We continue our countdown of ranking Nebraska’s 18 scholarship newcomers from least to most important.
In case you missed the first installment where we broke down Nos. 16-18, you can find it right here. Up next are Nos. 13-15, and they feature players from three different positions, which is a change from the first batch of rankings.
What do we mean by least to most important? 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 this player to the position they play at Nebraska? How badly would it hurt the position if this player wasn’t there?
As we mentioned before, the pool to pick from is 18 strong—Scott Frost and his staff have gone all-in on rebuilding the roster through the transfer portal, much like Mel Tucker did at Michigan State in 2021. The Huskers’ current crop includes 15 scholarship transfers from Division I programs and three additions from the junior-college ranks.
On with the countdown.
No. 15 | Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda | 6-foot, 185 pounds | Receiver
Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda comes to Lincoln after spending the past two seasons at New Mexico State and one before that at Saddleback (Calif.) College.
At Saddleback, Garcia-Castaneda hauled in a team-high 56 catches for 953 yards and 13 touchdowns—as a true freshman. His quarterback that year was Chance Nolan, who went on to sign with Oregon State in 2020 and started 12 games for the Beavers in 2021. Led by Nolan, Oregon State had its first winning season (7-6) in the last seven.
Garcia-Castaneda was a big-play threat in his one season at Saddleback—he rattled off touchdown receptions of 72, 68, 60 and 54 yards. He took that big-play ability to the Division I level with New Mexico State, but the Aggies only played two games in a 2021 spring season impacted by COVID-19 and he had just five catches for 61 yards. It was later that fall where Garcia-Castaneda started to turn heads, however.
New Mexico State finished just 2-10 and its offense averaged only 22 points per game, but Garcia-Castaneda showed Power 5 coaches that he has the potential to help their receiver rooms.
He hauled in 37 catches for 578 yards and four touchdowns. His knack for making plays down the field showed, too, as he averaged 15.62 yards per catch, best on the team out of those who had more than seven receptions. The ability to create chunk plays like he displayed at Saddleback showed up in Las Cruces—he had receptions of 75, 55, 41 and 40 yards.
Garcia-Castaneda’s 15.62 yards-per-catch average would’ve ranked sixth in the Big Ten last year, and programs like Utah, last year’s Pac-12 champion, and Minnesota offered. It was the Huskers who won the recruitment, though.
But, much like corner Omar Brown, who we discussed in the first installment of this countdown, Garcia-Castaneda needs to be healthy to help the Husker offense in 2022. The receiver was limited with an injury this spring, and he’s now behind the eight ball and will need to make up ground in fall camp. The receiver room is packed, and it got more crowded following the addition of Texas wideout Marcus Washington, who just last season was catching passes from the Huskers’ projected starting quarterback, Casey Thompson.
Does Garcia-Castaneda have the potential to be in position coach Mickey Joseph’s rotation at Nebraska? Judging by what we’ve seen from his previous stop at New Mexico State, the answer is yes. He’s turned good plays into great plays before:
But before he can show what he’s got in Lincoln, Garcia-Castaneda needs to be healthy.
No. 14 | Hunter Anthony | 6-6, 320 pounds | Offensive tackle
After spending four seasons at Oklahoma State, Hunter Anthony joined the Huskers as a graduate transfer last January. While playing for head coach Mike Gundy, Anthony redshirted in 2018 and played in 23 games with five starts the next three seasons. Anthony comes to Nebraska with two years of eligibility left.
The offensive line play at Nebraska needs to improve if the Huskers want to see the success everyone wants. According to offensive line statistics from Football Outsiders, Nebraska was average at run blocking and below average in pass blocking in 2021. The Huskers ranked 60th in the country in opportunity rate (48.5%), the percentage of carries that gain at least 4 yards when 4 are available. That’s not too bad, but a couple key pass-blocking stats are. Nebraska ranked 104th in sack rate (8.1%) and 115th in sack rate on passing downs (12.2%).
Anthony has starts at both tackle and guard under his belt during his time in Stillwater, so he could push for snaps at either spot at Nebraska. Tackle—which Anthony played during the spring game—is a position that returns three players who saw starts there last year, including Turner Corcoran, Teddy Prochazka and Bryce Benhart. But considering how poorly the line looked at times against Big Ten pass rushes, bringing in another option like Anthony to compete was a good call.
Both Corcoran and Prochazka were very limited during spring practices with injuries. When healthy, Prochazka seems like a solid pick to start at left tackle while Corcoran is athletic enough to play other positions along the line—maybe center or right tackle.
Anthony was brought in to fight for a job and could very well push the starters at tackle. Depth at offensive line is always needed, so having a veteran like Anthony as a potential backup on the edge—similar to Brant Banks—is good to have.
No. 13 | Chubba Purdy | 6-2, 210 pounds | Quarterback
Thompson is the favorite to win Nebraska’s starting quarterback job this fall. But it’s the competition for his backup—between Logan Smothers and Chubba Purdy—that heated up following the spring game.
Purdy, a former four-star recruit in the 2020 class according to the 247Sports Composite, came to Lincoln after spending two seasons at Florida State. His first year in Tallahassee was injury-riddled—he broke his left collarbone in the first live scrimmage of the 2020 fall camp in August, which delayed his development in the Seminoles’ quarterback room and put him behind others jockeying to start.
Even after having surgery to repair a broken collarbone, Purdy was still able to appear in three games in 2020 and started at North Carolina State. He went 15-of-23 for 181 yards with two touchdowns that night. Purdy wasn’t able to finish the year strong, however, as he was forced to undergo a second surgery on the collarbone, this time to remove previously-inserted hardware after it began causing irritation and inflammation, according to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel. Purdy would play in just one game in 2021, against Massachusetts, where he went 5-of-5 for 98 yards and two scores.
Purdy faced more adversity after getting to Lincoln for spring practices. He injured a foot, and wasn’t able to be a full participant. The spring game was just his third practice where he was full-go, which makes his performance all the more impressive. Purdy looked comfortable in the pocket that day, and yes, that could have been because he was wearing a green no-contact jersey. Still, the Arizona native looked good and his passes had zip.
Purdy went 5-of-10 for 63 yards in the spring game. He also threw the prettiest completion of anyone that day—a 27-yarder to tight end AJ Rollins—while being afforded a very clean pocket:
To Smothers’ credit, he had a great throw as well. It just wasn’t a completion because corner Quinton Newsome stuck with wideout Oliver Martin and broke up the pass:
Quarterbacks take hits in the game of football. Thompson himself played most of last season at Texas with an injured thumb on his throwing hand after hitting it against Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto. That’s why the backup is important—they’re one play away from being the starter.
Before the spring game, it was fair to say Smothers had a leg up on Purdy. Now, Purdy may be closer than originally thought.