generally, to cast a wide net but also hone in on certain players ideal for the program. Expect this to be a fairly similar class to ones in the past. Fitzgerald talked about his 22 percent offer conversion for the 2014 group, which is an extremely high rate, so we'll see if that success rate carries over.

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