Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Counting Down Nebraska’s Most Important Newcomers: Nos. 6-4

June 03, 2022

We’re back at it.

We continue our countdown of Nebraska’s 18 scholarship newcomers from the transfer portal and junior-college ranks from least to most important for the 2022 season.

This isn’t a ranking about talent or what kind of statistical production the player had at his previous program. In this exercise, we ask ourselves questions like these: How important is he to the position he’ll play at Nebraska? How badly would it hurt the position if this player wasn’t there?

Here are the previous installments of this countdown-style series:

Nos. 18-16 | Nos. 15-13 | Nos. 12-10 | Nos. 9-7 

No. 6 | Anthony Grant | 5-foot-11, 210 pounds | Running back

For the sixth time since 2018 according to 247Sports, Nebraska signed the top junior-college prospect at his position when Anthony Grant picked the Huskers in January.

Grant, who began his college career at Florida State for the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, spent the past two seasons at New Mexico Military Institute. Roswell is where he turned himself into the top-rated JUCO back (ninth overall prospect) for the 2022 class and rushed for a combined 2,549 yards and 28 touchdowns while averaging a whopping 7.1 yards-per-carry. His 2021 season was his best—he racked up 1,730 rushing yards and 18 scores for the National Junior College Athletic Association champions.

Being the No. 1 JUCO recruit at a position doesn’t always mean success at the next stop, and that’s been true for Nebraska. In 2020, the Huskers signed the top-rated JUCO receiver, Omar Manning, and corner, Nadab Joseph.

After a 2020 campaign where he played in just one game and didn’t record a reception, Manning started to see success in 2021 with 26 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns and has put himself in position to be a key member of the rotation in 2022. Joseph never made an impact and battled injuries in 2020 before playing in just two games in 2021. He transferred in February.

In 2019, Nebraska signed the No. 2 JUCO prospect at defensive tackle, Keem Green, and the top running back, Dedrick Mills.

After playing in eight games over two seasons, Green transferred to South Carolina. He entered the portal again after one season with the Gamecocks and is currently at Florida Atlantic, his fourth school. In 2019 Mills played in 10 games and rushed for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns before injuries limited the bruiser the following year. In 2020, Mills played in six games, rushing for 396 yards and three scores. Mills is now a member of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and led the team in rushing in their season-opening win over the BC Lions last Saturday, gaining 55 yards and one touchdown on nine carries.

In 2018, Nebraska signed the top-rated JUCO back, Greg Bell, and linebacker, Will Honas.

Bell played in just four games for the Huskers, rushing for 173 yards while catching four passes for 14 yards. He transferred to San Diego State, where he was a two-time second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection and rushed for a combined 1,728 yards and 15 touchdowns. Last season Bell rushed for 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns.

Honas was at Nebraska for four seasons and endured a season-ending injury in both 2018 and 2021. He totaled 145 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four sacks as a Husker. Honas transferred to Kansas State earlier this year and will play his seventh season of college football.

JUCO players are not the easiest to diagnose. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they don’t. First-year Husker running backs coach Bryan Applewhite has a loaded room to work with, including returners Rahmir Johnson, Jaquez Yant, Gabe Ervin Jr., Markese Stepp and true freshmen Ajay Allen and Emmett Johnson. On top of that, the offensive line that will be blocking for these backs has questions of its own.

Now Grant enters the fray.

No. 5 | Trey Palmer | 6-1, 190 | Receiver

The man doesn’t lack for confidence, that much is known.

If Trey Palmer’s performance on the field even comes close to the level of entertainment he provided during his first media session this past spring, Husker fans are in for a treat.

“I just do what I do,” Palmer said when asked what he wanted to show during the spring game. “It ain’t no show—it’s a clinic.”

All jokes aside, Palmer is a talented player and fun to watch when the ball is in his hands. A former four-star prospect in the 2019 class, Palmer was recruited by his current receivers coach, Mickey Joseph, to attend LSU. When Joseph took the Nebraska job earlier this year, Palmer, who caught 41 passes for 458 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons with the Tigers, followed.

The coach-to-player relationship is strong between the two. In fact, Palmer sees Joseph as father figure.

“He looks at me like his own, so to have somebody in my life like that on the field and off the field, it’s very good,” Palmer said.

That relationship could pay off big-time for Nebraska’s offense, which is now being coordinated by Mark Whipple, a veteran coach who has a history of identifying his best player and finding ways to get him the ball. Last season at Pittsburgh, that player was receiver Jordan Addison, who caught 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. In 2019, it was receiver Maurice French (96 catches, 850 yards, 4 touchdowns). In 2018 while Whipple was the head coach at UMass, it was receiver Andy Isabella (102 catches, 1,698 yards, 13 touchdowns).

Could Palmer be next? There’s a good chance he could. He’s shown the necessary burst, break-away speed and playmaking ability both as a return specialist and a slot receiver:

No. 4 | Devin Drew | 6-2, 280 | Defensive line

After departures at the interior of Nebraska’s defensive line—Damion Daniels, Ben Stille, Deontre Thomas, Casey Rogers and Jordon Riley—the Huskers’ depth at a crucial position was in a bad spot.

Defensive linemen like Nash Hutmacher, Mosai Newsom, walk-on Colton Feist, Marquis Black, Ru’Quan Buckley and Jailen Weaver were still left to help out returning starter Ty Robinson, but all of them are light on playing experience and still developing. In the Big Ten, a conference filled with big, strong and veteran offensive linemen, that could spell trouble.

That’s why the addition of a player like Devin Drew is so important. Maybe even more important than players like Palmer or Grant, who play positions that the Huskers could get by at if they weren’t around. At receiver, there’s still Manning, Oliver Martin, Alante Brown and tight end Travis Vokolek. At running back, there’s still Johnson, Yant and Ervin, if healthy. The defensive line at Nebraska badly needed help. It couldn’t have gone into the 2022 season with who was in the room before Drew and fellow transfers Ochaun Mathis and Stephon Wynn Jr. joined—that’s why Drew is ranked as highly as he is.

Drew comes to Lincoln after spending the past two seasons at Texas Tech, where he was a two-year starter at defensive end in the Red Raiders’ three-man front. Drew was a durable part of Texas Tech’s defense and played in 23 games. He made a combined 55 tackles during those two seasons but only half a tackle for loss without any sacks.

While the tackle-for-loss number isn’t impressive, it’s important to remember that getting after the quarterback wasn’t necessarily always Drew’s job. Eating blocks and taking on double teams so the linebackers behind him could make plays was a big part of Drew’s time in Lubbock. But at Nebraska, the idea of playing in a four-man front as a three-technique, or the player who lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard, intrigued him.

Drew was a middle linebacker at Raytown High School in Missouri when Iowa Western Community College assistant Aaron Terry found him. Drew walked on to Iowa Western out of high school and wound up starting for the Reivers as a true freshman defensive end. It was at Iowa Western where Terry and Co. helped turn him into an All-American and Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year following the 2019 season, one where he had 58 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

The jump from junior college to Power 5 football gave Drew access to better resources for players. Once that happened, Terry saw his former player blossom into a better, stronger defensive lineman.

“When you’re fundamentally sound and then you start getting the physical pieces with it, that’s when you can take that game to the next level,” Terry said. “And that’s what he’s shown at his time at Texas Tech. And I even think his style of play fits the Big Ten even more with how he’s a pretty good run stuffer and the way he can use his hands and take on blocks.”

There will likely be a transition period at first. The Big Ten is not junior college, and neither is the Big 12. But Drew still provides what the Huskers absolutely needed more than many other positions—a dependable veteran defensive lineman who has Power Five experience.

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