Football: Campbell headlines strong roster of Wildcats looking to break into NFL


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Ibraheim Campbell returns an interception against Illinois. The safety is likely to be the first Northwestern player selected in the NFL Draft.

Bobby Pillote, Sports Editor


The 2015 NFL Draft is taking place in Chicago, and coincidentally Northwestern is sending one of its best crops of talent in recent memory to the professional ranks. At least one former Wildcat should be drafted and end up on an NFL roster in the fall, and several more are sure to get training camp invites or latch onto practice squads.

The prospect with the best chance to be drafted is safety Ibraheim Campbell. He’ll play strong safety in the NFL and has good size for the position at 5-11, 208 pounds. Campbell also performed well in pre-draft workouts, benching 23 reps at the NFL Combine in February — second-most among defensive backs — and running a 4.47 40-yard dash time at his pro day in March.

All of that adds to an impressive resume compiled on the field. Campbell was a four-year starter, who missed just four games over that span and racked up 316 tackles, six forced fumbles and 11 interceptions during his career. CBS Sports projects him being taken as high as the fourth round. The reasons Campbell doesn’t rate higher are because he lacks elite height and athleticism, and safety is of low positional value in the NFL.

The other Cat with a chance to have his name called is center Brandon Vitabile. Another four-year starter who never missed a game, Vitabile will get looks because of his impressive record of consistency, but may be passed over due to his concerning lack of size. The mentally nimble center held up against Big Ten competition, but is listed at an undersized 6-3, 310 pounds, and will struggle against the mammoth nose tackles in the professional ranks.

The dark horse candidate in the draft is quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has inexplicably seen his stock rise in the final weeks of the process. The signal caller wasn’t on any team’s draft radar during the season and dropped further into irrelevancy when he tore his ACL against Purdue on Nov. 22.

But NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in a tweet in late March that the Denver Broncos scheduled a workout with Siemian, and the quarterback subsequently met with the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns as well.

Siemian had a lackluster college career with a 59 percent completion percentage and a 27-24 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but might get drafted because of his prototypical size and good arm strength.

The remaining wild cards from NU are receiver Kyle Prater and linebacker Jimmy Hall. Prater, like Siemian, has a shot because of his size and background. The former five-star recruit measures at 6-5 and finally had a productive season his senior year, pulling down 51 receptions for 535 yards.

But Prater is also slow, even for his height, and ran a 4.71 40 at NU’s pro day. The lack of athleticism will keep him off many teams’ draft boards.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hall is the stereotypical workout warrior. He had an unusual career, starting at safety before switching to linebacker, and didn’t see significant playing time until his senior year. But, he blazed a 4.50 40, benched 24 reps and had a 10’10” broad jump at the Cats’ pro day.

Hall is a “tweener” — not quite a linebacker and not quite a safety — which could actually boost his stock a bit. Hybrid players are a growing trend in the NFL, and at least one team is likely to see Hall as a good fit for its scheme.

There may not be a single blue chip prospect, but the number of former NU players in the NFL will certainly grow by September.

The draft runs Thursday through Saturday at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote