Position Preview: Wide Receiver
By Margaret Fleming
You don’t have to be the biggest fan of Northwestern football to know it didn’t catch the ball well last season. Poor quarterback play and the loss of Bennet Skowronek to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3 proved to be impossible obstacles for Northwestern’s wide receivers to overcome.
Now, with Skowronek’s graduate transfer to Notre Dame and no major additions, it would seem Northwestern’s 2020 wide receiver room is stuck in the same position it was a year ago. However, the pass-catchers should take a step forward with continuity from 2019 and new options at the quarterback position. Here’s a preview of the ‘Cats’ wide receivers for 2020.
Who to Watch
McGowan only got in nine games in 2019 before an injury during a breakout performance in the Purdue game sidelined him for the season. However, his numbers haven’t been anywhere near what’s expected from the shining star of a Big Ten receiver group, and he’s had trouble in the past just getting open. He flashed an ability to work out of the backfield last year, and Mike Bajakian’s new offensive schemes should better utilize the senior’s versatility. If he can capitalize on the energy we saw against Purdue, McGowan could do some damage in 2020.
Lees has been a prominent contributor for the Wildcats the past three seasons, becoming the ‘Cats lead receiver and kick returner this past year. Lees started all 12 games in 2019, which resulted in 51 catches for two scores and 430 yards — not wide receiver one numbers, but would fill a complimentary role well. You can expect him to make bigger waves in the offense this year, and hopefully grab a few more touchdowns from a better QB. You can hope to see Lees make strides in the offseason, as he has every year.
The third senior WR to watch is RCB, who has been a solid playmaker for the ‘Cats in the past two seasons, not missing a single game. He came in second on the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2019, averaging over 15 yards per game. Chiaokhiao-Bowman is a dependable receiver who should help Northwestern get the ball down the field this year, and hopefully find some scoring opportunities as well.
Depth at the WR
A number of prominent contributors stand out from the junior class in particular: JJ Jefferson, Berkeley Holman and Jace James. These three have all appeared in a good number of games with solid stats to back them up. If one of the prominent guys gets injured, these three are definitely reliable picks to step into the starting spot.
Veterans to Guide the Team
So far, we’ve talked exclusively about juniors and seniors. Expect these older players to step up on the field of course, but also off — this is a strange year, and building a strong foundation for lasting success at the WR position won’t be easy. But these guys have been around NU football for years and know what it means to get back up again. In a season with so much up in the air, from a new offensive coordinator to a global pandemic, watch for these older players leading the younger guys as everyone works out kinks in the new offense.
A Lot Comes Down to the QBs
At the end of the day, much of the success of Northwestern’s wide receivers depends on their quarterbacks. Whether the start goes to Peyton Ramsey, T.J. Green, Hunter Johnson or one of Northwestern’s other options, a strong offensive leader is absolutely necessary for any wins in 2020. The coronavirus surely affects building that kind of offense this year. Regardless, Northwestern needs a solid dynamic between its QBs and WRs in order to be a legitimate offensive threat this season.