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Northwestern football summer guide: Wide receivers

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few weeks, Inside NU will be releasing its 2015 Northwestern Football Summer Guide, a season preview that will look at each positional unit, address the biggest storylines, and answer the most pressing questions that face the Wildcats this fall.

First up, we have our position previews, which serve as a primer for how things could shake out for each group ahead of fall camp in August. Today, we look at the wide receivers, a group looking to replace veteran contributors.

Overview

Returning Starters: Cameron Dickerson (Sr.), Christian Jones (RS Sr.), Miles Shuler (Sr.)
Key Losses: Kyle Prater, Tony Jones
Other Returning Players: Corey Acker (So.), Quinn Baker (So.), Stephen Buckley (Jr.) Austin Carr (Jr.), Mark Gorogianis (So.), Cole Johnson (So.), Mike McHugh (Jr.), Andrew Scanlan (Jr.), Solomon Vault (So.), Macan Wilson (So.), Pierre Youngblood-Ary (Sr.)
Incoming Freshmen: Flynn NagelCameron GreenCharlie FesslerJelani Roberts

Experienced but unknown. Talented but inconsistent. Promising but precarious. The wide receivers are one of Northwestern's most intriguing position groups. With last season's top two targets gone, the Wildcats must depend on historically unreliable replacements and the surgically repaired knee of a former No. 1 receiver.

Key Player

Cameron Dickerson

At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds Dickerson has the size, strength and speed to flourish at the college level. But instead, thus far in his career, he's disappointed. Poor route-running and drops are Dickerson's biggest flaws. Last season he had one of the worst catch rates on the team at 52 percent. He has to raise that percentage to at least the mid 60's to be productive. While Dickerson was wildly inconsistent last season, he showed flashes, like his team-high six catch, 97 yard explosion against Notre Dame. Dickerson will undoubtedly play a bigger role in the offense this season and Northwestern needs him to contribute more consistently.

Big Question

Will Christian Jones be healthy?

Most of the success of this unit will hinge on the health of Jones, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury and is still recovering from another injury to the same knee that will sideline him until August. Although the injuries suggest that Jones might not be as effective as he was in 2013, he has to be for Northwestern's receiving corps to thrive. He's the only wideout NU has who's truly No. 1 receiver material. At 6-foot 3, 225 pounds he's a natural playmaker, a polished route runner and a terrific run-blocker. With a healthy Jones, NU's passing game could be formidable again. But without him it would be hollow.

Projected Depth Chart

First String Second String
H Miles Shuler Solomon Vault/Stephen Buckley/Jelani Roberts
Y Christian Jones Macan Wilson
Z Cameron Dickerson Pierre Youngblood-Ary
X Mike McHugh Andrew Scanlan


Admittedly the second unit is difficult to project because nobody has really stood out. Austin Carr, Mike McHugh and Pierre Youngblood-Ary all saw limited action last season, and while it's natural to assume those guys will get more snaps this season, don't count out Macan Wilson and highly touted freshmen Flynn Nagel and Cameron Green. Mick McCall loves to experiment with different combinations of receivers in four or even five receiver sets, so don't be surprised if those guys see the field right away.