Receiving gifts

With Monday's commitment of three-star wideout Christian Jones (left), Northwestern has put together an incredible crop of receivers the past two recruiting classes. And it's all the more impressive when you compare Northwestern's six 2010 and 2011 receivers to the rest of the Big Ten – which is exactly what Purple Reign does in this recruiting analysis.

Toward the end of the movie The Matrix, Neo, the film's protagonist, is faced with a perilous task. He must penetrate a heavily-guarded building and bust out Morpheus, the man responsible for liberating Neo from a life of being a human battery. (If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, there is no non-confusing way to explain it; "human battery" will have to do.)

Before Neo embarks on his mission to save Morpheus, one of Neo's allies, Tank, turns to him and asks, "So, what do you need?"

Neo thinks for a second, then replies. "Guns. Lots of guns." Seconds later, a comical supply of weapons flies into the picture.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Northwestern has a similar philosophy as Neo when it comes to offense.

So, what do you need?

Receivers. Lots of receivers….

Every year, the Wildcats, like Neo, are tasked with penetrating the seemingly impenetrable. That is, every year the Cats must square off against defensive units that are perennially among the nation's best.

Last season, for instance, four of the top 18 yards-per-game defenses resided in the Big Ten; four of the top 10 scoring defenses were in the Big Ten as well. And things won't get any easier when Nebraska – which in 2009 was seventh in the nation in total yards, seventh in interceptions and first in touchdowns allowed – joins the fray in 2011.

Heck, in three of the final four weeks of the upcoming season, Northwestern will play Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin, each of which ranked in Top 20 in yards allowed in 2009.

So like Neo, Northwestern needs firepower. And like Neo, the Cats have a stockpile to call upon.

Buoyed by Monday's commitment of three-star receiver Christian Jones, Northwestern has compiled a dizzying assortment of receivers to join the passing party in Evanston. Neo's not the only ones with weapons: Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall is locked and loaded, too.

The Wildcats have nabbed no less than four three-star receivers in the past two recruiting classes: Christian Jones and Cameron Dickerson in 2011, and Tony Jones and Rashad Lawrence in 2010. What's more, Northwestern also received commitments from a pair of two-star receivers in 2010 – Venric Mark and Jimmy Hall – whose pedestrian ranking seems to belie just how good they are.

(First off, despite the two-star status, both Mark and Hall received a national position ranking from Mark was No. 217, and Hall was 231. Also, Mark had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Vanderbilt and several others; Hall had offers from Syracuse, West Virginia, Kansas, Colorado and more. As we examine the two-star receivers who have committed elsewhere in the Big Ten, remember the names of the schools that offered Mark and Hall…)

And this influx of quality receivers is all the more impressive when you consider the receivers committing to other Big Ten schools. Inspired by NU's potentially lethal cache of receivers, let's look at what the other 10 schools have done receiver-wise the past two seasons. (All of these rankings are according to; all of the recruit lists are according to each respective team's page.)

One three-star receiver and two two-star receivers in 2010
One two-star receiver in 2011

(One of those 2010 two-star receivers was Spencer Harris. Along with Illinois, Harris had three offers: Henderson State, Missouri Southern State College and Missouri State. The other 2010 two-star wideout was Ryan Lankford, who only had two non-Illini offers from FBS schools: Connecticut and Louisville. Lankford's other offers included Central Michigan, Elon, Florida Atlantic, Tulane and UCF.)

Zero three-star receivers in 2010 or 2011
Two two-star receivers in 2010 and 2011

(Again, these two-star players don't stack up to Hall and Mark. The 2011 commits were Jay McCants, who held offers from Indiana and Buffalo, and Tre Robinson, who had offers from Indiana, Purdue and Toledo. According to, neither of the 2010 commits had any other offers.)

One two-star receiver in 2010
One three-star and two two-star receivers in 2011

(Each of those two-star guys in 2011 had some good offers – Syracuse, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona. That 2011 crop is solid, but coupled with 2010, it's nowhere near what NU has done.)

Two four-star receivers, two three-star receivers and one two-star receiver in 2010
One three-star receiver in 2011

(OK, this slate of players stacks up favorably against Northwestern. It is equal in the number of 2010 and 2011 receiver commits – six – and actually better in terms of star rankings and national rankings.)

Michigan State
Two three-star receivers and one two-star in 2010
Zero receivers thus far in 2011

(That 2010 two-star receiver, Darqueze Dennard, had offers from MSU, Middle Tennessee and Utah State.)

One three-star and one two-star receiver in 2010
One two-star receiver in 2011

(Minnesota's 2010 two-star guy was not ranked nationally and only had offers from Navy and Sam Houston State. And the 2011 two-star player had but two offers: Wisconsin and Minnesota.)

Ohio State
Three four-star receivers in 2010
Two four-stars in 2011

(That's really good. No qualifying or rationalizing. Five four-star player is, on paper, better than six two- and three-star players.)

Penn State
One four-star receiver in 2010
No receivers thus far in 2011

(And some tumble weed blows across the wide receiver drills at Penn State's summer practice…This dearth of players is a little baffling, but it makes sense when you look at the Nittany Lions' 2009 haul: one four-star receiver, three three-star receivers and a two-star guy. The last two years have been underwhelming; the last three years haven't. Still, Northwestern easily stacks up.)

One three star receiver and two two-star receivers in 2010
No one so far in 2011

(Those two two-star receivers in 2010 had Mark/Hall-type offers – Michigan State, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, etc. They aren't slouches at all. Still, the Boilermakers only got three receivers in 2010, and they have none so far this season. They did get a total of eight receivers in 2009 and 2008, but only two of them had three-star rankings. For the past three seasons Northwestern and Purdue have been 1-2 in the Big Ten in passing attempts, so if any other school in the conference could sell its receiver recruits on the chance to play a wide-open brand of football, it's Purdue. Yet they still haven't had nearly as much success as Northwestern when it comes to recruiting top-flight receivers. Not recently, at least.)

Two three-star receivers and one two-star receiver in 2010
No one so far in 2011

(That 2010 two-star, Isaiah Williams, had offers from Purdue, Central Florida, FIU and Wisconsin)

So…no other Big Ten school has more receiver commits the last two seasons (although Michigan does have the same number.) And save the Wolverines and Buckeyes, no other Big Ten school comes close to having put together a troop of such ballyhooed players.

Granted, it may be premature to look at the combined 2010 and 2011 classes seeing as a plethora of '11 recruits are still uncommitted. Indeed, these classes may look totally different in a few months. But even if other schools start racking up wideouts, it doesn't change the fact that Northwestern is already set on quality receivers for years to come. Northwestern could stagnate on its wideout commits for the next six months and still be in great shape.

Granted, also, that schools' needs change from year to year. Sometimes teams target certain positions for certain recruiting classes, and maybe Northwestern felt that it needed to load up at receiver the past couple years, while other schools have been more focused on, say, running back or safety or whatever. Still, even if the Cats put an extra emphasis on recruiting receivers the past two seasons, they've been successful at doing it.

Final disclaimer: Receivers are more important to Northwestern than other Big Ten schools. Northwestern has been in the top two in the conference in pass attempts each of the past three seasons, and with McCall's track record as a pass-first coordinator, not getting top-notch wideouts could be like sugar in the gas tank for NU's offense.

All that being said, Northwestern's receiver commits in the 2010 class, and now in the 2011 class, stack up against pretty much anyone in the league. For a team that throws as much as Northwestern, that's a must. And for a team that throws as much as Northwestern, having these sort of weapons in place could be scary for everyone else.

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