Zavier Betts and Omar Manning had to have smiles on their faces Friday when it was officially announced that Mickey Joseph was hired as Nebraska’s receivers coach, associate head coach and passing game coordinator.
Joseph, a former Husker quarterback from 1988-91, has spent the last five seasons as LSU’s receiver coach. College football fans everywhere are likely aware of LSU’s recent history of producing NFL receivers. The Tigers currently have nine former wideouts on NFL rosters, the popular names being Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson.
Joseph knows what good receiver play looks like. He’s an excellent recruiter of it. He can obviously teach it well, too. In 2019—the magical season where the Tigers won the national championship, went undefeated and had one of the best offenses in college football history with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Joe Burrow—Joseph coached Chase, Jefferson and Terrace Marshall, who, like Chase and Jefferson, was also drafted and is on an NFL roster. Those three combined for 241 receptions, 3,991 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns.
Here’s why Betts and Manning—and everyone else in Nebraska’s wideout room—should be excited: Jefferson wasn’t highly-touted coming out of high school like most of LSU’s receiver recruits. According to 247Sports, he was rated a three-star prospect and the 207th best receiver in the country in the 2017 class. But under the guidance of Joseph, Jefferson transformed into a first-round draft pick.
Yes, give all the credit in the world to Jefferson. He’s ultimately the one responsible for making that happen. But you better believe Joseph was right there along the way, and that counts for something. With Joseph now in the mix, what kind of improvement can he make to his receivers room in Lincoln?
While the loss of deep-threat Samori Touré hurts, the cupboard isn’t bare of intriguing pass catchers at Nebraska. Betts was a four-star recruit in the 2020 class while Manning was the top-rated receiver and No. 2 overall junior-college prospect in 2020 according to 247Sports. Neither have had the starts to their Husker careers they were planning on.
Betts has seen inconsistent playing time in his two seasons at Nebraska, which would make it hard for the 6-2, 200-pound Bellevue West product to get comfortable or in a rhythm. He has 32 catches for 417 yards and one touchdown in his career and his coming off his best season where he caught 20 passes for 286 yards.
Manning looks every bit the part of a game-changing receiver at 6-4 and 225 pounds—he’s first-on-off-the-bus material—but the potential has yet to translate to production. He played in just one game in 2020, but the absence wasn’t due to injury or behavioral problems. Instead, Manning was trying to get his mental health in order.
“Especially when COVID hit, I dealt with a lot of personal things,” Manning said during the season. “I was at a very real low point you know, I just had to dig myself out of the hole.”
To Manning’s credit, he did dig himself out of his slump. The former Kilgore College Ranger caught 26 passes for 380 yards and two scores this season.
The potential is easy to see for both receivers, especially after watching plays like Betts’ 83-yard touchdown run from an option pitch against Northwestern and Manning’s touchdown catches against Oklahoma and Purdue.
But Joseph’s addition won’t just impact Betts and Manning. Oliver Martin flashed early with his 103-yard outing at Illinois, but didn’t get as much playing time the rest of the year. Alante Brown saw spot reps here and there, but never stayed on the field long enough to make an impact.
With Joseph now in the fold, maybe Betts, Manning, Martin and Brown will get consistent reps. Maybe each receiver will see growth in the areas they need to.
Then there are the first- and second-year receivers who used 2021 as a development year. Guys like Will Nixon, Latrell Neville, Shawn Hardy II and Kamonte Grimes. There are two receivers in the Huskers’ 2022 class in Victor Jones Jr. and Grant Page. Joseph has options to play with, but will no doubt use his recruiting prowess while looking for more in the transfer portal, too.
Joseph brings instant credibility and a proven track record of teaching young receivers to Nebraska’s receivers room. That should energize the group and create much-needed hope and excitement.
But by no means does the Joseph hire fix anything. A coach can put a player in the best position possible, but at the end of the day it’s still on the player to execute. Hires have yet to be made—at least publicly—for offensive coordinator and the position coaches for quarterbacks, running backs and the offensive line. Time is of the essence as the Early Signing Period on Dec. 15 is quickly approaching.
There’s still a long way to go this offseason and many questions about the team are still unanswered. But while the Joseph hire doesn’t fix anything immediately, it does create positive momentum.
Momentum that should put smiles on the Husker receivers’ faces.