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Northwestern football’s most important players — #7: Riley Lees

Could we see a Flynn Nagel-like senior season for the slot receiver?

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

As summer gets underway and we get closer (hopefully!) to college football’s return, Inside NU is carrying on an annual tradition by counting down the players our staff has judged as most important to the team’s success in the coming season.

The definition of importance in this setting is, of course, up for interpretation, but that just makes this exercise all the more intriguing and, potentially, revealing. If you want to check out last year’s list, follow this link, and if you need a refresher on our overall rankings this time around, click on this one.

For each placement on the list, we’ve enlisted two of our writers to debate the merits of the player and their ranking. Next up, we’re taking a closer look at Northwestern’s leading receiver (by a long shot) in 2019 who will step into an even larger role in his senior season — Riley Lees.

Lia Assimakopoulos (5)

Lees will hold a significant position again on the Wildcat offense this year, just like he did last season. After Bennett Skowronek sustained a season-ending injury in September, the then-junior was forced into a much bigger role as the team’s primary receiver the rest of the way.

Now with Skowronek at Notre Dame, Lees will maintain that no. 1 receiver position in his senior year and must produce in order to jumpstart a Northwestern offense that needs it.

Last year, he recorded a team-high 51 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded career-highs with seven receptions against Nebraska and 59 yards against Wisconsin. In his sophomore season in 2018, he caught four touchdown passes.

Lees led all receivers by a long shot. He recorded 30 more receptions than any other wide receiver, logged 200 more yards and accounted for a third of the team’s receiving touchdowns. If Northwestern had a more productive season offensively and if the quarterbacks performed better, he would likely have put up much higher numbers.

Ultimately, Lees will again play a large role in 2020 and must produce significantly produce to carry the receiving corps. If the quarterbacking can improve this season, Lees and his receivers will be crucial to the team’s success.

Mac Stone (5)

Much like Lia, I also had Lees in my fifth spot. With Skowronek gone, Lees will 100 percent be the no. 1 wide receiver on the ‘Cats depth chart, barring any injuries.

While the offense was abysmal last year, Lees was a bright spot (see the stats Lia mentioned above). Additionally, the rising senior has seen a consistent increase in production over his first three years, which certainly indicates that big things could be on the horizon.

With a new offense coming in, along with a new quarterback, Lees is the player to watch in the receiving corps this year. He should have some help from the likes of RCB and Kyric McGowan, as well as from the tight end spot, but it seems likely that Lees will lead the team in receptions when it’s all said and done.