Spring practice has allowed some players to establish themselves as the new cream of the crop on rosters across the Big Ten. While summer might bring another shake-up with the arrival of more freshmen and transfers, it’s time to take a look at the best players on campus for each school right now.
We're hitting up the top 10 players for each West Division team all week. Let's turn now to Northwestern.
1. LB Anthony Walker: An All-American who led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for loss, Walker has a chance to be the best linebacker in Wildcats history, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. And Fitzgerald knows a little something about that subject.
2. RB Justin Jackson: He may not be a huge home-run threat (4.5 ypc and five touchdowns in 2015), but Jackson is a dependable, workhorse back. His 312 carries were the most in the Big Ten last year, and he ran for 1,418 yards, giving him more than 2,600 rushing yards in his first two seasons.
3. CB Matthew Harris: An underrated cover corner, Harris had four interceptions last year and was named third-team All-Big Ten. The senior is one of the team's most respected leaders, too.
4. QB Clayton Thorson: His passing numbers (1,522 yards on 50.8 completion percentage, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions) left much to be desired last season. But he was also just a redshirt freshman who led the team to a 10-win season. Thorson, who also ran for five touchdowns last year, should only improve going forward.
5. S Godwin Igwebuike: He finished second on the team in tackles last season with 87 and was capable of making plays in the opposing backfield (4.5 TFLs). He and Harris give Northwestern two outstanding veterans in the secondary.
6. DE Ifeadi Odenigbo: Probably the most purely talented pass rusher on the team, Odenigbo had five sacks last season while playing mostly in a specialized role. The Wildcats would love to see him become an every-down force in 2016.
7. DT Tyler Lancaster: A solid run-stuffer in the middle of the Wildcats' D-line, Lancaster started every game last season as a redshirt sophomore, recording 5.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
8. LT Blake Hance: A member of our Big Ten all-freshman team, Hance started the final back half of last season at left tackle. He gives the Wildcats a strong building block for the future on the O-line.
9. WR/KR Solomon Vault: This speedster has so far mostly made his mark on special teams. Last year, Vault averaged 26.2 yards on kick returns and brought two of them back for touchdowns. He also had 95 receiving yards and 159 rushing yards. Northwestern would like to get him more involved on offense.
10. WR Austin Carr: He finished second on the team in receiving yards last year with 302, while averaging a robust 18.9 yards per catch. The Wildcats desperately need improvement from their wideouts, and Carr is probably the team's best deep threat.