Kyle Prater, Northwestern Wildcats football, No. 21

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Kyle Prater is Northwestern's greatest enigma: a can't-miss prospect who thus far in his career, has missed. Can the former No. 1 receiver in the country regain any semblance of his potential?

Three. Damn. Weeks. And that brings us to Kyle Prater.

We're all just sitting here, wondering about Kyle Prater. How often do prospects everybody says will be great end up coming to Northwestern? Not just good prospects, the four-stars, we're talking about insane prospects, the guys everybody believes will be going pro. Simply put: they don't. Prater is Northwestern's five-star.

And the tougher question: how often do those guys everybody says will be great end up being... well... average? Prater's competition for the title of No. 1 receiver in the class of 2009 was Robert Woods, Prater's former USC classmate, who was just drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, Prater was decidedly not drafted by the Bills. He's in training camp with the Northwestern Wildcats, and we're just wondering whether he can be a competent receiver on a team that doesn't pass the ball often.

The thing about Prater though, is that the things that made everybody believe he could be great are still there. 2013 could be the year he proves everybody right, and it could be another year where his potential fell flat. More on Northwestern's biggest mystery:

Origin myth

I feel like I don't need to recap. But alas, I will.

Kyle comes from the west suburbs -- Maywood, to be exact -- and playing at Proviso West, it became clear that he possessed a combination of size and coordination that made him elite. As a junior, he played both ways, but on offense, he had 60 catches for 948 yards and nine TD's, and his highlight reel there shows why there was a bunch of hype.

A few things stand out. First off, his quarterback doesn't make one accurate throw the whole time, but by leaping, stretching, or diving, Prater still manages to make the catches. Second, how many times does he legitimately act like a defensive back isn't there? Third, he looks like he's jogging. And fourth, it's just crazy that the tallest guy on the field is also the one running past everybody.

And that's when things got serious: he dropped his defensive back duties, and on offense, he had 1,151 yards on 64 catches with 13 touchdowns, and made virtually every all-American list imaginable, was named the MVP of Illinois, etc. etc. etc. His senior highlight reel is even better than his junior highlight reel, since it's insanely overproduced. Same things stand out, tho:

He was offered 43 scholarships -- all the big boys, Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, etc., and of course, not Northwestern -- but chose USC before his senior year. His rankings were through the roof. Rivals considered him the top wide receiver in the country and No. 3 prospect at any position, 247's composite and Scout had him as the No. 2 wide receiver. ESPN was pessimistic, giving him only four stars and the No. 9 receiver ranking in the nation, but, well, that's still really really really good! Nobody watched Kyle Prater and did not think he was one of the best players in the country.

However, at USC... well, things didn't pan out. As a freshman, he looked fine in USC's spring ball, but couldn't get on the field during the regular season due to "nagging injuries" and the team decided to redshirt him. As a redshirt freshman, he broke his foot, missed spring ball, and then couldn't work his way into a receiving corps that featured Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, catching only one pass for six yards.

And so he decided to transfer. He said he was looking close to home, which meant Illinois, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. And then we found out he was leaning towards Northwestern... and then something weird happened: a five-star recruit chose to attend Northwestern University. Context regardless: crazy.

At Northwestern

Prater won his appeal to become immediately eligible-- we're still not sure what the reasoning was, but presumably something related to his family -- and we all got giddy. We'd have three years of the top receiver in the country. Well, maybe two, if he declared for the draft after his junior year. But still!

And then the weirdest thing of all happened: An elite high school prospect without any apparent injury issues on a team without a dominant wide receiver played an entire season, and did virtually nothing. Prater was never listed as a starter on Northwestern's depth chart. He was most highly touted for his downfield blocking. He had 10 catches -- five in the first two games of the season, only one for more than ten yards, none for touchdowns. Prater in 2012 looked like a backup wide receiver on a middle-tier passing team, nowhere near an NFL draft board.

Career highlight

He had a catch on Northwestern's decisive drive against Syracuse. Does that count?

Anagram of choice

Discovering the Wildcats' true inner selves through spelling

Kyle Prater, anagrammed, is

PLAYER TREK

We know there's a player somewhere within Kyle Prater, we just gotta find it. And it's been a bit of a journey for all parties involved. (Also considered: "Perky alert," which is any alarm clock, and "rarely kept," which is plans to do anything before noon on a weekend.

How he can help

So let's talk about who Kyle Prater is. He's a 6'5 wide receiver, whose body control and hands have always been very highly touted. He has also always been described as a bit slow, from high school to USC to Northwestern. He has a lot of upper-body strength, as seen by his blocking. There are several unmistakeable can't-miss traits there.

As such, we have somebody with preternatural ability to catch balls thrown in his direction, even if they're somewhat poorly thrown or if there's a defensive back meandering nearby. We don't necessarily have somebody with the ability to create the room to allow quarterbacks to be able to safely target him. Inside NU's Day 2 practice notes said pretty much the same thing everybody has said about him all the way since high school:

- The once highly-touted wide receiver prospect Kyle Prater looked dominant in one-on-one drills against the defensive backs, using his imposing size and strength at 6’5’’. But when it came to seven-on-seven, Prater looked slow and struggled to create separation for his quarterback.
At the very least, I think that makes Prater an incredible red zone weapon. Seriously: let us watch this video of him going against guys 1-on-1:

Every first-and-ten from the 20 yard in could hypothetically feature a jump ball to Prater, and it would never be a bad idea.

Does he have the ability to make himself a consistent No. 1 target on the other 80 yards of turf? He hasn't shown it through three college seasons, but everybody seemed to think he did in high school.

Depth chart projection

I have Prater projected as a starter, sliding up to fill the spot vacated by Demetrius Fields. (Apologies for blatantly disregarding Northwestern's wide receiver positionality, Prater had been listed as Tony Jones' backup last year.)

I honestly think there's just too much talent to keep off the field here. Even if it's just as a blocker and catching dinks-and-dunks and occasionally busting out in the red zone, I believe Prater will see an uptick in playing time this year.

Inside NU captured the situation well: perhaps the talent is there, perhaps the potential will pan out, perhaps he's got a monster season in him, perhaps he'll always be too slow to get it done. The sky's the limit, and so is the floor. I tend to veer towards optimism, but it's a distinct enigma, and we're going to have to wait and see. It would be truly awesome to see him deliver on the potential nobody denies he once had, and perhaps find his way to the NFL as everybody assumed he would.

More from Sippin' On Purple:

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