DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE PART 4: WIDE RECEIVERS
DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cut Line: 5 players
2014: Cut Grade B/B+ True Grade B-
2015: Cut Grade B+ True Grade B-/C+
2016: Cut Grade B+/A- True Grade B
2017: Cut Grade B/B+ True Grade B
First off, the cut line: Obviously, Northwestern plays more than 5 receivers regularly. In 2018, for example, 6 receivers made significant statistical contributions. This line is more meant to represent how many guys Northwestern would NEED to play regularly. When you factor in the facts that a superback is almost always on the field for NU and that Northwestern does not exclusively play spread football, 5 should do it. The fact that NU dips below that cut line with regularity, of course, is a testament to the position group itself.
Second, the West Lot Pirates have one rule, and it is this: When a walk-on receiver known mainly for his skills on the Ivory and Ebony develops to the point that he (1)Becomes the best receiver in the Big Ten, (2)Finishes 3rd in the Biletnikoff voting, and (3)Is currently catching Thanksgiving Day touchdown passes from Drew Brees in the NFL, that player gets an A+ from the West Lot Pirates.
If there was an A++, Austin Carr would get it.
Carr is on the books for three of the four seasons in our window, which has the effect of jacking up the cut grade of the whole unit. But there are a couple of important points here. First of all, we don’t want to hear any belly-aching to the effect of “Carr had ONE good season, and you’re crediting him for three”. To begin with, that’s a lie: Carr was our second-best wide receiver statistically as a junior. Second of all, Dennis Springer & Co absolutely get to log multiple years worth of credit for Carr. HE WAS PAYING TO GO TO NORTHWESTERN DURING SOME OF THIS TIME.
Carr basically took the Northwestern model relative to receivers and pumped it full of a mixture of PCP and Gummy Berry Juice. But we can look at Carr as the peak example of what Northwestern does well at receiver: Provide a deep group of playmakers through across-the-board development. This is the second thing about Carr jacking up the cut line: You shouldn’t be focusing on the cut grade anyway. You should be looking at how close the cut grade is to the total grade in any given year.
Regardless of what goes into the Northwestern receiver corps, what tends to come out is reliable, heady playmakers with moderate to…moderate athleticism. This is both the positive and the negative of the unit: We tend to think of this as a group of interchangeable lunch-pail guys. They weren’t all thought of that way coming out of high school.
Rashad Lawrence, the greatest run-blocking receiver the West Lot Pirates have ever seen, was a key role player at NU, but he was a star coming INTO NU: A top-75 player from Florida with offers from Stanford, UCF, and USF. Of Drew Scanlan and Macan Wilson, one was a noted receiver from Texas with an offer from Cal, and one had only moderate interest from the MAC and the FCS. The fact that you can’t tell us which resume belongs to which guy is kind of the point. We tend to field a decent unit devoid of stars.
With that said, if we take Carr out of the equation, what we see is a steady upward trend across the four windows. Historically, our receiver corps hasn’t regularly had guys like Bennett Skowronek, Flynn Nagel, and Kyric McGowan at the same time. These guys are not game-breakers, but they are bona fide upper-shelf Big Ten players, and they have made and will make enormous plays. And if we keep digging into the depth chart of the 2017 window, we get the Notorious RCB, Riley Lees, Charlie Fessler, etc. Understand: There are only 10 receivers on scholarship IN the 2017 window, and we’ve already gone through most of them. IF YOU FIND YOURSELF TAKING THIS DEPTH FOR GRANTED, GO READ THE RUNNING BACK SECTION AGAIN.
The one thing the receiver corps–that one monster Carr year excepted–has not had is that “they can’t cover him” receiver. I.E. a Justin Jackson-level multi-year dominator. Every year, we all look at the latest recruiting class and tell ourselves “THIS will be the guy.” We’ve all already done it with Genson Hooper-Price. One day, it will be true.
BOTTOM LINE: Depth is the name of the game in our receiver corps. What we lack in on-field separation and marquee stars, we make up for with a next-man-up unit with very few major misses and some real developmental success. We’re always waiting for the next evolution at receiver, but the run we’re on has been pretty darn good.