Pat Fitzgerald's team has won 27 games over the past three seasons but his Wildcats haven't been able to make an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game. Once again, division foes Iowa and Wisconsin will field strong teams and offer Northwestern tough competition. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson (6'4, 225) has started every game over the last three seasons and is on the watchlist for the Maxwell Award. The biggest key for Thorson will be how he recovers from a serious injury suffered in the 2017 Music City Bowl. With the departure of Justin Jackson, sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin (5'10, 194) will take over the duties of carrying the rock. On defense, the Wildcats have playmakers at every level. Senior cornerback Montre Hartage leads the charge on the back end, junior defensive end Joe Gaziano (6'4, 280) sets the edge and sophomore linebacker Paddy Fisher (6'4, 245) mans the second level of the defense.
Troy's player to watch
24 Montre Hartage 6'0 190 CB-Senior
Hartage has started 26 straight games at cornerback and has worked himself into somewhat of a shutdown corner. The senior has eight career interceptions and will enter 2018 as the best defensive back on the roster. The Wildcats return three potential All-Conference players in its front seven, which should alleviate some of the responsibilities on the back end for Hartage. Look for the cornerback to have another strong season, if opposing quarterbacks choose to throw his way.
Game of the season
October 6th at Michigan State
Northwestern has defeated the Spartans in consecutive years. Last year's contest was a game to remember, as the Wildcats bested the Spartans in a triple overtime 39-31 thriller in Evanston. This year, the Wildcats will have to travel to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that returns a number of starters. If the Wildcats want to put the Big Ten on notice as a contender in the West division, a win against the Spartans will go a long way.
DraftNasty's Prospect Watch
32 Nate Hall 6’2 230 LB-Senior
Hall throws his body around and reacts quickly versus blockers. Perhaps more importantly, he can react instinctively versus the passing game. The weakness for him revolves around his man-to-man coverage skill. His pursuit angles can be hit-or-miss in pursuit. With all of that said, his ability to rush the passer and make plays in zone coverage provides a unique combination for the Wildcats. If he can drop his pad level with more consistency, look for Hall to take the next step as a prospect.
Northwestern will start the season 4-0 but will stumble across the finish line, according to Draftnasty's Troy Jefferson. The Wildcats will lose on the road against Michigan State and Iowa and at home against Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers are up for free agency. Evans led the team in points per game and Chalmers averaged 20 minutes per night. The Grizzlies could look to add another guard to complement Mike Conley if one of their free agent guards walks. Evans may command a big contract, which will probably price him out of Memphis. The Grizzlies will probably use the fourth overall pick on a big man but if they decide to use their 32nd pick on a combo guard, Duke’s Trevon Duval is a potential option. Duval is raw but has good size for his position (6’3”), athleticism and the handle to get where he wants while setting others up.
Bagley Jr. has all the tools offensively but the one thing that could shy teams away from is his defense. Coupled with the right lineups, however, Memphis could hide some of his deficiencies.
Cap space: -10 million, 110 million
Free agents: Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers
The Rockets have numerous free agents but since they were so close to an NBA Finals appearance, look for them to return its core and make another championship run next season. Houston could use some more depth along the frontcourt after showing a lack of depth and resorting to seven-man rotations against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets have the 46th pick in the draft, but there’s no guarantee someone picked that low will even make the roster. Maryland’s Justin Jackson could be intriguing. Standing 6’7” with a 7’2” wingspan, Jackson has size and positional versatility. More importantly, his three-point shooting (43 percent his freshman season) is a characteristic that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey covets.
Cap space: -19 million, 119 million
Free agents: Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, Clint Capela, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
New Orleans Pelicans
Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark logged heavy minutes for the Pelicans during their playoff run. Rondo has jumped from team to team over the past few years and if he does the same this free agency period, New Orleans will be in the market for another guard. New Orleans has the 51st pick overall but if they decide to test the free agency market, Elfrid Payton could be a younger option. Payton came into his own offensively last year in Phoenix and would be a younger and cheaper option than Rondo.
Backup big man
New Orleans won a playoff series without DeMarcus Cousins but that doesn't necessarily mean they are better without him. Even with Cousins, New Orleans could use a backup big man. The Pelicans signed journeyman Emeka Okafor after Cousins got hurt, but he will be 36 years old by the start of next season. If New Orleans decides to use their 51st overall pick on a big man, USC's Chimezi Metu could develop alongside Cheick Diallo to possibly provide a low post duo in the future.
Cap space: -19 million, 119 million
Free agents: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford
San Antonio Spurs
Above all else, the Spurs will have to figure out if they will have Kawhi Leonard on the roster after he missed most of this season with a quadriceps injury. Leonard covers so much ground for the Spurs and to lose him would be a major setback for San Antonio. If Leonard stays or leaves, look for San Antonio to still target another athletic wing, who can long minutes at both the shooting guard and small forward position since Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes will hit free agency. Boise State's Chandler Hutchison is a name to watch for at the Spurs' 18th pick. Hutchison doesn't shoot the three as well as the Spurs wings that have come before him, but each season he has improved his three-point shot. Hutchison (6'7") also has good height and can play within the Spurs offense at either the shooting guard or small forward position.
Cap space: -17 million, 117 million
Free agents: Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes
The Dallas Mavericks signed Harrison Barnes to a max deal but don't have much behind him. Doug McDermott averaged seven points and two rebounds in 20 minutes per game last season. Dallas could use another wing player that could play off the ball and defend both shooting guards and small forwards. The Mavericks could go with a big man with their fifth overall pick, but if Luka Doncic from Slovenia is available expect Dallas to take a long look at him. Doncic has a polished game for a 19-year old and has the ability to create for himself or play off the ball.
Doncic could very well be drafted in the top three picks, which means Dallas could fill another one of their needs with pick number 5. Nerlens Noel is a free agent and Dirk Nowitzki will be 40 years old by the start of next season. The Mavericks could use an athletic big ma who has the ability to play both the forward and center positions. Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. is raw but has all the physical tools, can block shots as good as anyone in the draft and showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot threes during his one season in East Lansing.
Notable pick: Chubb will get a lot of one-on-one matchups working opposite Von Miller. It won’t be good for AFC West opponents. Freeman may be the grinder the Broncos need to control the clock and set up the play action pass game for Case Keenum. This could take pressure off of the team’s offensive tackles.
DN Big Board
1 (1st Round)
Chubb took his game to the next level in 2017 by adding a deft swipe move to complement his ability to post tackles. He will get even more tutelage from the NFL’s best in Von Miller.
28 (2nd Round)
Sutton has all of the skills to develop into a No. 1 WR in the NFL. It won’t happen if he doesn’t eliminate the drops that show up once per game.
27 (2nd Round)
He ran for over 5,600 yards and scored 60 TDs in school. At nearly 230 pounds, he runs with a light-footed nature.
166 (4th Round)
Yiadom is one of the better cornerbacks in the draft playing with his back to the ball. Despite just adequate recovery speed, his length (32 ¼” arms) increases his recovery ability.
104 (3rd Round)
Jewell’s instincts are top-notch and he is adept at making in-game adjustments to combat offensive personnel.
63 (2nd Round)
Hamilton brings slot quickness and outside wide receiver size to a unit that will move him around to create mismatches.
337 (5th Round
Fumagalli is yet another pass receiving option for the Broncos in the middle of the field for Case Keenum. He’s not a burner, but he catches everything in his area code.
342 (5th Round)
Back-to-back second-team All-Pac-12 selection was a factor on the kickoff team in school…too.
Arkansas, South Carolina
301 (4th Round)
The Broncos have struck gold in the past with late round running backs. The former Gamecock averaged 5.6 yards per carry for the Razorbacks in a pro-style scheme in 2017.
Notable pick: Watts was dinged for average workouts prior to the draft. When teams look back at this draft, he could become one of the value picks in this class.
DN Big Board
77 (3rd Round)
Speaks has the look of current Jacksonville Jaguars DL Malik Jackson. Like Jackson, he may be underrated coming out of school. Speaks is athletic enough to play either the end or OLB spots.
109 (3rd Round)
For a 6-foot-1 defensive tackle, he established lockout on a consistent basis. Very good instincts.
LB-6’0 5/8 223
162 (3rd Round)
O’Daniel covers the slot, RBs and is an outstanding special teams prospect.
64 (3rd Round)
Watts may have been the most active run-defending safety in the SEC. He contributed 4 INTs in 2017.
248 (4th Round)
Smith was a terror in 2017 once he got his hands on the ball. He drops his weight to sink vs. intermediate routes and plays through the hands of bigger WRs in the Red Zone.
338 (5th Round)
Despite being a DT in school, the Chiefs plan on moving him to the guard position. He looked good at this spot in pre-draft workouts.
Notable pick: Hall could end up becoming the team’s best find. His collegiate productivity was unmatched and his versatility will open up the team’s defensive fronts. Despite average length for a DT, he produced 29 pass break-ups in school.
DN Big Board
65 (3rd Round)
Miller has rare athleticism for a man of his size. His 23 career starts were a result of missing most of 2016 due to injury. Developing an anchor will be a key for Miller.
Sam Houston St.
23 (2nd Round)
Hall posted 86.5 tackles for losses in school and blocked 14 kicks. In addition, he found time to post four interceptions.
126 (3rd Round)
Parker –much like Miller- needs improvement in terms of core strength. Also –like Miller- he has positive finishing instincts as a blocker.
3 (87) Trade from Los Angeles Rams
84 (3rd Round)
If he can return to his 2016-form, the Raiders may have gotten another sub-package pass rush threat.
60 (2nd Round)
Nelson’s meniscus injury prior to the draft caused a slight slide. He may have gone a round higher. Dating back to his days at Hawaii, his footwork has always been his best friend.
76 (3rd Round)
Medical concerns made Hurst a Day 3 pick. The Raiders got a player who is instant off the ball and wins with a slippery nature. He will push Eddie Vanderdoes.
437 (5th Round)
This may have been the team’s most important pick for its defense. The release of Marquette King necessitated it earlier than expected. Townsend struggled out-kicking his coverage units in school.
365 (5th Round)
It seems like ages since Victor produced 95 tackles and 9.5 tackles for losses (2015). His final season was filled with suspension and off the field issues.
213 (4th Round)
While not sudden, Ateman is athletic enough use his 78-inch wingspan to dwarf CBs in the Red Zone. Averaged nearly 20 yards per catch in 2017.
Notable picks: James should be a Day 1 starter. Nwosu could very well do the same. Either way, the selection of Jones may be the most important pick of the first three selections. The Chargers ranked 31st versus the run in 2017.
DN Big Board
46 (2nd Round)
The Chargers are going to look for James to be an intimidating eighth man in the box as well as the team’s enforcer in the middle of the field.
61 (2nd Round)
Nwosu will challenge Kyle Emanuel for playing time immediately at an outside linebacker spot. His ability to affect the three-step passing game was rare in school (20 PBUs).
144 (3rd Round)
Jones posted 8.5 tackles for loss in 2017. While not a pass rusher, he can hold the point of attack and will be a good rotational player in the Chargers defensive front.
197 (4th Round)
White is a good blitz threat with plus upper body strength. His ability to control stalk blockers could land him a spot in sub-packages.
110 (3rd Round)
Quessenberry can hopefully improve the Chargers ability to move bodies in the run game.