The transfer portal has changed college football.
Rosters all over the country have been affected by the one-time transfer rule that allows players to hop from one program to another without having to sit out a season. Look no further than Nebraska, where the Huskers are doing their best Mel-Tucker-Michigan State impression of retooling their team by bringing in a whopping 18 scholarship newcomers—15 transfers from Division I programs plus three junior-college products.
Some of Nebraska’s scholarship newcomers are more important to the program in 2022 than others. But who lands where in that debate? With it being the offseason, it’s as good a time as any to talk about it.
Before we start ranking, what does “important to the program” mean? It’s not 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?
These rankings will be a countdown style, starting from least to most important. We’ll do three players at a time, beginning with Nos. 18-16:
No. 18 | Javier Morton | 6-foot-2, 185 pounds | Corner
Morton, who played at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia, came to Nebraska after spending last season at Garden City (Kansas) Community College, where he recorded 20 tackles, two pass breakups and one sack in nine games.
A three-star prospect in the 2020 class according to 247Sports Composite, Morton was once verbally committed to Alabama and held offers from other top programs in the SEC, including Georgia, LSU and Auburn. However, he went unsigned over academic concerns.
At 6-2, Morton has the length that defensive backs coach Travis Fisher seems to favor with his DBs. Counting Morton, the Husker DB room has 13 scholarship players 6-feet or taller, including corners Quinton Newsome (6-1), Braxton Clark (6-4), Tommi Hill (6-0), Omar Brown (6-1), Tyreke Johnson (6-1), Tamon Lynum (6-2), Jaeden Gould (6-2) and safeties Myles Farmer (6-1), DeShon Singleton (6-3), Noa Pola-Gates (6-0) Koby Bretz (6-2) and Jalil Martin (6-3).
Nebraska’s defensive backfield must replace three of the four starters from 2021, including corner Cam Taylor-Britt and safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke. Farmer returns and started the final four games last season when Williams went down with a season-ending injury at Minnesota.
With Newsome likely in control of one starting corner role, the other is up for grabs. But for Morton, it may be an uphill climb to enter that conversation as two others—the veteran Clark and Hill, an Arizona State transfer—seem like the top two options following 15 spring practices.
No. 17 | Omar Brown | 6-1, 200 | Corner
When guys like Omar Brown are brought in, it peaks your interest.
As a true freshman at Northern Iowa in 2019, Brown collected 77 tackles, six interceptions and was named FCS Defensive Freshman of the Year. In a seven-game 2021 spring season that was shortened by COVID-19, he racked up 30 tackles and five pass breakups. He had 33 tackles—eight of which came against Power Five opponent Iowa State—in the 2021 fall campaign before suffering a season-ending injury and entered the transfer portal in January.
Brown landed at Nebraska, where there are a couple former Northern Iowa coaches on staff. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander coached the Panthers’ tight ends from 2004-09 while D.J. Vokolek, who has two stints at Northern Iowa under his belt, is entering his first season in Lincoln as a senior defensive quality control coach. D.J., current Husker tight end Travis Vokolek’s dad, was Northern Iowa’s assistant head coach from 2017-21 and 2003-05 and also the Panthers’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Brown isn’t the only former Panther on Nebraska’s roster. Nickel linebacker Chris Kolarevic spent 2017-19 at Northern Iowa and remembered what it was like to see Brown walk on the field and win a starting job immediately.
“He came in and took the job right away, he was a true freshman,” Kolarevic said this past spring. “Got there in camp and just came in there and took it. Like, we had a starter there and he came in and took that job at corner. He’s just an all-around dude that’s going to show up and take a job. He’s going to come make plays and that’s what he does.”
But for Brown to show everyone what he can do, the Minneapolis native needs to be healthy. That wasn’t the case this spring as Brown was limited with an injury.
Still, the talent is there. Chinander saw it when he put on the tape.
“He’s just got a ton of good film from the time he was a young guy to the time he decided to move on,” Chinander said of Brown. “And obviously, me being at Northern Iowa, I got a bunch of resources to call once he gets in that thing (transfer portal). It’s not like all these other guys where somebody gets in the portal and I have to go watch the film and try to find somebody to call. The second he goes in the portal, I can call a bunch of guys who have coached there, got done playing there, or guys who were there with him when he was young, so we have a bunch of resources that way. So that was a pretty easy one.”
Brown showed he can play at the FCS level. Can he replicate that in the Power Five? He didn’t get a chance to show it this spring. But when healthy, he could enter the mix at corner and warrant a ranking much higher than No. 17.
No. 16 | Kaine Williams | 6-2, 203 pounds | Safety
Considering Nebraska’s defensive backs room was already jam packed, some were surprised to see the addition of Kaine Williams from the portal on May 15.
While it remains unclear who will start at safety at this point—Farmer and Marques Buford Jr. appear to be the leading candidates—one thing is: Fisher isn’t afraid to introduce competition to his room by bringing in players to compete for starting jobs and to push others who think they have playing time lined up.
“That’s the kind of world we live in. Nobody wants to work for it, everybody wants that thing handed to them,” Fisher said. “That’s the total opposite of what I’m going to give them this spring, is something handed to them.”
Williams is a native of Marrero, Louisiana, which is the hometown of current Husker receivers coach Mickey Joseph. He played his true freshman season at Alabama, but only saw action on special teams in one game—the College Football Playoff National Championship against Georgia. Williams was a four-star recruit in the 2021 class according to the 247Sports Composite and picked the Crimson Tide over offers from just about everyone, including LSU.
While it’s difficult to see playing time under Nick Saban as a young player, it isn’t exactly a walk in the park with Fisher, either. Williams committed after Nebraska’s spring ball, so he’ll be behind others in learning the playbook. It might be a stretch to think Williams will get meaningful defensive reps in 2022, but it’s good to remember he’s just a second-year player who isn’t that far removed from the high school recruit that top SEC programs wanted during his first recruiting process.
Maybe bringing in a young player with potential like Williams is a move geared for the future. And if he happens to push those in front of him at safety, like Farmer, Buford, Pola-Gates, Bretz and Singleton, that will only benefit the defense and help ensure the best guys get on the field.
In other words, that’s Fisher doing his job.