Every season, unproven and inexperienced players step up and exceed expectations. With a poor season last year, there is no shortage of players on this Wildcat team capable of putting together breakout campaigns. Here are our staffers’ picks for who will take their game to the next level in 2020.
Eli Karp: Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman
RCB is more of a known commodity for his colorful personality and that he’s a senior. One of the receiving room’s bigger bodies, he has shown the ability to make plays, but the consistency hasn’t been there in the past three seasons. Mike Bajakian raved about RCB last week at media availability, and in a new offensive scheme that seems geared toward explosive plays, the team barber may cut up defenses this fall.
Lia Assimakopoulos: Coco Azema
One player I’m especially excited to see step into a larger role this season is redshirt freshman DB Coco Azema. In his true freshman season, Azema appeared in four games and made a significant impact in each game he appeared in both at defensive back and at running back. He recorded four total tackles, a forced fumble, 123 rushing yards on seven attempts and a touchdown. Now with Travis Whillock out for the year, he will have to assume an even larger role in 2020.
Colin Kruse: Eku Leota
The news of Samdup Miller’s opt-out creates a hole on Northwestern’s defensive line meant to be filled by the redshirt sophomore, who appeared in 10 games last season. In his most reason press conference, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz praised Leota’s improvement this offseason, a hint of the North Carolina native’s potential to have a breakout sophomore campaign.
Daniel Olinger: John Raine
Last year’s, the super back duo of Charlie Mangieri and Trey Pugh only managed to produce a mere seven catches for 30 yards total on the season (though shaky quarterback play was largely at fault in this too). Raine, on the other hand, nabbed 38 receptions for 343 total yards and six touchdowns for Florida Atlantic in 2019, despite play behind Mackey award winner Harrison Bryant. Needles to say, Raine is a big improvement to a position that went dormant last year for the ‘Cats.
Jacob Brown: Greg Newsome
While fans know that the corner is good, this is the year that he makes the next step. Look for Newsome to get his name into the 2022 NFL draft conversation.
Evan Bergen Epstein: Malik Washington
Appearing in 11 games as a true freshman is enough to put Washington on the list of potential breakouts, but his electric speed could put him in the category of potential game breakers. With high praise from offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian coming out of camp, look for Washington to command a much larger target share than last year.
Claire Kuwana: Malik Washington
Like Evan said, Coach Bajakian himself pointed to Washington during this week’s media availability as a young player with veteran-like skill. He has the potential to be a key player this year, especially in a wide receiver group that is lacking an explosive star.
Liam Warin: Eku Leota
Leota notched 10 appearances last year, and he hopes to build off of that success even with a COVID-19 opt-out ravaged Wildcats defensive line. The North Carolina native has the opportunity to show his true potential and defensive prowess as the new starting defensive end in 2020.
Ben Chasen: Kyric McGowan
While wide receiver hasn’t exactly been considered a position of strength for the ‘Cats in the recent past, I’m adding McGowan, now the third wideout on this list, to the conversation because of his ability outrun the rest of the receiver room. From Rondale Moore at Purdue to Wan’Dale Robinson at Nebraska, we’ve seen speed-based receivers have success in the Big Ten West. Under Bajakian’s new playmaker-centric scheme, McGowan will, similarly, become a force to be reckoned with.
Mac Stone: Malik Washington
I’m hopping on the Malik Washington hype train for this one. Like Evan and Claire said, Washington received high praise from offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian this offseason and played 11 games this past season. His elite speed and “veteran skillset”, according to Bajakian, is what makes Washington my go-to breakout player.
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