NFL: Why You Need the ‘Cats
By Eli Berk
As the sun sets on Thursday and millions of football fans tune in to watch the action of the NFL Draft unfold, the buzz created in Evanston, Illinois, will be at an unprecedented level. For the first time in school history, Northwestern could have multiple first-round picks, followed by a slew of talent in the later rounds. Each player who donned the purple and white has their own unique skill set that fits various NFL schemes.
Below are the top three Northwestern draft prospects, along with the teams that need them the most.
Rashawn Slater – OT
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team
To be fair, it was tough narrowing down the teams that need athleticism like Slater’s to just four. A generational talent, Slater is working to redefine what it means to be an offensive lineman in the NFL. Although he’s a bit on the smaller side, he has proven all doubters wrong every time he has stepped on the field. This leaves the Cincinnati Bengals with an interesting choice. As the first team surely to go away from drafting a quarterback, the Bengals are looking to fortify their offensive line. The size of Oregon lineman Penei Sewell and the speed of Slater are both ways to keep Joe Burrow safe, but as the AFC North gains more speed on the edge, the senior from Sugar Land should be the right fit.
It’s no secret that the NFC East needs work, and establishing a solid run game is one major step toward success. The Dallas Cowboys are coming off an unusual year, losing many linemen to injuries, and Ezekiel Elliott running with vaseline on his hands didn’t do them any favors. Slater can lead the way to get them back on track and help that Cowboys backfield earn the money Jerry Jones is paying them.
The budding young offense in Landover, Maryland, is starting to pick up steam, but it’s still unknown whether Taylor Heinecke is a legitimate quarterback. With the addition of long-time veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for the backfield, the window is open for Washington to capture Slater should he slip down the board. The two-time bowl game champion can make way for J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson to find the end zone and help the Football Team repeat as division champions.
The Chicago Bears are no strangers to trading up in the draft to get someone they want—it’s just crucial that they take the right person. The Bears currently hold the 20th pick in the draft, and while everyone is saying they should draft a quarterback, Ryan Pace and $10 million free-agent signee Andy Dalton beg to differ. Dalton needs time to work in the pocket, and the Bears desperately need a new offensive line, so on paper, it seems like a match made in heaven. However, we know how the front office in Halas Hall works, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see the star from Chicago’s Big Ten Team be on Chicago’s NFL Team.
Greg Newsome II – CB
Teams: New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers
If his 2020 season wasn’t enough to prove why Greg Newsome deserves to be near the top of the defensive back priority list, you clearly didn’t watch enough of him. An explosive, lockdown corner that brings unlimited energy to the position is a must-have on any NFL roster. Newsome recorded a Draft Class low 0.44 yards per coverage snap in 2020, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He has the capabilities to shut down any dynamic receiver matched up against him, and that can help several playoff contenders find themselves closer to a Super Bowl ring.
The New Orleans Saints have been just one step away from glory for several years now, and Newsome should be very high in the minds of those in the Big Easy. CJ Garnder-Johnson and Marshon Lattimore aren’t sustainable cornerbacks who can shut down NFC South threats like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin or Calvin Ridley. While Newsome still needs development, the sky would be the limit for him in black and gold.
The Bills are in a similar position as the Saints, where a solid cornerback could make the difference between competing for a championship and sitting on the sidelines as another team’s confetti rains down. Newsome would join an all-star secondary, a setup he is very familiar with on the shores of Lake Michigan as a member of the Sky Team. The Bills are becoming a powerhouse in the AFC; with Newsome as a young spark for a solid defense, there may not be any looking back in Buffalo.
It sounds repetitive at this point, but the Packers need the spark Newsome provides, similar to New Orleans and Buffalo. Green Bay’s NFC Championship performance against Tampa Bay shined a light on all of their inconsistencies. Kevin King seemed to have fallen apart, and Tom Brady took complete control. With a talent like Newsome in Titletown, he may be the final puzzle piece to put Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade.
Newsome’s speed and football IQ give him an advantage over other defensive backs in this year’s draft class. The Saints, Packers, and Bills have picks 27, 28, and 29, respectively, and should he fall to these contenders, there’s a chance he’ll be the steal of the draft.
Paddy Fisher – LB
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams
Although Fisher will likely have to wait until the later rounds to hear his phone ring, his talent on the field should keep him high on the big boards in every war room. The Katy, TX native has been one of Mike Hankwitz’s defensive staples for years, and he makes his presence felt. His hard-hitting style plugs the gap in the middle of the line to stifle any run game, and his natural athleticism allows him to defend passes effectively.
The Kansas City Chiefs struggled to keep up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl both on the ground and over the middle. Fisher would fit in with the dynamic styles of Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen and the muscle of Chris Jones and Anthony Hitchens. The defending AFC champions should keep an eye on him in the middle rounds, as long as he’s still on the board.
Fisher could also very likely end up in a very competitive division such as the NFC West. The 49ers, Cardinals, and Rams have all built up their defenses in the offseason to compete with dynamic offenses led by Russell Wilson and the potential arrival of Mac Jones in The Bay. Fisher meshes well with the veteran leadership of either Aaron Donald or JJ Watt and would make the quest for the NFC West crown much tighter.