Football: Scouting reports for Northwestern’s new recruiting class

Daily Sports Staff

Graphic by Benjamin Din/Daily Senior Staffer

Roderick Campbell, Jr. — Chaminade College Preparatory School / St. Louis
Cornerback / 5’11” 180 pounds

Campbell is one of Northwestern’s best defensive recruits of the class, slated to join a deep Wildcats secondary. The 5-foot-11-inch corner has good size for the position and combines great anticipation and fluidity with excellent ball skills. He wasn’t asked to jam receivers much in high school but is a willing and able tackler who could be in the mix for playing time next season after the graduation of senior cornerback Nick VanHoose.

Eric Eshoo — Loyola Academy / Wilmette, Illinois
Superback / 6’5” 225 pounds

Recruited as a superback, Eshoo’s huge 6-foot-5-inch frame could give NU a different look at the position in the future as senior Dan Vitale graduates. Eshoo is a smooth route runner for his size and catches the ball naturally, making him a potentially lethal red-zone target as he develops. And while his height could make leverage while blocking an issue, he displays some nastiness when blocking in-line that should serve him well at the next level.

Mark Gooden — Reynoldsburg / Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Defensive end / 6’1” 221 pounds

Gooden played on the defensive line in high school and said he will likely stay there in college, despite lacking prototypical size. Against high school competition, Gooden displayed a high motor rushing from the outside and the ability to work free of blocks. He likely won’t beat opposing tackles with his speed, but he is strong setting the edge and could be a stout run defender for the Cats as he bulks up.

“I always play every down to its fullest potential,” Gooden said. “I never give up on a play, even when it looks like the play is gone.”

Ben Skowronek — Homestead / Fort Wayne, Indiana
Wide receiver / 6’3” 195 pounds

Plenty of playing time will be up for grabs in NU’s passing attack next year as the unit, which ranked 120th in passing yards per game in 2015, must now replace departing seniors Christian Jones and Dan Vitale.

Ben Skowronek could be an answer.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Indiana native will instantly become one of the largest receivers on NU’s roster. Skowronek, the cousin of current NU freshman quarterback TJ Green, was recruited by some schools as a tight end but comes to Evanston as a wide receiver; his abilities to catch and block, however, were both evident in high school. His tape shows a patient player with excellent field vision, but he may need to become a faster decision-maker against unforgiving Big Ten defenses.

Out wide, he’ll likely serve as a possession receiver and downfield blocker.

“I play pretty physical,” Skowronek said, identifying his size and soft hands as personal strengths and his route-routing as a place for growth. “Whatever helps the team win games is what I’ll bring.”

Jesse Brown — Brookwood / Snellville, Georgia
Running back / 5’10” 185 pounds

The average 40-yard dash time of an NFL running back is 4.49 seconds. In high school, Jesse Brown ran it in 4.45 seconds.   

The speedy but small back fits the Justin Jackson model and comes to Evanston after making Georgia high school defenders look silly for years.

“(I’m) versatile and a fast, quick guy that comes with lots of power,” Brown said. “My ability to learn new things quickly and adapt to new environments will help me have an edge on the competition.”

The first 19 plays on Brown’s highlight reel are all touchdown runs, many of them more than 40 yards. He shows excellent acceleration and the ability to burst through the gap powerfully, and is particularly elusive in the open field.

At NU, Brown — who also sports a 320-pound bench press — will likely serve as a downhill runner with the ability to handle a large workload.

Source: IMG Academy
Jango Glackin — IMG Academy / Bradenton, Florida
Outside linebacker / 6’2” 215 pounds

Yes, like the bounty hunter from “Star Wars.”

“It’s a pretty long story,” Glacko told The Daily. “In third grade when I started playing football, they accused my dad of giving me money to hurt other players. … Jango was a bounty hunter, so we changed my name to that.”

And yes, that really is his name, earning Glackin a coveted spot on SBNation’s annual “All-Name Team” for high school recruits. The boy formerly known as Christian changed his name, parlaying his response to a bounty scandal into a successful high school career and a spot as one of NU’s top recruits of 2016.

Listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, Glackin runs an impressive 4.56 second 40-yard dash. And as an alumnus of the prestigious IMG Academy, an athletics-focused boarding school which produced stud Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly along with five NFL quarterbacks, Glackin played with and against the best in high school and knows he is ready for the rigors of college life as well as college football.

Academics are obviously a consideration for Glackin, who said he probably plans to major in economics at NU, but his main priority is even more fundamental: playing Big Ten football.

Glackin held offers from conference rivals Wisconsin and Indiana as well as Harvard and Yale, but ultimately opted for the Cats. He’s a good bet to continue NU’s strong tradition of producing excellent linebackers.

Gunnar Vogel — Westerville South / Westerville, Ohio
Offensive tackle / 6’6” 285 pounds

Gunnar Vogel routinely made defensive linemen look weak and hapless in high school. He wasn’t trying to hold back their push to sack the quarterback; he was shoving them the other way, often yards upfield and eventually into the ground.

Vogel proudly boasts what he calls a “mean streak on the field” and his highlight reel backs him up, showing a legal but ruthless penchant for blocking his man into utter submission on any given play.

While the 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive tackle will face tougher competition in the Big Ten than he has before, he’s confident that he can handle it.

“Junior year … I weighed 240 pounds, so that was a challenge to see what my leverage could do for me,” Vogel said, noting his high school conference was one of the best in Ohio.

For his senior year, he bulked up more than 40 pounds and dominated via size advantage alone. He’s now working on building an even bigger base for next fall while simultaneously improving his foot quickness.

Aidan Smith — Carroll / Fort Wayne, Indiana
Quarterback / 6’2” 175 pounds

Aidan Smith, a quarterback from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, draws a lot of comparisons to current Cats quarterback Clayton Thorson. Like Thorson, Smith relies heavily on his legs to make plays when the pocket collapses.

“(Thorson will) be my student mentor,” Smith said. “He’ll be the guy I’ll be looking up to and help me with the offense when I need help or when coach McCall isn’t around. I think our play styles are similar, and I think there are some things he does better than me and some things I do better than him.”

Smith is a three-star recruit and the No. 38 pocket-passing quarterback, according to ESPN’s recruiting rankings, and has a measured 40-yard dash time of 4.81 seconds. The quarterback committed to playing for the Cats in June, and said the team has a solid foundation to build around.

“It was really fun to watch them throughout the season — huge wins at Duke and especially Stanford,” Smith said. “They don’t really give us credit for that, but I think their defense was just a little too much for Christian McCaffrey, in my opinion. … It was just all-around fun to be around the program while they were winning.”

But Smith still has room to improve. The Indiana native needs to work on his deep-throw accuracy even though he tends to use the middle of the field to hit receivers on slant patterns.

Smith also said he wants to improve on his speed because he knows the Big Ten will be significantly different than high school.

“My goal for the summer is to have a lot of the offense mastered and still get faster,” Smith said. “I feel like I’m pretty fast right now, but the speed of the Big Ten is always a lot faster, I mean, it’s the Big Ten.”

The bottom line is that Smith probably won’t make an immediate impact, but Thorson will serve as the perfect mentor for the young quarterback. Even if Smith does not find ample playing time, he could find himself backing up Thorson.

“It’s my goal to start,” Smith said. “My second goal is to travel with the team and to have a positive impact. I’m just looking to fill in spots where they need me, and if they need me on the kick-off, I’ll run down — even though I won’t like it —and tackle people.”

Paddy Fisher — Katy / Katy, Texas
Middle linebacker / 6’2” 225 pounds

Paddy Fisher might have the highest ceiling of any player in NU’s recruiting class. Along with fellow signee Travis Whillock, Fisher attended Katy High School, where he led the team to a Texas 6A Division II title.

The three-star inside linebacker is a phenomenal run-stopper and he uses his hands well to shed blocks. ESPN lists Fisher as the No. 28 inside linebacker in this year’s recruiting class because of his combination of strength and defensive awareness.

At 6-foot-3-inches and 225-pounds, Fisher is a physical specimen who punishes running backs, but he still needs to improve on his lateral quickness and range. Fisher could see himself in a special teams role for NU next year, and with the graduation of Drew Smith he will most likely play as a true freshman.

But the Cats are relatively deep at inside linebacker and still have young talent with Tommy Vitale, Simba Short and Nathan Fox. Even if Fisher does not get ample playing time next year, Pat Fitzgerald is the right coach to mold him into an eventual anchor for NU’s defense.

Travis Whillock — Katy / Katy, Texas
Strong safety / 6’1” 185 pounds

Travis Whillock is an explosive safety from Katy, Texas, and the teammate of fellow Cats commit Paddy Fisher. ESPN rated Whillock a three-star recruit and the No. 94 safety in the class of 2016.

Whillock, along with Fisher, anchored a Katy High School defense that led the school to its eighth Texas state title. The defense only allowed 62 points in 16 games this season and the team went undefeated. Whillock said he is looking forward to playing for a defensive coach like Pat Fitzgerald, and he is used to playing for dominating defenses.

“It’s a great opportunity, especially coming from our school where we take great pride in our defense,” Whillock said. “Being able to go from the Katy coaches to coach Fitzgerald is truly a blessing. I know he’ll get us going each and every single week.”

Whillock is a hard-hitting safety and an excellent open-field tackler. He has exceptional football instincts and breaks on the ball really well. Whillock runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and has impressive lateral quickness to cover the field.

But Whillock does make some risky decisions and will go for the big play, leaving his assigned coverage occasionally. However, Whillock has a high motor and will make plays for the Cats.

“I like to think of myself as a really confident player — not cocky, but when I’m on the field I have really good confidence in my game,” Whillock said. “If you’re able to prepare well, then when you get on the field it’s not going to be that much. It’s just football at the end of the day, and you’re supposed to have fun and that’s what it’s all about.”

Whillock is a player who could make an impact immediately, possibly on special teams, and with the graduation of key secondary players like Traveon Henry and Nick VanHoose, Whillock could find his way onto the field this coming season.

“There are going to be injuries, there are going to be people leaving — there’s always going to be that kind of stuff,” Whillock said. “But really it’s just a next man up. I’m really confident in the ability of everyone that is going to be on our team.”

Tommy Carnifax — Howland / Warren, Ohio
Defensive end / 6’5” 245 pounds

Tommy Carnifax is the lone early-enrollee of the 2016 signing class and began his classes Winter Quarter, becoming just the second recruit of coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure to enroll early. The process enables Carnifax to participate in NU’s spring practices.

The quick leap to the college game should be no issue for Carnifax, who was one of the more highly regarded recruits in this class. 247Sports rates Carnifax as a consensus three-star player, the 24th best recruit in the state of Ohio and the 29th best player at his position nationally. And in a significant recruiting victory for the Cats, Carnifax opted for NU despite holding a rival offer from Duke.

A gifted athlete, Carnifax played defensive end and tight end for his high school team. On defense, he excels at setting the edge against the run, using his instincts and technique to quickly shed blockers. Even if his brute strength doesn’t immediately transfer to college, Carnifax should be well served by his strong hand placement, leverage and footwork.

Nik Urban — South / Willoughby, Ohio
Offensive guard / 6’4” 280 pounds

The mammoth Urban joins several other bulky offensive linemen in NU’s 2016 class and checks in as the 37th best player at his position nationally, according to 247Sports. And similar to some other players in this class, Urban chose the Cats over competing offers from academic rival Duke — whom NU defeated in September — and in-state rival Illinois.

Urban simply mauled smaller competition in high school, but also showed good technique and consistently finished his blocks to the end of every play. He also possesses demonstrated football smarts, having played each line position in high school including center, and is proficient at snapping the ball in the shotgun. The Cats struggled along the offensive line in 2015, and a versatile lineman like Urban will help to plug those kind of holes in the future.

Riley Lees — Libertyville / Libertyville, Illinois
Athlete / 6’1” 185 pounds

The ambiguous “athlete” designation means Lees isn’t committed to playing any single position. He quarterbacked his high school team, but will likely shift away from the position with fellow signal caller Aidan Smith also joining NU in this recruiting class.

Lees’ signature in high school was the quarterback draw, with Lees using his superior speed to simply outrun opposing defenses. That athleticism makes him well-suited to play either running back or wide receiver, but the Cats’ bevy of ball carriers means life as a pass-catcher is the most likely outcome.

Just one of two recruits from Illinois in the 2016 class, Lees ranks as the 22nd-best signee in the state according to 247Sports.

Jesse Meyler — Episcopal / Alexandria, Virginia
Offensive tackle / 6’5” 280 pounds

Yet another giant recruit in the trenches for NU, Meyler checks in as the 28th-best recruit from the state of Virginia, according to 247Sports. The offensive tackle committed to the Cats despite holding offers from Big Ten rival Wisconsin, academic rival Vanderbilt and Ivy League schools Harvard and Yale.

And as his offer list suggests, Meyler isn’t all brawn. He’s great at what scouts like to call “pad level” — keeping his hands inside and positioning his center of gravity below his opponents to maintain leverage — and has plenty of experience run blocking, having spent most of his high school career in the more traditional three-point stance rather than the more pass-oriented two-point stance. Meyler should have the technical aptitude to adapt quickly to the Cats’ offensive line schemes.

NATIONALSIGNINGDAY3_courtesyphotoSource: Lauren Kiesel
Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman — Breck School / Minneapolis
Wide receiver / 6’2.5’’ 191 pounds

Chiaokhiao-Bowman looks to fill the Cats’ dearth of passing options, as NU seeks to improve its receiving talent in the upcoming season. Throughout high school, he demonstrated a strong lower body, making long runs and evading opponents with ease.

Holding offers from Ball State, Minnesota and several Ivy League programs, Chiaokhiao-Bowman said his decision came based on what felt right.

“I had a better feel at Northwestern and had that Midwest feel coming from Minnesota,” Chiaokhiao-Bowman said. “My commitment has never been this strong.”

Alex Miller — Stratford / Houston
Defensive tackle / 6’3’’ 270 pounds

Throughout high school, Miller took the backfield by storm, so it makes sense that NU recruited him as they lose defensive standouts such as graduating seniors Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry. And in addition to starring as a defensive tackle, Miller demonstrated his athleticism in high school by lining up at tight end.

As the Cats look to continue their strong run defense, the high school standout brings diversity to the defensive line.

Brian Bullock — Round Rock  / Round Rock, Texas
Cornerback / 6’0’’ 175 pounds

Bullock was one of NU’s first recruits for the 2016 class when he verbally committed in April 2015. Although he only had one other offer in Texas State, he was getting looks from the likes of Stanford, Oklahoma and TCU.

The Cats have a traditionally strong secondary but lose two key contributors to graduation this year in cornerback Nick VanHoose and safety Traveon Henry. Bullock, a three-star recruit with a strong lower body, will be able to help fill this void.

Jeremy Larkin — La Salle / Cincinnati
Running back / 5’10” 180 pounds

NU’s highest-rated recruit of the 2016 class, Larkin is a standout feature back with incredible open field speed. He originally committed to the University of Cincinnati last June, but decided to become a Wildcat in December following NU’s 10-win season.

Larkin finished his senior season as a state champion and rushed for 1,829 yards and 28 touchdowns. There isn’t much doubt that he is an incredibly talented back, as he won Offensive Player of the Year as part of USA Today’s All-USA Ohio Football team.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 180 pounder won’t displace rising junior Justin Jackson any time soon, but Larkin has a lot of experience from high school lining up as a slot receiver. Larkin uses his impressive footwork and lateral agility to make defenders miss, and his receiving skills are best utilized in a spread formation.

According to 247sports, Larkin is the No. 24 running back in the country and a three-star recruit. He is also the cousin of former Cincinnati Reds and Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin.  

Cameron Kolwich — St. Mary’s / West Bloomfield, Michigan
Offensive guard / 6’5” 270 pounds

Kolwich is NU’s highest-rated offensive line and sixth-highest overall recruit. He announced his commitment relatively early, spurning in-state Michigan and declining Big Ten offers from Illinois and Purdue.

The 6-foot-5-inch, 270 pound lineman played at the tackle position in high school but said he expects to switch to guard when he arrives. Kolwich is a better run-blocker than pass protector, so the move may prove to be well-suited.

Offensive line was a disaster area for the Cats in 2015, with multiple players battling injuries and the team using seven different combinations of starters through their first 10 games. Even though Kolwich has said he expects to redshirt the 2016 season in order to further develop his skills, NU may need to utilize him if depth becomes a major issue.

According to 247sports, Kolwich is the No. 36 offensive guard in the country and a three-star recruit. His high school has won back-to-back Division 3 championships in the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Jake Saunders — Loveland / Loveland, Ohio
Defensive tackle / 6’3” 285 pounds

Saunders is rated the Cats’ tenth-highest recruit and second-highest defensive lineman in the 2016 class. He received numerous offers from Big Ten schools such as Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, but decided to come to Evanston instead.

“When I got my Northwestern offer … I was really excited about it, but I wasn’t exactly sure what the program was all about ” Saunders said. “The more visits I went on to Northwestern, the more I liked the coaching staff. I (also) met some of the players and really liked them, which made my decision really easy in the end.”

The defensive tackle, checking in at 6 foot 3 inches and 285 pounds, usually lines up on the right side of the line of scrimmage and has good quickness off the line. Saunders is a very efficient pass rusher, taking the quickest route possible when trying to sack the opposing quarterback.

A team captain and four-year varsity player, Saunders received high praise from his coach Fred Cranford.

“He’s an unbelievable kid of character,” Cranford said. “He leads by example, and it’s just the way he lives his life. He wakes up with a purpose.”

According to 247sports, Saunders is the No. 56 defensive tackle in the country and a three-star recruit. He recorded two sacks, 13 solo tackles and one forced fumble in 2015.