Freshman Film Breakdown: Defensive Backs

By Matt McHugh

Editor’s note: The Northwestern Football team begins its season in less than a week, opening the 2018 slate this Thursday against Purdue. Just like any good student of the game, we here at WNUR Sports log plenty of hours in the film room. Over the next four days, one of our broadcasters will analyze some of the high school film of the incoming freshman class. Keep in mind, the plays we’ve selected do not define the players. It’s difficult to get a strong grasp on any player just by some high school film, but this series will help us and you to get familiarized with the latest batch of recruits.

In case you missed it, click here to read session one of the Freshman Film Breakdown, which focused on defensive linemen and linebackers.


  • A.J. Hampton
  • Jeremiah McDonald
  • Greg Newsome II

Just three years ago, Northwestern’s secondary was possibly the team’s strongest unit. Dubbed the “Sky Team,” with an amazing poster, the Wildcats allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the country in 2015.

Now, most of that poster is gone, and the production has slipped. The ‘Cats gave up 234.7 passing yards per game last year, the most in the Big Ten. On top of that, they’ll have to replace their two best defensive backs from last year, with safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro graduating.

Let’s take a look at some of the incoming first-years, and see how they can impact the unit over the next four years.

A.J. Hampton

3★ CB // 5’11”, 166 // Warren, Arkansas

Other notable offers: Nebraska, Toledo

Biggest Strength: Speed

Hampton was a three-star recruit out of high school, and originally committed to Toledo, before the ‘Cats snatched him up in February. 

The thing that stands out most about Hampton is his speed. He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash, which he puts on display in this punt return highlight.

a.j. hampton

Dude can run. Which is great for a defensive back. The problem is, Hampton listed weight is the lightest on the roster. 22 pounds lighter than kicker Charlie Kuhbander. Guys can make up for that lack of size with elite speed in high school, but that doesn’t tend to work as well at the collegiate level.

The good news is, it’s a whole lot easier to train someone to be stronger than it is to train them to be faster. That’s why the likely scenario with Hampton is to have him redshirt this year, then step into a bigger role in the secondary, and maybe punt returns, next year.

The ‘Cats redshirted four of their five defensive backs from last year’s recruiting class (Only J.R. Pace got game action), so the move wouldn’t be unprecedented. However, Hampton’s speed and explosiveness still makes him an interesting prospect going forward.

Jeremiah McDonald

3★ S // 6’3”, 200 // Slidell, Louisiana

Other notable offers: Ole Miss, Vanderbilt

Biggest Strength: Size

Offered by three other power five schools, McDonald committed to Northwestern back in April 2017.

McDonald is already the tallest defensive back on the team, and you don’t really realize how tall 6-3 is until you see him running next to a bunch of 5-10 guys in this highlight:


McDonald’s full extension is pretty ridiculous, and that’s a defensive coordinator’s dream. His skillset screams “Ballhawking safety” and the Wildcats are looking for some depth at that position.

Most likely, the starting safeties will be senior Jared McGee and sophomore J.R. Pace to start the year, but after that it’s pretty open, and McDonald could compete for that third safety spot.

Remember, Pace saw a lot of time in the secondary as a true first-year last season, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see McDonald follow a similar path.

The biggest question for him going forward will be if he can add some muscle to fill out that big frame, but his size alone might be enough to give him a shot right away.

Greg Newsome II

3★ DB // 6’1”, 182 // Chicago, IL

Other notable offers: Arkansas, Virginia Tech

Biggest Strength: Experience

Newsome is a Chicago native, but spent his senior year at IMG Academy in Florida, which is one of the most prominent sports powerhouses in the country. In every sport, a large portion of the team gets Division I offers, and many IMG alumni have gone on to have successful pro careers.

They also go up against some better competition, which you’ll notice right away in his highlight reel. The gameplay looks much closer to the collegiate level, and you don’t see that same “man among boys” effect.

But even if Newsome doesn’t stand out on that level, simply making solid fundamental plays against good competition is noteworthy. Take this play, for example:


Newsome’s skillset is the most college-ready out of this class, but nothing in his reel screams superstar in the making. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Hampton or the height of McDonald, but he seems to know where to be at the right time. He can stick with bigger, stronger guys on their routes, and could be a solid corner at the collegiate level.

With upperclassmen Montre Hartage and Trae Williams manning the starting spots, and returners Alonzo Mayo and Roderick Campbell back as well, there isn’t a clear path for Newsome to get playing time right away.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see him redshirt, but if *knock on wood* the injury bug hits, the ‘Cats may call on Newsome to step up at some point this year.

That’s all for today’s session. Come back tomorrow for Day Three of the Freshman Film Breakdown from WNUR Sports.

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