Members of Nebraska's 2019 recruiting class continue to make their way to Lincoln ahead of the start of the first summer session on June 10. Two more––defensive ends Mosai Newsom and Ty Robinson––are scheduled to arrive today with a handful of others arriving in the week ahead.
Everyone has long since determined which of those guys arriving now––or at the start of the spring semester––are most likely to help Nebraska right away in 2019. We know the Huskers' potential positions of need and the perceived strengths and abilities of the new players coming in. Mix in a little bit of the inherent excitement for new guys because they are new, and freshmen players' potential to contribute is probably always viewed as a little bit greater than their actual ability to contribute.
Or is it? I thought about that as I was sifting through Phil Steele's review of the contribution rates among his top 50 freshmen by position from 2018. No matter where you think these numbers might land––and we are talking about the best of the best by limiting it to top 50 at most positions––I think they're still worth taking a look at as we consider the arrival of Nebraska's new class and the season ahead.
I didn't mess with Steele's definition of "contributed." In most cases, if a player recorded stats at his position he was counted as a contributor. With the new redshirt rule, however, some of those contributors also redshirted so I'm including a redshirt rate (RS%) among the top 50 alongside Steele's contributor rate (C%). Here's a quick position-by-position look.
Quarterback (C%: 54, RS%: 80): Don't get caught up in the contributor rate here, most true freshmen quarterbacks, as you'd expect, redshirted. Of that group, just four passed for at least 2,000 yards including Steele's 17th-ranked quarterback, Adrian Martinez. Luke McCaffrey is listed at No. 22 in Steele's 2019 rankings. It worked out well for Nebraska last year, and seems to work out well for others more often of late, but this is still probably the second-hardest place for a player to contribute as a true freshman.
Running Back (C%: 68, RS%: 32): I expected this one to be high, but not quite this high. Just 16 of the top 50 running backs in 2018 redshirted, but of the 34 who recorded stats just four topped 500 rushing yards. Maurice Washington, No. 24 in 2018, came up just short at 455. Three of the Huskers' incoming backs ranked among Steele's top 50: Wan'Dale Robinson (24th), Rahmir Johnson (28th) and Ronald Thompkins (33rd). We know Robinson is slated for the slot so add him to the receiver group if you'd like.
Wide Receiver (C%: 56, RS%: 36): I figured the contributor rate here would have been higher than at running back, but that wasn't the case last year. Five of those who recorded stats in 2018 topped 500 receiving yards. Nebraska didn't have anyone on the top 50 list last year, but Demariyon Houston is in at No. 33 for 2019. Tight ends (C%: 26, RS%: 72) were even less likely to see the field right away. Chris Hickman checks in at No. 15 on the 2019 list.
Offensive Line (C%: 16, RS%: 70): Based on last year's numbers it is even harder to find the field as a freshman on the line than it is behind center. When you consider that there are five spots on the line and that a top 50 is then just the elite sliver of all the linemen in the 2018 class, that's telling you something. I'm guessing this one year wasn't an anomaly. Bryce Benhart (35th) was the only Husker to make Steele's 2019 top 50.
Defensive Line (C%: 76, RS%: 36): Elite defensive linemen are one of the scarcest resources in the game and the redshirt rate for the top players in the 2018 class reflects that. We talk about line play, both offensive and defensive, as "in the trenches," but the defensive line rates here are more like that of the traditional "skill positions." Interesting. Nebraska defensive end Ty Robinson ranked 28th for 2019.
Linebacker (C%: 70, RS%: 40): It was a little bit harder for the top 2018 linebackers to find the field than it was for their equally elite defensive linemen. But this is just the second installment in what ends up being an interesting defensive trilogy. Early-enrollee Nick Henrich was No. 18 in Steele's ranking.
Defensive Back (C%: 72, RS%: 28): The exciting conclusion to the defensive saga. Among the top 50 2018 recruits, you had 70% contribution rates at each level and each of those levels has about the same number of players on the field––three or four linemen, three or four linebackers and four defensive backs before you get into any sort of sub-packages (which then favor the DBs). I'm guessing this isn't a one-year blip either. Along with "it's hard to play early on the offensive line," "put your best athletes on defense" is one of those classic pieces of coaching wisdom passed down through the generations. Noa Pola-Gates was Nebraska's only representative on the 2019 list, ranking 42nd.
Does any of that change how you felt about the likelihood of true freshmen playing at Nebraska in 2019? It's not like that data is an upheaval of the traditional paradigm we would assume based on years of watching football.
I would still put the over/under on Nebraska true freshmen playing (not redshirting) in 2019 at about 6.5 right now. For me that looks like two in the secondary, one at linebacker, two at receiver (including Robinson here) and one at running back. That gets you to six, and I'd probably take the over just to account for one wild card (which would probably show up on defense).
The Grab Bag
- Huskers outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt had great news to share during a radio appearance last night.
- Jacob Padilla recaps some volleyball news including a roster change, an addition and the upcoming VNL stop in Lincoln.
- Greg Smith looks at Nebraska’s defensive line recruiting for 2020.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.