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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: 3 NIU football players have NFL-level talent

Eddie Miller
A graphic shows senior defensive tackle James Ester, junior running back Antario Brown, and junior safety Nate Valcarcel in action for NIU football. Sports Reporter Eddie Miller predicts these three players could make it to NFL rosters. (Eddie Miller | Northern Star)

DeKALB – With three regular season games left, NIU football has had a much improved year compared to 2022. NIU holds an incredible amount of talent on the roster, with a few players that could – one day – go pro. 

It is worth mentioning, “going pro” isn’t limited to the NFL. Players could make it to other professional football leagues, including the XFL, USFL, CFL and more.  


Senior defensive tackle James Ester has been a solid member of NIU’s defensive line since he hit the field. With a frame of 6-foot-3 and 298 pounds, Ester fits the role of a professional defensive tackle.

According to a study by a student at the University of Idaho, the average height for a defensive tackle is just over 6’2 (75.22 inches) and 208.97 pounds. 

Defensive line is a big need for many NFL teams, with defensive lineman consistently being selected in the first round. Eagles defensive linemen Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Tyree Wilson were the defensive tackles selected in  last year’s draft alone. 

The massive tackle has logged 2.5 sacks this season and has one fumble recovery. Ester leads the team in tackles for loss this season, with five. With one more year of eligibility,  his freakish frame and productive development could lead to a professional career. 


Junior running back Antario Brown –  the leading rusher for NIU,has a few more years of eligibility, but is just tapping into his true potential. Coming into the season, Brown was NIU’s leading returning rusher and has already surpassed his 2022 mark. 

This season, Brown has rushed for 843 yards (689 in 2022) and keyed 7 touchdowns (7 in 2022), improving in one less game played. This is especially notable because Brown had an inefficient start to the season –  to his standards. Brown’s first 100-yard rushing performance was on Sept. 30 at the University of Toledo. 

Catching his stride with an electrifying 280 yard, 4 touchdown performance the following week, Brown emerged as a premier back in the NCAA. Brown has two more years of eligibility, with a boatload of potential. 


After rightfully earning NIU football’s self procliamed, “most improved defensive player following spring practices,” junior safety Nate Valcarcel’s NFL hopes have never looked brighter. 

Valcarcel broke out this season, already topping every major statistical category from 2022. Most notably, Valcarcel has three interceptions this year – zero in 2022 – bringing one home for a pick-six. Furthermore, he has 32 total tackles (10 in 2022) and four passes defended (0 in 2022). 

He did this in three less games played than last year

It has been shown that anyone can have talent, but improving that drastically is something that no coach can teach. If Valcarcel can keep the ball rolling, he has a real shot at going pro. 

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