Nebraska Football: Position-by-Position Grades for the 2015 Recruiting Class

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have now had a couple of weeks to digest the 2015 recruiting class, and see how it fits in to the overall roster makeup (with great thanks to the Omaha World-Herald). We’ve already looked at who are the Super Six of this class, but now is a time to take a step back and see how the class as a whole, looks, position by position.

The overall class grade for each position will consider two factors. First, it will look at how much raw talent at each position was brought in. Second, it will look at the needs at each position and how the incoming class fills those needs.

All measurables and rankings from 247 Sports.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, .9207 composite)

Michael Decker (OG, three-star, .8544 composite)

Christian Gaylord (OT, three-star, .8882 composite)

The signing of Barnett by new head coach Mike Riley might have been one of the biggest coups of this year’s recruiting class. Barnett, the best of the 2015 class according to one smart and particularly handsome analyst, was not a Bo Pelini recruit that Riley held on to. Rather, he was new to the class, and a big addition.

A refreshing of the position is always important, particularly as Nebraska has six seniors set to graduate in 2015. But with a strong class of redshirt freshmen this year, the offensive line might not have been a position of need like some of the others.

Still, the landing of Barnett gives rise to a high mark for this position group.

Final grade: A-

BACKS

Devine Ozigbo (RB, three-star, .8560 composite)

Ozigbo was another Riley-only signing, decommitting from Iowa State after Nebraska lost Kendall Bussey. The I-back position might be Nebraska’s strongest position, and the addition of (with all due respect) an Iowa State-level talent to the mix likely won’t be a game-changer for NU.

Failing to sign a quarterback in the 2015 class might be understandable given the depth of the position and the likelihood that Nebraska’s new staff will be wanting a different type of signal-caller than the previous regime. But it’s always a little concerning to see a recruiting class without a quarterback.

Nebraska also did not sign a scholarship fullback, and after the graduation of senior Andy Janovich will not (absent giving a scholarship to a walk-on) have a scholarship fullback on the roster next season. While Nebraska did add a walk-on fullback in Austin Hemphill, and there is still uncertainty in Riley’s offensive structure of a fullback’s importance, the lack of depth at the position has to at least raise an eyebrow.

Final grade: D

RECEIVERS

Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, .8832 composite)

Stanley Morgan (WR, three-star, .8765 composite)

Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, .8523 composite)

Getting Jamal Turner back from injury should boost Nebraska’s wide receiver corps in 2015, and NU’s depth at the position means quality over quantity could be the rule of the day. Both Morgan and Alston look to add some speed to the position.

But the start of this group might well be Snyder, a receiving-threat tight end that could come in right away and add to the threat Cethan Carter currently poses. If Riley’s offensive scheme is more willing to utilize the tight end in the offense than the previous regime—which, in fairness, means the scheme would use the tight end more than once in a blue moon, not exactly a high bar—then Snyder could end up to be the steal of the class.

Final grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE

DaiShon Neal (DE, three-star, .8588 composite)

Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, .8730 composite)

Carlos Davis (DT, three-star, .8891 composite)

Alex Davis (DE, three-star, .8059 composite)

Three of the four defensive line recruits, Neal and the Davis twins (Khalil and Carlos) were bigger stories about their retention than their impact on the roster. The Davis twins were thought to perhaps waiver on their commitment to Nebraska after Pelini was fired, and Neal was the target of a late recruiting push by new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

But the recruiting “victories” aside, the additions to the defensive line were sorely needed. The three that Riley had to sweat about keeping are easily in the top half of the class in terms of overall talent. And at both defensive end and defensive tackle, Nebraska was sorely needing both talent and depth. The absence of a four-star talent is the only thing that puts a damper on this grade.

Final grade: A-

LINEBACKERS

Mohamed Barry (LB, three-star, .8398 composite)

Dedrick Young (ATH/LB, three-star, .8609 composite)

Tyrin Ferguson (LB, three-star, .8312 composite)

Adrienne Talan (S/LB, three-star, .8416 composite)

Antonio Reed (S/LB, three-star, .8026 composite)

If wide receiver was about quality over quantity, then linebacker was the opposite. Coming into 2015, Nebraska only had five (!) scholarship linebackers on the roster, so getting bodies to play the position was critical. It’s one reason why hybrid players like Antonio Reed, Dedrick  Young and Adrienne Talan are listed at linebacker, simply because the position is so thin that it is likely they will be put there first.

There is no stand-out talent in the group, although Young has the best chance to out-perform his star ranking once he gets on campus. But Nebraska was able to fill up the numbers with players that have enough talent to be considered at least lottery tickets, in the hopes that some will come good. Still, look for linebacker to be a position of focus for the 2016 class.

Final grade: B-

SECONDARY

Eric Lee (CB, four-star, .9414 composite)

Aaron Williams (DB, three-star, .8610 composite)

Avery Anderson (ATH/DB, three-star, .8935 composite)

Lee and Anderson have been committed to Nebraska for so long that it’s almost strange to think of them as part of the 2015 class. But for Riley to hold on to their commits (particularly Lee, who could arguably be the best player of the class) and have them available for spring practice as early enrollees might be one of the most important feats of Riley’s young career in Lincoln.

Defensive back is an area where Nebraska is very—almost ridiculously—deep in 2015. But don’t be surprised if at least one of these guys pushes for playing time next season.

Final grade: A

SPECIALISTS

Jordan Ober (LS, two-star, .7478 composite)

Don’t laugh. Long snappers are amazingly important. Not being competent at long snapping can be akin to a turnover on punts, and a surrender of points on field goals. While the position is about as specialized as a left-handed knuckleball middle reliever in baseball, it’s vital to have for a program that wants to compete for championships.

With the injury to Gabe Miller, Nebraska was without a scholarship long snapper. With Ober’s addition, Nebraska now has that hole filled. Mission accomplished.

Final grade: A

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Nebraska Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans will be closely following coverage of National Signing Day on February 04. But as Signing Day approaches, Nebraska fans will be wondering what NU’s class for 2015 will look like. The contours of the class seem pretty clear, however. It is currently ranked no. 30 in the nation and no. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.

While there are, of course, unexpected changes that can occur, it’s likely that the 20-man class of enrollees and commits that we currently know will end up as Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class. So, absent a huge shock, here’s what the newest group of Huskers should look like.

All rankings from 247 Sports.

The Early Enrollees

Eric Lee (CB, four-star, 93 composite)

Avery Anderson (ATH, three-star, 88 composite)

Aaron Williams (S, three-star, 88 composite)

Dedrick Young (ATH, three-star, 88 composite)

Early enrollees are the recruiting version of money in the bank. Once they’ve enrolled, you feel much more protected that the players will actually sign and become part of your class for the following year.

But this year’s early enrollees are more than just a security blanket. Lee might be the best overall player in the class, and the early enrollees as a whole could become the cornerstone of Nebraska’s secondary in the years to come.

The Top of the Class

Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, 92 composite)

Christian Gaylord (OT, four-star, 90 composite)

Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, 89 composite)

Carlos Davis (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

Daishon Neal (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, 88 composite)

Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, 88 composite)

The top of Nebraska’s class was the first test of new head coach Mike Riley’s recruiting acumen. Riley was able to land Barnett, Alston, and Snyder on his own, and was able to keep the Davis twins on board and Snyder and in the fold after new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh made a run at them.

Gaylord and Austin will help to fill positions of need for Nebraska. But with only three four-stars in the class, Nebraska fans will be hoping a full season of recruiting (along with more scholarships to offer) will help Riley pull in a bigger haul in 2016.

The Rest of the Class

Stanley Morgan (WR, three-star, 87 composite)

Devine Ozigbo (RB, three-star, 86 composite)

Michael Decker (OG, three-star, 86 composite)

Willie Sykes (CB, three-star, 85 composite)

Alex Davis (DE, three-star, 84 composite)

Tyrin Ferguson (LB, three-star, 84 composite)

Mohammed Barry (LB, three-star, 84 composite)

Antonio Reed (S, three-star, 83 composite)

Jordan Ober, (LS, two-star, no composite)

The rest of Nebraska’s class addresses some glaring needs, particularly at linebacker with Ferguson and Barry. Missing out on junior college linebacker transfer Kaiwan Lewis was a blow, as Nebraska was hoping for adding some instant depth at the position.

The addition of Morgan should help a wide receiver corps that becomes disturbingly thin after graduation this year. Ozigbo is an interesting running back transfer from Iowa State, while Sykes and Reed should add to what looks to be a deep and imposing secondary. And Ober could very well be cover for an injury to scholarship long snapper Gabe Miller last season.

Nebraska Football: Will the Cornhuskers Suffer an Upset Before Wisconsin?

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans were relieved to leave Evanston on Saturday with a 38-17 win over Northwestern, and could be forgiven for sneaking a peek at Wisconsin. After all, the Badgers look to be Nebraska’s next big test, with home games against Rutgers and Purdue standing in the way.

But those games still need to be played, and the chance exists for either team to upset Nebraska. Could that happen? Here are three things to worry about.

The First Defensive Series

Other than against Fresno State and (remarkably) Michigan State, Nebraska has allowed each opponent this year to score on its opening possession.  Nebraska has not lost any of the games in which it has conceded an opening-drive score, but that doesn’t lessen the fire with which NU is playing.

There are only a few ways teams with inferior talent can pull off an upset, particularly away from home. One is to get a lead early and play keep-away, hoping that the pressure of a potential upset on the favorite will lead to more mistakes.

Surrendering an opening drive touchdown doesn’t necessarily lead to an upset. Nebraska gave up opening scores to Florida Atlantic and Illinois before blowing those teams off the field. But Nebraska also gave up an opening score to FCS opponent McNeese State, helping the Cowboys to stay confident and able to hang with NU until the very end of the contest.

If Nebraska wants to avoid an upset prior to Wisconsin, coming out of the gate strong defensively would be a significant first step in doing so.

The Sneaky-Good Opponents

Hear me out. Yes, Nebraska has Rutgers and Purdue prior to Wisconsin, teams that at the start of the season would have been assumed wins.

Rutgers showed at least some signs of life this year, putting up a 5-2 record including a win on the road at Washington State.  But the Scarlet Knights’ close loss to Penn State is looking less and less impressive as the Lions struggle. And Ohio State ran Rutgers off the field last week, beating the Knights 56-17 in Columbus.

Purdue came into the season looking to be the worst team in the Big Ten. And at 3-5, the Boilermakers look to be fitting right into that prediction.

But Purdue’s record can be a little misleading.  The Boilermakers gave both Iowa and Michigan State a game, losing to the Hawkeyes 24-10 in a game that was closer than the score indicated and 45-31 to the Spartans.

Rutgers’ 5-2 record already suggests that the Knights could be more of a challenge than thought of at the start of the season. And with a win over Michigan, Rutgers showed it could beat a team with significantly better talent (albeit one in the midst of a total collapse).

The History

In some ways, 2014 feels like a different season for Nebraska. A comfortable win over Northwestern and a resilient (if ultimately unsuccessful) comeback on the road against a top opponent may be evidence that Bo Pelini’s squad this year is ready to shake off the doldrums of a four-loss season.

But that four-loss ceiling hasn’t been broken yet. And Pelini’s teams still have a track record of head-scratching losses to inferior teams. Both Rutgers and Purdue have inferior talent to Nebraska, and both games are in Lincoln. On paper, Nebraska should be prohibitive favorites against both teams.

But Pelini’s teams have in the past shown a propensity, or at least a vulnerability, to lose games they should win. Falling victim to that propensity could lead to an upset, and a real setback in Nebraska’s attempt to reclaim national relevance.

Nebraska Football: Why Monte Harrison Spurning Cornhuskers Hurts

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans were watching the Major League Baseball first-year player draft with some interest, waiting to see where wide receiver prospect Monte Harrison would be selected. With most mock drafts having Harrison go in the first round, Nebraska fans had some hope when Harrison wasn’t selected until pick no. 50, to the Milwaukee Brewers. Would that mean Nebraska would have a chance for Harrison to put professional baseball on the back burner and come to Lincoln?

If so, that hope didn’t last long.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p><a href=”https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Brewers&amp;src=hash”>#Brewers</a&gt; have signed 2nd round pick Monte Harrison for $1.8MM, per <a href=”https://twitter.com/jimcallisMLB”>@jimcallisMLB</a&gt;. He was committed to play football at Nebraska. Big get!</p>&mdash; The Brewer Nation (@BrewerNation) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BrewerNation/statuses/475396760169623552″>June 7, 2014</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The transfer of wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow from Washington has been occupying the imagination of Nebraska fans recently, however, so the loss of Harrison from NU’s 2014 class may have been a bit undersold. But it’s still a big loss, for a number of reasons.

 

Stringfellow won’t arrive until 2015

As a transfer, Stringfellow will have to sit out the 2014 season. He’ll still have three years of eligibility left, but he won’t be able to help Nebraska next season. Harrison, on the other hand, would have been eligible to play right away as a freshman.

So the most immediate impact of Harrison’s decision to sign with the Brewers is that there will be no big-time help coming at receiver for the 2014 season.

 

Harrison fit what Nebraska needs at receiver

Here’s what I would project as Nebraska’s starting two-deep at receiver next year:

WR X: Kenny Bell (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), Brandon Reilly (6-foot-1, 190 pounds)

WR Z: Alonzo Moore (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), Taariq Allen (6-foot-3, 185 pounds)

WR A: Jordan Westerkamp (6-foot-0, 200 pounds), Jamal Turner (6-foot-1, 185 pounds)

(all measurables from Nebraska’s depth chart of Dec. 19, 2013)

According to 247 Sports, Harrison is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, but with top-end speed. It’s hard to see how a player with Harrison’s size, speed, and athleticism wouldn’t have cracked Nebraska’s two-deep in 2014.

 

Harrison is just that good

According to Andrew Holleran of CollegeSpun, many thought that Harrison was the best overall athlete in the MLB first-year player draft this year. Think about that for a second. The best overall athlete of 2014 draft, that’s pretty high praise. Sure, he went in the second round, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a phenomenal talent.

Had Harrison not signed with the Brewers, he would have been one of, if not the, most talented player in Nebraska’s 2014 class (with competition only from offensive guard Tanner Farmer). He had 1.8 million reasons to sign his contract with the Brewers, and Nebraska fans should be wishing Harrison nothing but the best in his budding baseball career.

But, boy, from a selfish standpoint he could have made quite a difference for Bo Pelini’s squad, both this year and in years to come.

Nebraska Football: Analyzing the Huskers’ Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that summer is for following recruiting. While others may be watching baseball or grilling brats, Nebraska fans will be wanting to keep up on how Bo Pelini will be filling out his 2015 class.

Here are five of the top targets Nebraska is chasing for next year’s recruiting class.

Measurables, ratings, and photos from 247 Sports.

 

J.W. Ketchum III

Position: Dual-Threat Quarterback

Measurables: 5-foot-11.5, 201 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (89 composite)

Even with the signing of Kevin Dillman, a second dual-threat quarterback would be a big addition to Nebraska’s 2015 class. Ketchum has the combination of skills to be a perfect addition to offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s attack. Landing Ketchum, while not critical, would be a huge boon for Nebraska’s recruiting class this year.

 

Donte Jackson

Position: Athlete

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 175 pounds

Ratings: Four-star (95 composite)

Although Jackson doesn’t really come with a particular position, an athlete of his caliber would be a huge addition to Nebraska’s 2015 class. Nebraska is in competition with schools like LSU and Oregon for Jackson’s services, and it would still be a bit of a longshot for him to arrive in Lincoln next year. But don’t count out Nebraska yet, particularly with the recruiting prowess Bo Pelini and his staff have shown this year.

 

Marquise Doherty

Position: Running Back

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

Ratings: Four-star (90 composite)

It’s pretty clear that Nebraska believes it can never have too many running backs. Doherty looks to be another addition to Nebraska’s stable of I-backs, and an impressive one to boot in both size and speed. Nebraska looks to be in the lead to land Doherty, adding to an already-stacked 2015 class.

 

DJ Beavers

Position: Outside linebacker

Measurables: 6-foot-2.5, 200 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (88 composite)

While Nebraska is blessed with a deep and young corps of linebackers, that corps will always need refreshing. Beavers looks to have Nebraska at the top of his list, and his size would make him a good fit for the Blackshirts, particularly if he can develop as a pass rusher.

 

Landis Durham

Position: Outside linebacker, weak-side defensive end

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (87 composite)

Durham fits perfectly into the evolution of Bo Pelini’s defense, able to shift between linebacker and defensive end in much the same way that Marcus Newby looks to be fitting in as a hybrid role between defensive end and outside linebacker. Seeing a player like Durham as a target is a bit of an insight as to how Nebraska’s defense may very well look in years to come.

Nebraska Football: Five 2015 Recruits Every Cornhusker Fan Should Be Following

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that recruiting never ends, and that NU must be focused now on the class of 2015 to help secure future glories. So as the spring game fades from memory, and fall camp still seems quite far off, those fans will be spending this summer keeping track of Nebraska’s prospects for next year’s recruiting class. Here are five names to keep an eye on, and help you through those long summer months until football comes back.

All rankings (including national rankings in parentheses for each position), measurables, and ratings are from 247 Sports.

J.W. Ketchum III

Position: Athlete (no. 14), Dual-Threat Quarterback

Measurables: 5-foot-11.5, 201 pounds, 4.56 40-yard dash

Rating: Four-star (0.9225)

The search for a quarterback is never-ending. Even with Nebraska’s signing of Kevin Dillman, a second dual-threat quarterback target is important for Nebraska’s 2015 class. Ketchum would fit the bill nicely, with decent speed and athletic talent to provide depth and competition at signal-caller in a post-Tommy Armstrong world.

Marquise Doherty

Position:  Running Back (no. 39), Safety, Athlete

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, 4.62 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8778)

Much like at quarterback, it’s hard for Nebraska to have too many running backs. Right now, the backfield depth seems pretty deep. But look down the road a couple of years, after the departure of Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, and you can see how important keeping the flow of tailbacks is for Nebraska. Doherty fits the bill, with enough athleticism and flexibility to play other positions if need be.

D.J. Beavers

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 27)

Measurables: 6-foot-2.5, 200 pounds, 4.70 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8721)

As we see Nebraska’s defense evolving under Bo Pelini, one of the crucial areas will be finding players that can effectively rush the passer. Landing Beavers would be a nice addition to an area where Nebraska is already young, providing depth and a solid pipeline of talent for years to come.

Landis Dunham

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 47), Weak-Side Defensive End

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8530)

Are you sensing a theme? Yes, Nebraska will be looking hard for edge pass rushers, particularly if Randy Gregory decides to forego his senior season in 2015 and head for greener pastures in the NFL. Dunham is the kind of player Nebraska is looking for, with the flexibility to slide from defensive line to linebacker depending on the need.

Monte Harrison

Position: Wide Receiver (no. 60)

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8818)

Yes, I know that Harrison is signed and part of Nebraska’s 2014 class. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing him on the field in Memorial Stadium this August. Harrison is baseball player as well, and likely to be drafted fairly high by a major league club. Much like the Bubba Starling saga, whether or not Harrison decides to forego his college career for a pro baseball paycheck is a question that won’t be answered until August.

But of all the recruiting questions Nebraska fans will be following, Harrison’s decision will have the most immediate impact on NU’s prospects.