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Counting down Northwestern’s roster: 19-10

The one you’ve all been waiting for.

Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

We’ve gone through a litany of predictions for Northwestern’s upcoming football season as over the course of this summer. Now, we’re counting down the roster from 99 down to 0 (thank you, John Raine). We’ll provide stats, background, and an outlook for each player’s role headed into 2020.

The teens portion of the roster includes kickers, receivers, defensive backs and the biggest position battle and question mark for the ‘Cats team this year — quarterbacks.

19: Riley Lees

WR | 6-foot-0, 201 pounds | Senior | Libertyville, Illinois

Likely role in 2020: Starting receiver

After Bennett Skowronek’s 2019 season ended early due to injury, Lees stepped into the role of number one wideout last year. While 51 receptions, 430 yards and two touchdowns are hardly the numbers we would like to see pacing the receiving corps, the quarterback situation and play-calling did Lees no favors. Chemistry between Lees and whoever wins the quarterback battle could be the key to success for the Northwestern offense in 2020.

Career stats: 39 games, 91 receptions, 879 yards, 7 TD

18: Cameron Ruiz

DB | 5-foot-11, 180 pounds | Junior | Lake Villa, Illinois

Likely role in 2020: Starting corner

Ruiz stands as the favorite to get the starting nod across from Greg Newsome II, but his job is anything but set in stone. Ruiz displayed glaring inconsistency in 2019 which could leave him on a short leash with defensive backs coach Matt MacPherson. Newsome’s dominance will surely create ample opportunities for Ruiz to prove himself early on, but don’t be surprised if A.J. Hampton or Bryce Jackson begin to poach snaps.

Career stats: 23 games, 70 total tackles (56 solo, 14 assisted), 1 interception

18: Genson Hooper Price

WR | 6-foot-5, 213 pounds | Redshirt First-Year | Houston, Texas

Likely role in 2020: Reserve receiver

After redshirting last year, Hooper Price will look to impress coaches in camp and earn playing time. He will have a long way to climb in the receiving corps, but his frame will be an asset. He chose to play for Northwestern over offers from Notre Dame, Florida and Michigan State, among others, so he could prove to be a reliable asset.

Career stats: N/A

17: Bryce Kirtz

WR | 6-foot-0, 175 pounds | Redshirt First-Year | Brownsburg, Indiana

Likely role in 2020: Reserve receiver

Another redshirt first-year, Kirtz will join the receiving logjam this fall with high hopes. His role this year is most likely depth and development, barring major injury trouble.

Career stats: N/A

16: Zac Krause

QB | 6-foot-3, 202 pounds | Redshirt First-Year | Olathe, Kansas

Likely role in 2020: Reserve quarterback

2020 will be another year of study and grooming for Krause. While he may not see the field, he will be afforded the opportunity to learn from three talented and experienced quarterbacks in Hunter Johnson, Peyton Ramsey and T.J. Green.

Career stats: 1 game played

16: Brandon Joseph

DB | 6-foot-1, 182 pounds | Redshirt First-Year | College Station, Texas

Likely role in 2020: Reserve safety

Joseph squeaked into the redshirt category last year, playing the maximum four games including the matchup with Ohio State. He has the potential to find spare snaps again in 2020, but he will have plenty of competition.

Career stats: 4 games, 4 total tackles (4 solo, 0 assisted)

15: Hunter Johnson

QB | 6-foot-2, 216 pounds | Junior | Brownsburg, Indiana

Likely role in 2020: Backup quarterback

The former five-star recruit did not have the triumphant first year in Evanston many had hoped for after transferring from Clemson, coming into contact with both injury and family issues that kept him off the field for parts of the 2019 season. With another year of eligibility and Peyton Ramsey’s arrival, Johnson may not be handed the keys to the ‘Cats offense to begin 2020. However, Fitz showed a willingness to split snaps by rolling out Johnson and T.J. Green in tandem to begin last year, so Johnson may get the chance to show rejuvenation, especially if Ramsey struggles.

Career stats: 13 games, 71-for-135 passing, 666 yards, 3 TD

15: Trey Finison

K/P | 5-foot-9, 170 pounds | Sophomore | Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Likely role in 2020: Kickoff specialist

Finison impressed as a true freshman, handling kickoff duties in every game. He averaged 58.7 yards per kickoff and converted an onside kick as well. Incumbent placekicker Charlie Kuhbander struggled at times last year, particularly in big moments, and Finison could get a shot at field goals if these struggles continue.

Career stats: 12 games, 33 kickoffs, 1937 yards covered

14: Malik Washington

WR | 5-foot-9, 190 pounds | Sophomore | Lawrenceville, Georgia

Likely role in 2020: Fourth receiver

Washington emerged as a favorite of Pat Fitzgerald last year, and for good reason. The true freshman showed remarkable speed and playmaking ability. He appeared in eleven games, but only notched six catches during that time. Inside NU named Washington our receiver to watch in 2020 and remains a prime breakout candidate, assuming he is aided by a competent quarterback to get the ball in his hands. In any case, a successful Northwestern offense will almost certainly feature Washington in a prominent role.

Career stats: 11 games, 6 receptions, 25 yards

14: Charlie Kuhbander

K | 6-foot-0, 180 pounds | Senior | Springboro, Ohio

Likely role in 2020: Starting kicker

Kuhbander’s struggles last year were no secret, only hitting 60 percent from 30-39 yards, but his play was not dismal by any means. He will enter his final year with the ‘Cats as their number one placekicker, eager to bounce back. In a conference-only schedule, wins for NU may only come in close games, meaning Kuhbander’s performance will be that much more important.

Career stats: 34 games, 28-39 field goals, 45 yard long

13: Jason Whittaker

QB | 6-foot-5, 222 pounds | Sophomore | Rockford, Michigan

Likely role in 2020: Reserve quarterback

Whittaker faces an uphill climb toward playing time with eight quarterbacks on the roster. He found the field in two games last year in cameo appearances, but a crowded quarterback room could keep Whittaker on the sideline for most if not all of 2020.

Career stats: 2 games

13: Garnett Hollis, Jr.

DB | 6-foot-1, 185 pounds | First-Year | Nashville, Tennessee

Likely role in 2020: Redshirt

Though he may have the best shot at game action of the first-year defensive backs, Hollis will most likely redshirt in his first year on the ‘Cats roster. A three-star recruit, Hollis fits the Northwestern mold of physically-talented, academically-focused athletes, as he explains here.

Career stats: N/A

12: Nigel Williams

DB | 6-foot-0, 185 pounds | First-Year | Richmond, Virginia

Likely role in 2020: Redshirt

Playing time will be hard to come by for the true freshmen defensive backs on the roster with plenty of experience higher up the depth chart. Expect Williams to redshirt.

Career stats: N/A

12: Peyton Ramsey

QB | 6-foot-2, 216 pounds | Graduate | Cincinnati, Ohio

Likely role in 2020: Starting quarterback

Ramsey is the favorite to start under center for Northwestern. The graduate transfer from Indiana has the best track record of any quarterback on the roster by far, starting for IU his redshirt freshman and sophomore years and playing for much of 2019 as well. Ramsey owns the top three places for best completion percentage (season), breaking his own record last year completing 68 percent of his 300 attempts. If Ramsey can provide stability at the quarterback position and perform at the level he has proven he can, the outlook for the ‘Cats offense is bright — if he can’t, there are several players waiting to take his spot.

Career stats: 32 games, 633-for-952 passing, 6581 yards, 42 TD

11: Aidan Smith

QB | 6-foot-2, 215 pounds | Senior | Fort Wayne, Indiana

Likely role in 2020: Reserve quarterback

With all the talk of Ramsey, Johnson and Green battling it out for the starting QB job, Smith has slipped through the cracks after starting six games last year. He found himself at the helm of the offense after injuries to Green and Johnson last year, but proved little more effective. He may have an outside shot at playing time, particularly if one or several of the big three go down with injuries, but even then he’ll have to fend off Andrew Marty. Don’t count on Smith seeing many snaps this fall.

Career stats: 9 games, 86-for-171 passing, 760 yards, 3 TD

11: A.J. Hampton

DB | 5-foot-11, 180 pounds | Sophomore | Warren, Arkansas

Likely role in 2020: Backup corner

Hampton is the best pick to displace Ruiz as the ‘Cats second starting corner. He should get a significant amount of playing time, if not at corner then as a nickel DB. After competing with Ruiz throughout 2019 for snaps, I wouldn't be surprised if Hampton and Ruiz split time at corner throughout the year, with a bit of Bryce Jackson mixed in as a third option. Regardless of who ends up taking the majority of snaps, the secondary could make or break the Northwestern defensive unit this year.

Career stats: 16 games, 18 total tackles (14 solo, 4 assisted), 1 interception

10: Jeremiah McDonald

DB | 6-foot-3, 200 pounds | Sophomore | Slidell, Louisiana

Likely role in 2020: Reserve DB

McDonald fits the profile of a new-age defensive back: he’s big, he’s long and he can cover. The three-star recruit was a pure tackler from the secondary in high school and will do well learning coverage from Newsome II while perhaps playing intermittent snaps this fall.

Career stats: 2 games

10: T.J. Green

QB | 6-foot-2, 210 pounds | Graduate | Leawood, Kansas

Likely role in 2020: Backup quarterback

It’s hard not to feel for T.J. Green. After waiting his turn behind Clayton Thorson (and spelling him in nine games in 2018), Green seemed to be strengthening his hold on the starting QB job over Hunter Johnson in the season opener last year before suffering a season-ending foot injury. He was awarded a sixth year of eligibility, and while he showed mastery of the NU playbook last year, he was met this offseason with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bajakian and now seems to be on the outside of the QB competition looking in at Ramsey and Johnson.

Career stats: 13 games, 27-for-47 passing, 236 yards