To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2021. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy and created a list that has already caused plenty of disagreement.
The list’s criteria simply consisted of players we believe to be the most important to Northwestern football in 2021. However, we know that is up for interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of one player over his backup. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could also mean players who have underperformed and need to step up.
Only one thing is known: no two lists from our staff members are the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll have at least one member break down their placement for the aforementioned player.
To kick things off, we have senior wide receiver, and transfer from Kansas, Stephon Robinson.
Mac Stone (NR)
I didn’t rank Stephon Robinson in my top 10 most important players.
Initially, looking back on it, I recognize that may have been a lapse on my part. Three members of the Inside NU staff ranked Robinson in their top 10, with him coming in at No. 10 on all three separate occasions.
Robinson is an athletic veteran with plenty of skill to make noise on this Northwestern team, especially in a wide receiver room that lost three crucial targets from the previous year. Over his three years at Kansas, he totalled 75 receptions for 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns. In his second season, he tallied two 100+ yard games, including a game against Texas Tech during which he brought in six catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
However, I also remember why I left Robinson off of my top 10 list. It obviously wasn’t due to a lack of skill. Instead, I believe this will be a year, like many in the past, in which Northwestern’s defense carries the load in a lot of games. The only three offensive players I ranked in my top 10 were Ryan Hilinski, Cam Porter and Peter Skoronski.
Another thing to add is that Robinson played against some pretty horrific defenses during his time in the Big 12. That isn’t meant to knock Robinson’s skillset in any way, but it may take some time to get used to the far more defensive-oriented conference that is the Big Ten. Regardless, I’m extremely intrigued to see what Robinson will accomplish for the ‘Cats on the field this year, and he will no doubt be a key target on the offensive side of the ball.
He just doesn’t quite crack the top 10 in my eyes.
Daniel Olinger (NR)
Similar to Mac, Robinson did not find himself in my rankings of the top 10 most important players for this upcoming season, though if I had to pick an 11th, there’s a decent chance it would have been him.
Put frankly, Robinson is miles ahead of everyone of his teammates in the receiver room when it comes to experience and proven collegiate production, with JJ Jefferson and his 22 career reception being the next highest mark on the team entering 2021. For a team that returns the fewest starters in the Big Ten by a sizable margin, adding a college football veteran like Robinson could be a saving grace.
I mainly left him outside the top 10 due to my personal philosophy on wide receivers — if they’re not outlier great, they’re generally pretty plug-and-play replaceable. Nearly their entire value is first dependent on the quarterback, and on top of that most non-dynamic threats offer similar traits. If Robinson doesn’t pan out as well as expected or gets injured, I don’t know if it will really impact Northwestern’s win-loss record by season’s end. If a player at one of the defensive back, offensive line or quarterback position goes down, however, I think some negative readjustment on the season outlook would be needed.
A good player who will probably be important for Northwestern in 2020, just personally not one of my top 10 most important players.