Chris Johnson
By (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
May 9, 2013

Covering college sports in the offseason tends to turn into an exercise in creative frustration. When there’s nothing going on in the real world – on the field or court, where real people engage in real interscholastic competition – we like to talk about conceptual or speculative things, things grounded in analytical thought or reaction. We’re opening up our window of our collective offseason stream of consciousness with a new little feature called “offseason musings.” Original, right? You probably don’t need further explanation, but the crux of the idea is for yours truly to relay a random Northwestern-related thought, question or conversation tidbit in extended form.

Any particularly compelling NU-sports related subject is fair game here, and want to hear from you, too: if you have anything you’d like addressed, feel free to tip us on Twitter (@Insidenu) or head on over to the contact page and shoot us (or your writer of choice) an email. This is a purely fun and spontaneous endeavor, and the topics could get wacky from time to time, but hey, what else is year-round Northwestern sports coverage if not diffusely entertaining? Consider this an official invitation into our offseason thought box.

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Some statistical projections are plain and simple. Northwestern will win multiple football games in 2013 is an elementary case in point. Trevor Siemian registering more passing attempts than requires deeper thought, perhaps.

The Wildcats’ receiving corps doesn’t offer any easy answers. Demetrius Fields was the only major contributor to leave after last season, and the rest of the group remains largely intact, better-adjusted to the Wildcats option-read spread system. A collective assessment is simple, but what about the individual pieces? I’m interested specifically in the numbers, in pegging who Northwestern’s leading receiver will be in 2013.

Have an obvious, definitive, “DUH”- type answer? Well, suit yourself, because after a season that saw only one player break the 400-yd receiving mark, and only three catch multiple touchdown passes, the answer is probably less predictable than what meets even the most pedantic statistical viewpoints.

If there is an obvious answer, something that dates back to last year’s receiving stats, Christian Jones would seem like the best choice. He led the Wildcats in both receptions (35) and yards (412) last season, and only saw his physical talents and route-running acumen dovetail into an even more potent perimeter threat this spring. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was at a loss of words describing Jones’ talents and improvement throughout spring workouts. Jones will get his touches, and his production will likely outpace last season’s total.

That leaves us with one important contextual caveat: whoever leads Northwestern in receiving will, by definition, need to beat out Christian Jones – by most accounts (some would tout Rashad Lawrence) the most polished wideout that currently exists on Northwestern’s roster. Jones is really good, and only getting better, and – sorry to spoil the fun – if I had to choose, I’d take Jones over the field. Boring, I know, but can you really blame me? To make this a little more interesting, hear me over as I make a case for Jones’ greatest challenger: Cameron Dickerson.

His resume doesn’t recommend any real challenge to Jones’ potential yards supremacy, and Dickerson’s most productive game to date is a two-catch, 20-yard game at Michigan last season. Why, then, is he more qualified then, say, sure-handed senior Rashad Lawrence, or blazing deep threat Tony Jones, or five star-pedigreed Kyle Prater? Because Dickerson remains a relatively obscure entity in Big Ten and national media circles. Few people outside of the tight-knit cluster of the Northwestern football internet community truly understand what Dickerson is capable of. Here’s a hint: a lot.

The most glaring example came during last year’s spring game, on an insane 40-yard touchdown catch from Trevor Siemian, wherein Dickerson keenly sensed a short-thrown ball, then readjusted his route before out-leaping a well-positioned Nick VanHoose. He then proceeded to hurdle a tackler, lose a shoe and stumble into the endzone.

It was one of those plays where you put down everything you’re doing, replay the events in your mind and just say to yourself, “woah.” That was just a sample – spring practice evinced a more convincing data set of insanely athletic plays, downfield explosiveness and sheer playmaking value. He took a promising but flawed skill set and morphed it into something consistently dominant. Now, Dickerson is more than a sporadically reliable athletic marvel; he is a complete receiver.

All Dickerson needs is an opportunity to prove himself in game situations, and if afforded enough throws, particularly downfield, I have little doubt Dickerson will flourish. He will become a deep-ball safety net for Siemian and Kain Colter, and Jones will go back to being just another equal member of Northwestern’s deep receiving corps.

I’m speaking in absolutes, but you know the drill: Christian Jones will be Northwestern’s leading receiver, and I’ll take that to the bank. Still, if my Dickerson projection bears out, well, you know where you heard it first.

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