Over the next couple of weeks, InsideNU will reveal its rankings of the most important players on Northwestern’s football team. Past production, position and potential, among other criteria, were taken into account. We only ask one thing from you: If there’s one player you believe is pegged too high or low, reserve your venom until after reading the explanation. The only receiver in our rankings comes in at No. 8.
What time is it? It’s time to…punt. The Northwestern football team struggled to move the chains last season. The Cats converted 100 fewer first downs than conference-leading Ohio State and finished 10th in the Big Ten in that category. To change that, the Cats will need a big year from number eight on our countdown—senior receiver Christian Jones.
Last season, Jones hauled in 54 receptions and led the team in receiving yards (668) and receiving touchdowns (4). His numbers have steadily improved each of the last three seasons and all signs indicate this trend will continue into Jones’ senior campaign.
With Kain Colter out of the picture, NU will rely more heavily on the right arm of Trevor Siemian. This means a greater dependence on a receiving corps full of talent, but questions marks. Will Kyle Prater finally contribute? How will Miles Shuler fit in? Who else will step up to complement the Joneses?
For all of this uncertainty, there is one safety blanket, one reliable, proven commodity—Jones is the best possession receiver on this team. He’s an experienced route runner with 4.6 40-yard speed and a sturdy 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. He’s comfortable catching balls over the middle and he’s a threat in the red zone. Siemian trusts him.
The run-first mentality of the two-quarterback system has masked Jones’ true potential. With Siemian at the helm, Jones will be in the position to catch more balls and threaten defenses. In the season finale against Illinois last season, Jones broke out for 182 yards and two touchdowns. While it was just one game against a subpar secondary, Jones demonstrated how dominant he can be with enough targets from a healthy Siemian. The Cats are 5-0 when Jones finds the endzone.
What’s more, Jones will play a more natural position this season. The addition of Shuler means Jones won’t be required to play in the slot as much anymore. This allows Jones to better utilize his size on the outside, and also come across the middle for those chain-moving catches he's so good at.
For Northwestern to improve offensively next season, Jones must be consistent. The Cats struggled in the passing game last year, finishing seventh in the Big 10 in passing yards. But Jones provides the skill and promise to change that. It’s time NU becomes dangerous through the air. It’s time NU has a go-to, bonafide No. 1 wide-out. It’s time to move the chains.