Nebraska’s recruiting haul after the 2017 spring game was just about everything coach Mike Riley and his coaching staff hoped it might be.
NU officially added its class centerpiece — Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles — to the mix. The Huskers got two four-star athletes from California in Manuel Allen and Chase Williams. They added a nice piece at defensive end in Tate Wildeman.
The Huskers have to be happy with their haul to this point. They’re hovering around the top 10 nationally in the recruiting ratings thanks to a lush star-rating-per-prospect. Life’s pretty good in The Good Life.
So, what now?
Chew over these items:
>> Let’s start in a logical place for any team: Quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was out in California Monday night and will presumably start his evaluation out there — for not only 2018 quarterbacks but 2019 guys. Tanner McKee, the quarterback at Corona (Calif.) Centennial, is a logical place to start; his wideout, Allen, just committed to NU. McKee is likely headed for a two-year Mormon mission, but no matter: I think NU would put him on the board for 2020. Langsdorf could look at Lancaster (Calif.) Paraclete’s Brevin White, who canceled his spring game visit a few weeks ago.
Langsdorf probably won’t be done just in California, either. A visit to Washington commit Jacob Sirmon — a five-star guy who nevertheless is sharing the 2018 class with another quarterback commit, Colson Yankoff — wouldn’t be a bad idea.
What about Sachse (Texas) quarterback Jalen Mayden? He mysteriously had NU among his top five in early April, and Sachse’s offense runs plenty of pro-style concepts, even if Mayden brings some running talent to the table.
Does Nebraska need a quarterback in the 2018 class if it feels really good about either Patrick O’Brien or Tristan Gebbia being the guy of the future after Tanner Lee? Riley doesn’t want a huge quarterback room; four scholarship guys, tops. If NU has any wiggle room in this class, I’d say, yeah, get a quarterback, maybe he’s better than both of them. But there may not be a ton of wiggle room. Nebraska had a four-star quarterback, Tyler Shough, in for an unofficial visit and didn’t offer him. You know who did? Alabama and Michigan. So he’s no slouch. But NU declined to pull the trigger.
>> Time for an elite pass rusher. Nebraska may very well have one or two in its 2017 recruiting class — Guy Thomas showed flashes of that ability in high school, and Deontre Thomas has a lot of tools for a 3-4 defensive end. But Nebraska needs a dude. A guy who can go get a sack on third down with speed and power and not because defensive coordinator Bob Diaco schemed it up fancy. Diaco’s got a pretty good toolbox of things he can do, but consider Diaco’s comment in this Rich Kaipust story about what makes a good pass rush:
“Honestly, a lot of the destructive harassment situations on the quarterback in the pocket, that I can just recently recall, have come from second-effort plays — where the defender just continues to thrash around — not necessarily a scheme that freed up somebody. That can happen, but it’s more rare than somebody that just thrashes around with second effort and extra effort, and ends up impacting the play.”
First, Diaco used the phrase “destructive harassment situations” to describe quarterback pressure. The late George Carlin may want a word with The Full Diaco.
Second, Diaco is more or less saying he wants relentless dudes. I’m sure he wouldn’t turn down fast and strong dudes.
And Nebraska has Carlos and Khalil Davis, who are pretty good pass rushers for their size and skillset. Nebraska has Freedom Akinmoladun, who intermittently has had some good games getting after the quarterback.
But let’s get down to brass tacks: Ross Dzuris led Nebraska in sacks in 2016. He had 5.5 sacks. Akinmoladun led Nebraska in sacks in 2015. He had 4.5 sacks. He even missed two games!
That ain’t no kind of sack numbers.
Now, again, it’s possible Thomas, Guy and Thomas, Deontre bring some sparkle to the mix this year. It’s possible the light goes on for Alex Davis, who strikes everybody as the guy who should be a good pass rusher, but hasn’t been so far. It’s possible, after his foot injury, Collin Miller, a very good pass rusher in high school and the only recruit Hank Hughes coaxed to sign with NU, is just what the doc ordered.
So it’s possible by signing day 2018 Nebraska has addressed and resolved its sack anemia.
But it’s also possible it hasn't — that Alex Davis’ engine doesn’t kick over, that Miller is still getting back to speed, that the Thomases (Guy and Deontre) need a year to acclimate.
Might help to sign a dude then.
And here’s the thing: Diaco and linebackers coach Trent Bray may have 12 guys on their list for one or two outside linebacker spots, and we won’t know who some are until they’re on campus visiting. Diaco will not be a recruiter on parade, nor does he have to be; he got a plum coordinator job because his reputation as a teacher, thinker and developer is cemented. It’s such that he doesn’t need to carry the “And I’m a great recruiter!” card to get a plum job. Does Diaco strike you as a Chatty McChatterson about his recruiting comings and goings?
And Bray’s always flown under the radar a bit, too. When on The Bottom Line’s recruiting roundtable I said I thought Bray was Nebraska’s best recruiter, I meant it; he recruits nationally and has a room that looks pretty darn good, all of the sudden, compared to what it did when he arrived. It’ll be interesting to see what that duo digs up.
Could that pass rusher be an elite 3-4 end? It could, but, with Wildeman and Masry Mapieu already in the fold — and you have to think both are ends — that may leave just one defensive line spot left — at nose tackle, preferably for Calvin Avery.
The pie-in-the-sky option for Nebraska is one Micah Parsons, a five-star from Harrisburg (Penn.) High School who just decommitted from Penn State. But Ohio State is the team there to beat. Nebraska will kick the tires on St. Paul (Minn.) Woodbury end David Alston and Oklahoma City end Jalen Redmond.
With Diaco, don’t necessarily presume he’s looking at star rankings, either. He’s looking for what he’s looking for — measurables and football intelligence are high on the list, from people who knows his likes — and will, to some degree, march to the beat of a Diaco drum.
The beat plays a pretty good tune, incidentally. Diaco’s proven he can put together a defense.
I’d talked to enough folks to know Diaco is not an “in the streets” recruiter who’s going to haul off and put six guys in the boat all by himself. He’s more of a closer. But Diaco doesn’t need to find six guys. NU has room for one or two. In that scenario, you have to like what Diaco can do — his quick work with Wildeman, to whit.
Nebraska needs a dude.
>> How about a running back? That’d be good. NU running backs coach Reggie Davis is another quiet recruiter, although, last season, his list seemed to narrow down to one guy whom Nebraska was fortunate to have in-state: Jaylin Bradley.
Bradley is a great story, and I think he’ll be a good back. But it’s fair to wonder why Nebraska — which produced three notable NFL draft picks in a row with Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah — can’t seem to get much traction with top backs around the nation. It’s not like Riley can’t point to NFL guys from Oregon State. He can — Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Combine that with Nebraska’s recent history, plus Davis’ NFL coaching background — he coached in a Super Bowl! — and it doesn’t quite add up. Tre Bryant has better upside than he’s given credit for, but he, too, fell into Nebraska’s lap and decommitted from Kansas State. Devine Ozigbo was a late add flipping from Iowa State. Now Bradley. (And Ben Miles, a fullback who’s a very nice addition indeed.)
We probably need to dig more into this. Maybe the guy is Grahm Roberts — Avery’s younger brother — and Nebraska is done for the cycle. But the Big Ten tends to be a running back league. Nebraska could use an elite one like it enjoyed from 2009-2014.
>> Watch the state of Missouri. This was the best crop of prospects in Missouri in many years — perhaps ever. It came at a bad time in terms of NU’s class size, but the Huskers can still pick up one or two commits from the state. The most obvious guy remains Lee’s Summit (Mo.) West athlete Mario Goodrich, and he’s good, but St. Louis Christian Brothers wideout Cameron Brown — Georgia just offered on Monday, so he’s no slouch — and St. Louis Parkway North lineman Michael Thompson would still be nice to get on campus.
>> The Husker Heartland, too. As Nebraska revealed on Tuesday, coaches are hitting that 500-mile radius hard to start the week, including Missouri. Riley wants to get half of each class from that radius, and if he’s including all of Texas in that Heartland, it’s a reachable goal annually.
Nebraska wants Avery out of Dallas for sure. It wouldn’t turn down Thompson out of St. Louis if he was interested in playing offense; Thompson is probably headed for defense. But watch Brown, the receiver. Not a huge guy, but he’s a flyer.
>> The Nebraska Swarm was effective and overdue. As Rich Kaipust’s story underlined, state high school football coaches know they’re not going to produce too many scholarship recruits and never will. The in-state recruiting tour wasn’t really about that so much as making NU football’s presence known in the towns and schools that have, for so many years, produced fans, and might produce a guy who can walk on (or, in that rare circumstance, earn a scholarship out of high school.)
It’s effective goodwill. Nebraska football is the No. 1 cultural export of this state. Has been since Bob Devaney got here. And the whole state shares in that. It doesn’t belong to Lincoln, or Lincoln and Omaha, or Lincoln and Omaha and Towns Around Omaha. Nebraska football shouldn’t ever be about what Big State can extract from the state in terms of talent, but the full cup — the cumulative enthusiasm of the state toward Nebraska football.
Somewhere along the way, in the last 12-15 years or so, it felt like that circuit got cut, and Riley’s first staff didn’t get off to a sterling start in making connections, either. (See Hughes, Hank.) As outlined in this Huskers Illustrated story, Nebraska director of high school relations Kenny Wilhite — a former Husker player — has been crucial in building better bonds in the state. It’s good to see Riley buy into it and Nebraska’s social media folks instruct assistants accordingly. It was overdue, but Nebraska got it done this year, and can continue the trend into the future. It’s a day well-spent.
>> Early official visits aren’t here yet, but Nebraska has already begun the strategy conversation of how to use them. If you didn’t read my Sunday story on how recruiting reform came about — and athletic director Shawn Eichorst’s role in it — please do.
Note the quote from Riley about how to use the early official visit:
“Do we really want a guy to visit in April and then not be able to see him again when we know he’s going to sign in December or February? A regular season game is a pretty good recruiting day. So there’s some strategy that’s going to be involved. If you think you can get a guy committed, bring ‘em in early — April, May, June — get ‘em committed and hang on. You’re going to have to know the player and know where you are.”
Riley asks excellent questions and, given that so many prospects chose to unofficially visit for the spring game, it stands to reason that Nebraska wants to play the “visit game” wisely.
But my hunch is, yes, Nebraska can use them pretty broadly next April, May and June for a couple reasons:
1. All those kids who unofficially visited for Nebraska’s spring game will now have the option to officially visit almost anywhere if you put off their visit until the season. Take Radley-Hiles out of the equation; he was coming here anyway, for a long time he’d planned to do so. Would Manuel Allen have visited Nebraska on his own dime instead of some other school — with his parents — for free? Maybe. It’s possible. (I’m not using Allen as such a specific that I want you to parse through his specific situation. Think of it like a hypothetical in action.)
No prospect has taken an official visit in the spring before. Now that they can, why wouldn’t that be the expectation? It’s the difference between spending a lot of money — on hotels, travel, food — and spending very little to none. You get the fancy, frosting-topped football-sized cookies on the official visit trip.
There’s no cookie on the unofficial visit unless you want to pay for one.
2. Some guys from the South may not visit any other way. I’ve talked to prospects for years. Years! California prospects — regardless of position — they like getting out, seeing a ton of programs. California is not a college football mad state, for one thing. For another, there’s just one Power Five conference league — the Pac-12 — in California. But in the South, there’s two — the ACC and SEC — three (the Big 12) if you choose to rope in Texas.
Out of the top-50 prospects in Georgia (according to the 247Sports Composite) only three chose schools other than the ACC or SEC.
On the top-50 prospects in California, ten chose schools other than the Pac-12. Three chose Nebraska.
There’s a reason SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and his league were a little iffy on spring official visits, and a reason the SEC wanted the visits limited to April only.
Spring official visits are most likely to impact prospects in the South.