National Signing Day has come and gone, and Nebraska finds itself right where it finished December.
That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, given the Huskers have just two remaining scholarships to use for the 2020 cycle. Head coach Scott Frost and company targeted only a couple of players in January, and when they went elsewhere, NU decided to pocket its two remaining spots.
Those are now currency to be used over the coming months, most likely on the transfer market.
What position or positions will Nebraska attempt to fortify? At the moment there aren’t any clear answers, but below are some possibilities.
Before that, though, a couple of reminders. First, need and opportunity don’t always align. Just as the Huskers showed themselves unwilling to sign just anybody in January, they will likely take the same approach going forward. Last year, nobody would have put tight end near the top of NU’s list of needs, yet the Huskers used their last spot on Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek. He sat out the year, and now he’s seen as perhaps one of the team’s most intriguing offensive players going into 2020.
Also, Nebraska so far has shown a propensity for targeting players with whom some familiarity exists. Darrion Daniels had a brother already on the team. Kanawai Noa’s older brother was recruited by one of Nebraska’s coaches and also shared a locker room with Tony Tuioti at Cal. Vokolek’s father coaches at Northern Iowa, where Frost’s staff has deep connections. So on and so forth.
OK, three positions Nebraska could explore adding depth:
Not only is it the position with the most outgoing talent — Daniels, Khalil and Carlos Davis all received invites to the NFL Draft Combine — but there’s no sure thing to replace Daniels in the middle. His younger brother, Damian, is a candidate, as is redshirt freshman Ty Robinson.
The elder Daniels set an awfully high bar here. He arrived from Oklahoma State, earned a spot as a captain, anchored the middle, gave veteran presence and earned himself a long look from the NFL in the process. Fans want superstars from the transfer portal, but Daniels is the poster child.
Hitting on another interior lineman while the young corps continues to develop would solve problems and unlock Robinson, a bright young player, to man a more flexible role for Tuioti.
Nebraska has a solid top option in senior Dedrick Mills (745 yards on 5.2 per carry and 10 touchdowns as a junior) and then four freshmen behind him among scholarship players.
Redshirt freshman Rahmir Johnson is fast and will have to continue to develop physically, while Ronald Thompkins (knee) remains a wild card who hasn’t yet seen the field. Freshmen Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III are each promising, and the Huskers have some young players who can play out of the backfield, too.
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Is it enough? Could be. Is it ideal depth for running backs coach Ryan Held? Hardly.
Some reports danced around during December and January about NU pursuing older backs, though none actually visited campus. Could it be an area that’s revisited in the coming months?
Nebraska put significant resources into adding offensive weapons in the 2020 class and came away with five wide receivers, two running backs and quarterback Logan Smothers.
The question for Nebraska is if it’s enough. One clue: The only player NU hosted for an official visit in January was receiver Kris Abrams-Draine (Spanish Fort, Alabama), who eventually signed with Missouri.
The rub here seems to be that the two big, physical perimeter receivers the Huskers signed in December (junior college standout Omar Manning and Bellevue West four-star Zavier Betts) each have remaining academic work to be done before they’re able to get to campus.
Of Nebraska’s 11 scholarship receivers, seven will be freshmen or redshirt freshmen in 2020. Manning is a first-year player, too, and Wan’Dale Robinson just a sophomore. The only other two are JD Spielman and Jaevon McQuitty.
Last year, Nebraska felt good about its depth and thought that would either yield a rising playmaker to play alongside Spielman and Robinson, or provide enough by-committee productivity that the passing game would get better.
Instead, production dropped across the board.
There are more options going into 2020, particularly if Manning and Betts both make it. But that doesn’t mean NU can’t afford to keep looking.
A wild card
An argument could also be made for either linebacker spot, but if you’re looking for a wild-card option, look no further than special teams.
Nebraska has added walk-on kickers Chase Contrerez and Tyler Crawford to a place-kicking race that also includes sophomore Barret Pickering, junior Matt Waldoch and redshirt freshman Gabe Heins in an effort to ensure that the revolving door that cost the team dearly in 2019 doesn’t bite again in 2020.
The Huskers haven’t taken the most serious step, though, which would be to add a second scholarship player alongside Pickering.
Nebraska football scholarship chart
|QB (4)||Logan Smothers||Luke McCaffrey*||Adrian Martinez|
|RB (5)||Sevion Morrison||Ronald Thompkins*||Dedrick Mills*|
|Marvin Scott III||Rahmir Johnson*|
|TE (5)||Chris Hickman*||Austin Allen*||Jack Stoll*|
|WR (10)||Zavier Betts||Jamie Nance*||Wan'Dale Robinson||Jaevon McQuitty*||JD Spielman*|
|Marcus Fleming||De'Mariyon Houston||Omar Manning*|
|T (10)||Turner Corcoran||Bryce Benhart*||Broc Bando*||Brenden Jaimes|
|Alex Conn||Matthew Anderson*||Matt Farniok*|
|Jimmy Fritzsche*||Christian Gaylord*^|
|G (5)||Michael Lynn*||Trent Hixson*||Boe Wilson*|
|Ethan Piper*||Matt Sichterman*|
|C (2)||Cameron Jurgens*|
|DE (10)||Marquis Black||Mosai Newsom*||Tate Wildeman*||Deontre Thomas*||Ben Stille*|
|Casey Rogers*||Jahkeem Green*|
|DT (3)||Nash Hutmacher||Ty Robinson*||Damion Daniels*|
|OLB (8)||Blaise Gunnerson||Jamin Graham*||Garrett Nelson||Caleb Tannor||JoJo Domann*|
|Jimari Butler||David Alston*|
|ILB (7)||Keyshawn Greene||Nick Henrich*||Eteva Mauga-Clements||Collin Miller*|
|Jackson Hannah*||Will Honas*|
|S (5)||Henry Gray||Myles Farmer*||Marquel Dismuke*|
|Noa Pola-Gates*||Deontai Williams*|
|CB (8)||Jaiden Francois||Javin Wright*||Braxton Clark*||Cam Taylor-Britt||Dicaprio Bootle*|
|Ronald Delancy III||Quinton Newsome|
|ST (1)||Barret Pickering (K)*|
|*Player has used redshirt|
|^Appealing for 6th year|
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