Coming into the 2021 season, Northern Illinois fans did not know what to expect from Clint Ratkovich. However, it didn't take long for the Western Illinois transfer to get himself acquainted in DeKalb. Despite only playing one season as a Huskie, he will go down as a fan favorite and a MAC Champion.
Clint Ratkovich lined up at several different positions for Northern Illinois and his versatility was crucial to the team's success in 2021. A majority of his snaps came at running back and fullback, but Ratkovich also served as a returner on kickoffs and the punt protector.
He also saw snaps at quarterback in NIU's version of the Wildcat formation and even lined up in the slot or out wide for certain passing sets. There is not much this guy can't do on a football field, and I often caught myself referring to him as a "Swiss Army Knife" last season.
Ratkovich finished the 2021 season with 105 carries for 461 yards (4.4 YPC) with 13 rushing touchdowns. He also affected games through the air, reeling in 15 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his total to 15 touchdowns for the season.
Northern Illinois had a uniquely talented and deep running back room last season, and Ratkovich's role was more or less the power back of the bunch. When the offense just needed a yard or two in a pinch, Ratkovich's number was called, and many times he delivered.
During the 2021 season, the Huskies enjoyed a streak of 15 consecutive fourth-down conversions, which unfortunately ended in the Cure Bowl. As a team, NIU finished second in the nation on fourth-down conversions (25 of their 30 attempts) and Ratkovich was a big part of that.
Furthermore, he was named captain during his lone season as a Huskie, as players and coaches noted Ratkovich became an instant locker room leader when he arrived on campus.
Upon watching the film on Clint Ratkovich, it's apparent arm tackles don't phase him and oftentimes defenses need more than one defender to bring him down. He is absurdly strong, finishing his pro day with 31 bench press reps of 225 lbs. Despite only being at Northern Illinois for one season, he holds quite a few records in the Huskie Athletics weight room.
Ratkovich keeps his legs moving and drives through his opponents, can block in the backfield and on the go, possesses pass-catching ability out of the backfield, and has relatively good speed. He recorded a 4.63 40-yard dash at Northern Illinois' 2022 Pro Day. Ratkovich has drawn comparisons to San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and considering the value he brings to an offense, it's easy to see why.
2022 NFL Draft Outlook
Clint Ratkovich possesses a rare athletic ability that several NFL teams will find appealing. His versatility on the football field will allow him more opportunities at the next level. As outlined below, Ratkovich has a relative athletic score of 9.39, a number that puts him in the same range as Mike Alstott at the fullback position for this grading system.
NFL teams would ideally like him to gain more weight based on this grading system, but I would make the argument Ratkovich is just fine where he is at until proven otherwise.
Following NIU's pro day, Ratkovich worked out for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. During his workout with the Packers, he suffered what some fear to be an ACL injury.
Before the injury, Ratkovich was projected as a Day 3 pick or priority UDFA. This development will undoubtedly change his draft slot as his return timetable is still undetermined. But Ratkovich has the right attitude and athletic abilities required to rebound from such an injury, especially during this pivotal time of his career.
Teams that did their homework on Ratkovich and can afford to put him on the shelf until he recovers will be rewarded with a great value signing. He is an excellent locker room presence, the hardest worker in the room, and an amazing talent between the lines. Moreover, Ratkovich has shown he is not afraid to learn new things and do them well. All of those attributes will help him carve out a role and succeed in it at the NFL level.
What's On Tap Next?
I cannot wait to see where that next opportunity comes for Clint Ratkovich. The "Rat Dog" was only in DeKalb for one season but became a fan favorite almost instantly upon his arrival.
This Northern Illinois draft class is a memorable and well-decorated group. It will be exciting to see what comes next for these five former Huskies, but there is no doubt each player will leave DeKalb as a legend.
Following the 2022 NFL Draft, stay tuned to the Huskies On Tap podcast for coverage of NIU players and where they land at the next level.