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Northwestern Football Most Important Players — No. 9: Dean Lowry

Lowry is a senior cog on NU's defensive line who will have much to do with the Wildcats' success on that side of the ball this season.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern's Top 10 Most Important Players in 2015. We've put our heads together as a staff, used the power of democracy, and come up with a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement.

We've chosen to loosely define the criteria for our list as the players "who will have the biggest impact on the overall outcome of the season." However, we recognize that that's still open to interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of a player over his replacement. It could just mean best player. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could mean players who have underperformed who need to step up.

One thing is certain though: no two lists will be the same. That's why for each player, we'll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.

Next up, at No. 9, is defensive end Dean Lowry, arguably Northwestern's best defensive player. Josh Burton and Jason Dorow discuss:

Josh Burton (Lowry Rank: NR): After spending much of his freshman season backing up Tyler Scott and compiling just 14 total tackles and a single sack, Dean Lowry stepped into the starting lineup his sophomore year and showed flashes of just how good he could be. In his sophomore and junior campaigns, the Rockford, Ill. native posted 8.5 combined sacks and 74 total tackles, and anchored a strong unit that was one of Northwestern's strengths.

As an end in the Wildcats' 4-3 defensive scheme, Lowry — along with Deonte Gibson — has to sack the quarterback in order to free up space in the middle for tackles Greg Kuhar and C.J. Robbins. Considering Kuhar and Robbins' inexperience and inconsistency, and Ibraheim Campbell's departure in the secondary, it'll be crucial for Lowry to wreak havoc up front. But, in a Big Ten with enormous offensive lines and athletic quarterbacks, that can be difficult, especially when the inevitable injury bug bites.

Jason, Lowry has shown how good he can be in his three seasons in Evanston. Just how strong, and important, will he be in his fourth one?

Jason Dorow (Lowry Rank: 5): He is absolutely vital to the success of the defensive line, and he's the second most important defensive player on my list. The senior is arguably the best player and best NFL draft prospect on the roster. At 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, he has a rare combination of size and athleticism that makes him a dynamic pass rusher and run stopper. And that's why he stands out on the defensive line.

The defensive line may be deep and one of the best units the Wildcats have this year, but who else is going to consistently be a three-down option in the trenches? Gibson and Max Chapman have fairly balanced games, but neither is anywhere near the same level as Lowry. Ifeadi Odenigbo hasn't proven to be more than a third-and-long specialist, while the hogmollies in the middle - Kuhar, Robbins and McEvilly - should see a fair amount of rotation. Lowry is so integral to NU because his presence on the field comes at extremely high rates in volume and value.

Josh Burton: All of that is very true, as one of Northwestern's more pressing concerns for the upcoming season will be generating an every-down pass rush.

However, I'm not so sure Lowry can be relied on — almost solely — to lead the entire unit. And I'm not sure he needs to be. As you hinted at, Northwestern has great depth at defensive end, with Gibson, Odenigbo and Xavier Washington all potentially big contributors, and some highly-rated true freshman coming in as well if necessary. Lowry is definitely talented, but I'm not sure his potential impact — and therefore importance — is as great as his talent might suggest.

Jason Dorow: No one else can lead the entire defensive line though, at least not single-handedly. Thus, we should see plenty of the four-defensive-end formation, similar to the New York Giants' NASCAR package, in passing situations. And that's where Lowry becomes so valuable, because his ability to play inside, especially given the question marks at defensive tackle, is crucial. No matter what look NU gives the O-line, Lowry has the versatility and stamina to be on the field.

Staff Rankings

Jason Dorow: 5 | Kevin Dukovic: 7 | Ben Goren: 9 | Henry Bushnell: 9 |
Michael Odom: 10 | Ian McCafferty: 11 | Josh Rosenblat: 11 | Zach Pereles: NR |
Josh Burton: NR

Now it's your turn to tell us. Would you have Lowry in your top 10? If so, how high?