McKewon: Husker Camp Countdown is 50 shades of guesswork

Nebraska's Connor Ketter, No. 89, is one of several candidates who could get playing time at tight end for the Huskers this season. 

LINCOLN — Our Husker Camp Countdown begins Monday, and it’s never been harder trying to pick the 50 Nebraska football players we think will be big factors in the upcoming season. The 2017 Huskers are young and inexperienced at several positions, and the freshman class is full of guys who could contribute right away, if they’re ready, or redshirt, like freshmen usually do.

Expect some whiffs. Expect some guys off our radar to fly onto it by midseason.

It was easier to sort last season’s top 50. Our top three were quarterback Tommy Armstrong, safety Nate Gerry and receiver Jordan Westerkamp, and all three of those guys missed the Music City Bowl. NU lost by 14 points. Among last year’s top 10, only Devine Ozigbo, who played behind Terrell Newby, was a true miss. Our biggest gamble, putting defensive tackle Kevin Maurice at No. 8, proved to be right: Maurice had a strong senior year, garnering honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

This year takes more projection and guesswork.

Certainly Nebraska has a few proven players in the secondary and a few more along the offensive line. We’ve been watching those guys for several years. We know what to expect from some of NU’s linebackers and defensive linemen. The top returning receivers, Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El, haven’t been the No. 1 targets very often, but you’ve seen a healthy amount of production there.

Other positions — tight end, outside linebacker, yes, even quarterback — are a little bit more of a mystery. Surely, all eyes will be on quarterback Tanner Lee, but is he the No. 1 guy? In 2015, we picked defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Could we anoint cornerback Chris Jones or safety Joshua Kalu in 2017?

Over the next two months, we’ll unveil the list and you’ll see. First, we note the honorable mention players who didn’t quite make the top 50 cut. Last year, outside of long snapper Jordan Ober, our honorable mentions didn’t make much of a dent. Heck, three of them — AJ Bush, Derrion Grim and Charles Jackson — left the program last season. To best reflect the uncertain nature of which players will rise on this 2017 team, the honorable mention list this season is longer.

» DiCaprio Bootle: A redshirt freshman, Bootle is probably one injury away from playing a lot. He’s the No. 2/No. 3 field corner, he could play some nickel, and he’ll definitely appear on special teams.

» Damion Daniels: The precocious, explosive defensive tackle is a trendy pick to be one of Nebraska’s best recruits from its 2017 class. Daniels has great potential; he’s also 17 years old until just days before the season kicks off. Does NU take a year with Daniels and let him grow more into his frame and shed a few pounds? He looked closer to 330 pounds when he visited for Nebraska’s spring game.

» The fourth tight end: Nebraska may very well need four tight ends for the offense, and the No. 4 guy last season — Tyler Hoppes — is likely to be the No. 1 guy this year. That means a whole slew of guys have a shot at playing time. One is senior walk-on Connor Ketter, who missed spring practice because of an injury but might have been the No. 2 guy heading into the spring. Others to watch are redshirt freshman David Engelhaupt and true freshmen Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal. Engelhaupt, at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, is more of an H-back type while the taller Ketter, Allen and Rafdal are downfield receiving threats.

» Sedrick King: An outside linebacker competing for playing time, King is roughly in the same spot he was last season: trying to put all the pieces together. He’s at that boundary linebacker spot, which is more of a pass-rushing spot, competing against Alex Davis and a few other guys. He appeared in eight games last season and had four tackles.

» Boaz Joseph: Backup corner and special teams guy for his fifth-year senior season, Joseph should make his share of tackles and play in a few games.

» Jordan Ober: Nebraska’s starting long snapper for a third straight season, Ober is counted on to make clean snaps on field goals, extra points and punts. He’s done a good job in his first two years.

» John Raridon: After redshirting last season, Raridon appeared ready to take a shot at the starting center job in the spring. Sophomore-to-be Michael Decker is clearly ahead of Raridon, who moved to backup guard. Cole Conrad moved to center to compete with Decker. Since NU’s starting guards are Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer, and Boe Wilson is at guard, too, Raridon is perhaps a year away from significant playing time.

» Austin Rose: A walk-on running back from Lincoln North Star, Rose flashed some power and some good cuts in spring drills. He looked every bit as spry as scholarship back Devine Ozigbo, but such a thing has been true of other walk-on running backs at Nebraska, and, other than Andy Janovich, rarely have they played much. Rose has a chance, though.

» Deiontae Watts: Another 2017 recruit, Watts is on the other end of the age spectrum from Daniels; he’ll turn 20 this year. His academic eligibility is still a bit up in the air; he hasn’t arrived on campus yet. If Watts does, he may be a logical choice to play early. Or he may just redshirt and develop.

» The Nos. 6 and 7 wide receivers: Each team tends to need at least six receivers — and often seven — to make the offensive engine run when top receivers get hurt or rotate out of the game for a snap. NU has several candidates for those roles, including Gabe Rahn, Conor Young and Jaevon McQuitty. McQuitty is a true freshman who enrolled early, but he missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.

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