DE Joe Keels | Kenosha, Wisc. – Highland (Kan.) Community College | 6-4, 275
RANKINGS: There’s some debate about Keels’ actual position — 247Sports ranks him among the defensive tackles, Scout the defensive ends and he could probably play some linebacker if he had to — but there is a consensus on this: Keels ranks among the best junior college prospects in the class of 2014. (Note: Rivals JUCO rankings are being updated and not available at the moment. It’s not that Keels doesn’t register.)
Rivals: 3-star, NR | Scout: 4-star, 3 (DE) | 247: 4-star, 5 (DT)
And Nebraska’s current team rankings as of today (national, Big Ten):
Rivals: 33, 5 | Scout: 34, 6 | 247: 36, 6
WHO ELSE WAS INTERESTED: Wisconsin, most famously. Keels was a verbal commit to the Badgers and — considering that he played his high school ball in the Badger State and his cousin, Melvin Gordon, is sort of a big deal there — it seemed unlikely that Nebraska would be able to flip him, but credit to the Huskers’ staff. It did just that and that was despite Keels taking visits to both Wisconsin and West Virginia after he visited Lincoln in November. In terms of an offer list, Keels’ is as impressive as any other player in Nebraska’s 2014 class. He had more than 20 offers, the best of which were from the likes of USC, Texas, Penn State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, and North Carolina.
HOW HE FITS: Keels is one of three players already enrolled along with QB Zack Darlington and JUCO DB Byerson Cockrell. That’s important because Keels suddenly might have a clear run at significant playing time in 2014. That would mean that he’d have to settle at defensive end — and I suspect he will — but with Avery Moss’s status up in the air, Nebraska could have a battle going on opposite Randy Gregory and Keels will be there in the spring to make his case alongside guys like Greg McMullen and A.J. Natter.
HOW HE LOOKS: At 6-4, 275 Keels is two inches shorter but 20 pounds heavier than what Gregory was listed at on the 2013 roster. (Ten pounds heavier than Moss too.) That makes him a more conventional looking defensive end, but he’s plenty versatile. In his highlights from this past season you can see him in four-, three- and two-point stances at defensive end. He played some outside linebacker when Highland went to a 3-4 look. He lined up on a slot receiver once or twice. That’s pretty good range for his size but the thing that impresses most about Keels is not his athleticism — though there’s plenty of that — but his patience. You can see on film that Keels is a pretty “sound” defender, slow playing option runs, staying home on screens to try to disrupt the pass then getting downfield to help on the tackle. Every player at every level is coached to play this way, but actually seeing it on the field is another matter. Keels shows it and that should help him get on the field soon at Nebraska. I’d be surprise if he didn’t play early in 2014.