To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern's Top 10 Most Important Players in 2017. We've put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy, and created 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 is Garrett Dickerson. Caleb Friedman and Will Ragatz debate:
Caleb Friedman (Dickerson rank: NR): Dickerson isn’t on my list, but that’s not to say he’s not an important part of Northwestern’s offense. His ability as a blocker is one of the most underrated component to the offense, and he proved valuable as a pass-catcher in several games.
In terms of my ranking, I just don’t think Dickerson’s performance will be as determinant of the offense’s success as some other players. The superback hasn’t been a focal point of the offense in recent seasons; NFL-bound Dan Vitale never had more than 40 receptions in a season, and Dickerson had 34 last season. A rise in Dickerson’s production is certainly plausible next season, but I don’t necessarily think a rise in his production will be indicative of a better Northwestern offense in 2017. The pass-catching numbers for players like Flynn Nagel, Bennett Skowronek and Macan Wilson will be more important barometers of the offense’s success, in my view.
If Dickerson can stretch the field and burn defense’s for big gains on intermediate-to-deep seam routes, then I think he changes the complexion of the offense. But, even though Dickerson is still a good player, I’m just not sure that’s going to happen.
The thing that makes Dickerson fairly important is the lack of experience Northwestern has at superback. Cameron Green is the only other superback on the roster with any career catches, and he has just four. The disparity between Dickerson’s value versus his replacement’s may be one of the greatest on the team, but I made my rankings with the assumption that all of the players would remain healthy (which probably won’t happen, but injuries are tough to predict). If the list was top 15 most important players, Dickerson probably makes mine. But, alas, it’s not, and the Englewood, New Jersey native falls short.
Will Ragatz (Dickerson rank: 4)
I know it might seem like a stretch, but I think Garrett Dickerson is one of Northwestern’s five most important players because of the question marks surrounding two crucial position groups. Dickerson (and his unfortunate nickname) has been a moderate but consistent target in the passing game during his first three years, but his best quality has always been his impact as a blocker. With Northwestern’s offensive line still being so unproven, Dickerson’s ability in that area of the game is of immense importance. In this case, Dickerson isn’t important in that his improvement (or lack thereof) is a potential determinant of how the season goes, he’s important because if he were to miss time at any point, Northwestern’s run-blocking and pass-protection would noticeably suffer. The offensive line, which is experienced and looked improved at times late last season but still has yet to put together a full, consistent season, needs all the help it can get on the edges. Dickerson has been a reliable stud in that department and thus, he’s an extremely valuable piece of what could be a dangerous offense this fall.
The other area in which he will help out is, yes, the passing game. Dickerson broke out for a career year through the air in 2016, making 29 catches for 272 yards and scoring four touchdowns. His 5 catches for 46 yards and a late touchdown were huge in the Wildcats’ encouraging, incredibly fun Pinstripe Bowl victory over Pitt. He also put up 40-yard performances against Duke, Ohio State, and Purdue. In 2017, his improvements in that area have the chance to make him an even more important target for Clayton Thorson than he was a year ago. The wide receiver unit is losing a breakout star in current New England Patriot Austin Carr, and will be without other 2016 producers in Andrew Scanlan (graduation) and Solomon Vault (injury). Flynn Nagel is predicted by many to have a breakout season, but that’s no sure thing. Who knows what to expect from graduate transfer Jalen Brown and younger guys like Bennett Skowronek and Riley Lees. Can Macan Wilson step up into a larger role? There are a lot of questions there. If Dickerson, who seems like he’s developed excellent chemistry with Thorson, can become a 500-700 yard receiver and a go-to redzone threat, the entire passing game becomes that much more dangerous. Safeties would have to pay attention to the superback over the middle, leaving more room for talented weapons like Nagel and Brown on the outside. If Dickerson remains the limited receiving option he has been thus far in his career, the passing game’s weaknesses and lack of proven targets could be exposed.
For two different definitions of importance, Dickerson is Northwestern’s fourth-most important player for 2017. His pass blocking work, which we know is excellent, is paramount to the overall success of the offense, and the lives of Thorson and Justin Jackson would get considerably more difficult in his absence. He also probably has the opportunity to step up into a larger role in the passing game, which could make the Wildcats an explosive unit through the air in Thorson’s third season as starter. For those two reasons, I’ve got Dickerson above players like Nagel (6th) and Brown (9th).