Nebraska Film Review: Wide Receiver Chris Hickman
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Film Review: Wide Receiver Chris Hickman

May 03, 2020

Chris Hickman had a grand total one reception for zero yards in 2019, yet he still landed at No. 8 in Derek Peterson’s “10 Most Intriguing Huskers” list.

Let’s take a look back at the film of his limited playing time during his redshirt year to get a feel for why he belongs on that list.

Previous film studies: Luke McCaffrey | Rahmir Johnson

The 6-foot-6, 195-pound Omaha Burke product made his collegiate debut on special teams against Northwestern, then saw his first playing time on offense against Purdue. I watched all of his offensive snaps against the Boilermakers and against Maryland, where he saw his only extended playing time of the season.

Hickman arrived at Nebraska as a tight end, but he didn’t play any in-line tight end at all in 2019.  He lined up basically everywhere else, though. Nebraska used him at full back, wideout and in the slot. As I mentioned above, Hickman didn’t make an impact at all as a pass catcher. Most of the time when he ran a route the play was designed to go somewhere else, and when he did get a ball thrown his way (which only happened four times” Nebraska didn’t get anything out of it.

It’s a different story when the Huskers involved him in the play as a blocker. Let’s take a look at his snaps against Purdue to show why.

The coaches called his number on the second drive of the game. He lined up as a fullback in a split backs look and delivered a solid hit as he made his block, though Dedrick Mills didn’t get a lot of help otherwise and only picked up 3 yards.

On the next play, Nebraska stacked four receivers including Mills and Hickman to 6the right for a screen play.

Hickman delivered a solid punch when he initiated contact on his block and knocked his man back. Notice where he starts the block.

Hickman drove his man all the past the sticks, clearing the way for Mills to pick up the first down.

But he wasn’t done there. Hickman kept driving his guy back another 8 to 10 yards after Mills hit the turf.

Now, I haven’t gone over every offensive snap of the season, but I’d have a hard time believing that a Husker delivered a better block than this one all year.

On the next play, he was back at fullback and acted as the lead blocker for Mills.

Hickman picked off the linebacker, again delivering a solid punch and knocking him back. If he had whiffed, Mills would have gotten stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

The Purdue linebacker tried to dive at Mills, but he was already past him and picking up a nice chunk of yardage as another defender tripped him up.

Mills picked up 6 yards on first down, a successful play by any measure, and Hickman delivered the key block to spring it.

Frost finally called Hickman’s number with what was supposed to be a quick throw to him in the flat. He started at fullback again in a split backs look, except Adrian Martinez motioned him from his right side out to the left of the formation. He was open in space and Martinez tried to hit him, but he put the throw well short and it ended up being an incomplete backwards pass anyway, making it a fumble.

That was Hickman’s first career target, and it was his last play of the game. He got four snaps.

Nebraska demolished Maryland, and Hickman was a much bigger part of the game plan. I counted 38 offensive snaps, and Hickman was directly involved in the action on roughly half of them, even if he only had the ball thrown his way three times.

Hickman again showed some nice blocking chops against the Terps, although he also had a couple of plays that I’m sure he wanted back. In the span of five snaps on one drive, he had three poor blocks. The first was a matter of positioning, the second was a result of Hickman doing a bit too much dancing and the third, well, Hickman just got juked out of his shoes, leading to this:

Hickman rebounded nicely, though, delivering three nice blocks later in the drive, the last of which came on a Luke McCaffrey touchdown.

Whereas Hickman showed plenty as a blocker in his limited opportunities, he didn’t really show us anything as a receiver, though he wasn’t really given much of a chance.

Hickman made his first career reception in the second quarter of the Maryland game.

The split-back motion opposite action is one Nebraska had Hickman run a lot while he was out there. Another was jet motion.

Hickman wasn’t in earlier on the drive, but with the Huskers leading 31-0, Frost put Hickman in on third and 6. Martinez signaled to Hickman to run across the formation then called for the snap.

Martinez faked the handoff to the running back as Hickman continued on towards the left sideline.

A rusher got free and in Martinez’s face, delaying the throw and giving the quarterback an obstacle to avoid as he threw the ball. At this point, Hickman is already outside the hash marks.

Martinez hit him, but Hickman lost his footing as soon as he caught it and went down right at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Here’s another angle. Hickman had to twist his body and kneel down in order to make the catch, and he wasn’t able to regain his balance and do anything once he had the ball in his hands.

The timing was slightly off and it wasn’t a great throw as a result, but at least he caught it. That wasn’t the case on this next play, which unfortunately came directly after the missed block that led to the apology from Hickman above.

On third and 5, Nebraska lined up with trips receivers to the left. Hickman is off the screen here but was the middle receiver.

McCaffrey took the snap and dropped back as two receivers ran their routes inside and Hickman ran towards the sideline.

The play design worked beautifully and Hickman was wide open at the sticks, so McCaffrey let the ball go.

Unfortunately, the throw was slightly low and behind Hickman, and he wasn’t able to bring it in.

He wasn’t happy with himself.

Hickman’s only other target came in the red zone. He was split out wide to the left, one-on-one with a cornerback. The defender locked him up and rode him all the way into the end zone, and McCaffrey’s throw was a good 5 yards behind him anyway.

Hickman didn’t make a mark in the stat sheet during his redshirt year, but he did show plenty of versatility and blocking acumen which could make him a valuable piece for the Huskers in 2020, especially with his move to wide receiver and the need for perimeter blocking to make Frost’s offense go.

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