Football: Igwebuike, Jackson likely to be selected at NFL Draft


(Daily file photo by Alec Carroll)

Justin Jackson eyes two Iowa defenders. The longtime Northwestern running back is likely to be chosen by an NFL team during this weekend’s draft.

Joseph Wilkinson, Digital Projects Editor


Students often called Justin Jackson the “Ball Carrier” during his time at Northwestern, but it’s Jackson’s pass-catching ability that has him on the radar of NFL teams ahead of the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

The shifty running back was the heartbeat of the Wildcats’ offense for the past four years, amassing 5,440 rushing yards on 1,142 carries. Those totals rank 11th and sixth in FBS history, respectively.

Conversely, those numbers may also hinder his draft stock. Running backs average the second-shortest careers among NFL position players, and Jackson already has four years of wear and tear on his body. His frame itself has also been a concern of draft evaluators at the NFL combine, who pegged Jackson as having a “thin frame” and described him as “slightly built with spindly legs and thin waist.”

Of course, there are reasons why most draft projections still have Jackson coming off the board between the fifth and seventh rounds — and NU fans know them well. Throughout his career with the Cats, Jackson displayed his shiftiness and agility while leaving would-be tacklers grasping at air.

An underrated part of Jackson’s game at NU was also his ability to create extra yardage on standard running plays up the middle. On the NFL’s official website, scouts noted his ability to “find hidden yardage in a crowd” and “contort around interior tacklers.” Jackson is no one’s idea of a power back, but he turned potential runs for no gain into three or four crucial yards over and over again.

Over his final two years in college, possibly with an eye toward the league, Jackson began to feature more in NU’s passing game. He increased his reception and yardage totals in his junior and senior seasons. Scouts took notice: “Has quickness and tools to become a more dangerous route-runner out of the backfield” and “elusiveness can help him turn a four-yard dump pass into a third-and-long conversion” are two of his bullet points on his combine evaluation.

And Jackson isn’t the only staple of recent Cats teams likely to hear his name called this weekend.

Safety Godwin Igwebuike played in 50 of a possible 51 games throughout his collegiate career. The Ohio native burst onto the scene his redshirt freshman year when he intercepted three passes in an upset of then-No. 17 Wisconsin.
From that point forward, he made a name for himself as a ball-hawking, hard-hitting safety patrolling the backline of NU’s defense, an occasionally dominant unit that undeniably powered the Cats to their 10-3 campaign and Outback Bowl appearance his sophomore year.

Those characteristics have enticed NFL scouts as well, and Igwebuike is projected as a third- to fifth-round pick in the draft.

While Jackson’s position is becoming less valued by many across the league, scouts at the combine projected that Igwebuike could fit into the mold of the hybrid safety-linebacker position that many defenses have developed to counter the prolific passing attacks of the modern NFL.

Igwebuike was praised by scouts as offering “nickel linebacker versatility,” combining the “build and toughness to play near the line of scrimmage” with “arm length and leaping ability to fight for 50-50 balls” on the perimeter.

Jackson and Igwebuike will likely be the only former NU players drafted. Although the analytical website Pro Football Focus highly ranks defensive back Kyle Queiro, he’ll likely have to settle for signing as an undrafted free agent in reality. And while this class played crucial roles on some of the best Northwestern teams of all time, they’ll likely see much less draft fanfare than rising senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who some evaluators had in their top 10 before his tore his ACL — will receive before next year’s draft.

The draft will take place in Arlington, Texas, with the first round taking place Thursday night, the second and third rounds occurring Friday afternoon and the fourth through seventh rounds filling the day Saturday.

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