INDIANAPOLIS — An NFL coach scribbled down jersey numbers next to the X’s and O’s on the whiteboard. Then he pointed to each one and tested Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson’s love of football history: Who was the best linebacker to wear No. 50?
Thorson answered the question right: Mike Singletary. He debated the merits of two famous No. 32s — Jim Brown on offense, Jack Tatum on defense — and later declared Brian Urlacher to be the greatest No. 54 in NFL history.
‘‘It was a cool question,’’ Thorson said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Maybe the coach should have veered into Big Ten history. When Thorson was asked whether Trevor Siemian paved the way for Wildcats quarterbacks to get drafted, Thorson argued NU produces more pro throwers than most of their conference brethren.
‘‘When you look at quarterbacks from the Big Ten that go into the NFL, you think of Michigan State, you think of a couple of guys from Iowa and then it’s Northwestern,’’ said Thorson, a Wheaton North graduate. ‘‘There’s Mike Kafka, there’s Trevor. But you don’t see anyone from these other schools going to the NFL and succeeding.
‘‘It goes to show where it really starts, and that’s in the mind.’’
He wasn’t wrong — at least this decade. Thorson has a chance to become the third Wildcats quarterback, alongside Siemian (Round 7 in 2015) and Kafka (Round 4 in 2010), drafted this decade. That’s more than Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State or Nebraska can claim.
Thorson must prove his health to add to the list. He said his right knee — which he had surgically repaired after tearing his ACL in the 2017 Music City Bowl — checked out well at the combine. He had to pull out of the Senior Bowl in January with a high-ankle sprain and chose not to run at the combine or during his pro day March 12. He just started running at full strength this week.
‘‘I won’t say who it is, but every coach I’ve talked to has said they don’t care,’’ Thorson said. ‘‘They said they just want to see me throw.’’
Thorson, who threw for 61 touchdowns and ran for 27 more at NU, said that being a four-year starter has prepared him for his pro chance.
‘‘I’ve seen so much; I feel like I haven’t been surprised by anything these past couple of years,’’ he said. ‘‘I think another thing that I’m talking to these guys about is how my mind works, especially at the line of scrimmage. A lot was put on my plate these past few years, and I feel like that’s really prepared me for the next level.’’