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2020 Football Position Review: Wide receivers

The unit ended the season as the highlight of the offense.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Auburn vs Northwestern Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

After a shortened season capped by a Citrus Bowl victory, our postseason coverage continues by handing out grades and taking a look at what’s to come in the fall. We’ll evaluate each position group and discuss how well they performed, as well as what the future might hold. Next up are the wide receivers.

Overall Grade: A-

For a position group that returned nearly all of its players from last year, this unit saw a surprising amount of improvement this season. Because the ‘Cats suffered from a sub-par run game, they relied heavily on their wide receivers to gain yardage and make big plays.

The passing game was the highlight of the offense this season, with a solid quarterback finally under center and a fleet of senior wide receivers ready to lead the way. Ramaud Chiakhiao-Bowman cemented himself as the leading receiver, with standout performances against both Purdue early in the season and Ohio State on the latter end. Not far behind him was Kyric McGowan, who played a big role in the upset over Wisconsin.

Coming into the season, Riley Lees was expected to lead the group after playing a significant part in the 2019 offense as a punt returner and receiver. Though he didn’t land himself in the top two pass-catchers, he remained a strong option for the group and proved himself in his final game against Auburn.

Player Grades

Ramaud Chiakhiao-Bowman: A

Stats: 41 receptions, 508 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns

The senior out of Minnesota more than doubled his receiving yards from 2019 to 2020, going from 188 total yards last year to leading the unit with 508 this fall. His connection with quarterback Ramsey was undeniable, and he quickly became one of No. 12’s top targets. Chiakhiao-Bowman secured his reputation in his breakout game against Purdue, during which he scored three touchdowns to help the ‘Cats advance to 4-0 on the season.

He went on to score again against Wisconsin and Auburn, contributing to more of Northwestern’s big wins in 2020. RCB reached his season-high with 103 receiving yards against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

Riley Lees: B+

Stats: 20 receptions, 214 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

As a senior leader, Lees played a versatile role for the ‘Cats, serving mainly as a pass target while also getting a few snaps that added some passing yards to his stat book. He stepped up in whatever role the team needed him in, even when that happened to be trick plays in multiple matchups this season.

Lees remained a steadfast option for Northwestern, performing well even against Michigan State when many other receivers were dropping the ball. He scored against Nebraska early in the season, and then again in the Citrus Bowl win. While he wasn’t Ramsey’s top target and took a step backward stat-wise this season, he fell into more of an all-purpose role.

Kyric McGowan: B+

Stats: 34 receptions, 366 receiving yards, 141 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

Another dynamic player in the wide receiver corp, McGowan served as both a runner and pass-catcher for the ‘Cats, racking in yardage both on the ground and in the air.

The senior totaled his season-high in receiving yards during the upset over Wisconsin, tacking on 80 yards over seven receptions. Prior to that, he stood out with five receptions and 63 yards against Iowa. He also recorded 53 rushing yards on two kick returns against Michigan State.

While he had some slip-ups and crucial turnovers during the year, he also led the team in all-purpose yards and came up big especially on third down. McGowan recently announced his departure as a graduate transfer and will continue his career at Georgia Tech.

Bryce Kirtz: Incomplete

Stats: 6 receptions, 67 receiving yards

Though Kirtz played in nearly every game for the ‘Cats in 2020, the redshirt-freshman ended with just under 70 receiving yards and six receptions on the season. A large chunk of his yardage came from a 20-yard reception against Nebraska, during which he also recorded his first career catch. With the three seniors moving on, he will likely step into a starting role next season.

Malik Washington: Incomplete

Stats: 5 receptions, 51 receiving yards

After excelling during the first game against Maryland and being touted by the Northwestern coaching staff as a potential breakout player, the sophomore didn’t see much action. He ended the year with five receptions, two of which came in the season-opener. Washington also entered his name in the transfer portal and will likely continue his career elsewhere.