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Northwestern football season in review: Wide receiver grades

The Wildcats’ most questionable position group before the season turned into one of the team’s best.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

With the season in the rearview mirror, it’s time to assess how Northwestern’s individuals performed this season. All classes are according to the 2016 season. We’ll continue with the wide receivers, where Austin Carr become one of the nation’s best receivers and

Austin Carr (redshirt senior): A+

90 catches, 1247 yards, 12 touchdowns

What else is there to say about Austin Carr? The former walk-on who had only caught 23 passes combined in his first three seasons with the Wildcats exploded for a record-setting senior campaign. He was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which recognizes college’s best wide receiver, and received a host of other honors, all well-deserved.

He posted 100+ yard games in six of Northwestern’s 13 games, and he had three multi-touchdown performances. There was a six-game stretch during the season in which Carr accounted for nine scores. He had two touchdowns total in his career before 2016.

Needing a top-flight receiving option after the graduation of a good chunk of his 2015 receiving core, Clayton Thorson found it with Carr, as the chemistry between the two blossomed into one the Big Ten’s best passing duos.

Even though he had the full attention of opposing defenses, Carr always managed to get open somehow and had his fair share of highlight-reel catches, often for touchdowns. For a Northwestern team that usually doesn’t possess star pass-catches, Carr was a welcome surprise.

Flynn Nagel (sophomore): B+

40 catches, 447 yards, 2 touchdowns; 20 punt returns, 132 yards

Nagel’s speed and quickness proved to be a big asset not only on offense but also in the punt return game, where his long return of 47 yards set up a touchdown in the Iowa win. As a receiver, though, Nagel was used effectively on the outside, where his speed and adept hands proved to be a useful weapon. He also did this.

Next season, without Carr or Scanlan still in Evanston, Nagel might enter spring camp as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart at receiver. He has the potential to be a top target but will need to improve his route running and develop a similar rapport with Thorson that Carr was able to do.

Andrew Scanlan (redshirt senior): B

29 catches, 331 yards; 1 kick return, 6 yards

Scanlan caught one pass for five yards in his redshirt sophomore campaign and, the next year, didn’t record a reception. This season, he turned into a vocal leader for the Wildcats’ offense in addition to joining a quietly productive core of pass-catchers. He also brought a certain toughness to the team that will be missed after he graduates.

Macan Wilson (redshirt junior): B

22 catches, 306 yards, 1 touchdown

The Texas native hadn’t caught a pass in college before this season, but he developed into Thorson’s fourth target and even notched a 32-yard touchdown against Indiana. He doesn’t posses blazing speed, but has a knack for getting open. He was very good in the bowl game, too, and will need to take another step forward next year.

Solomon Vault (junior): B

15 catches, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns; 11 rushes, 26 yards; 23 kick returns, 560 yards, 1 touchdown

His transition from running back to wide receiver led to plays like this, when Vault could use his speed to gash defenses down the field. He also continued to play a big role on special teams, and scored a kick return touchdown for the third consecutive season.

Ben Skowronek (freshman): INC

8 catches, 70 yards

The true freshman wasn’t thrown to often, but played in the slot a lot as his 6-4 frame allowed him to snag some playing time. He should be a much bigger part of the offense next year.

Charlie Fessler (redshirt freshman): INC

1 catches, 7 yards

He is another name to keep in mind for next season.

Overall: B

While Nagel and Scanlan emerged onto the scene and definitely exceeded expectations, Northwestern never developed a true No. 2 to Carr. But, Carr was so good that the Wildcats were able to develop a relatively formidable passing attack that complemented Justin Jackson’s consistent production well.