Nebraska Roster Reset: Pass-Catchers
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Roster Reset: Pass-Catchers

January 16, 2020

The 2019 season has officially come to an end, which means its time to turn our sights toward 2020. With Nebraska locking in the vast majority of its recruiting class during the early signing period, now is a good time to take stock of where the roster stands.

First we took a look at the offensive backfield. Today we’re breaking down the pass-catchers.

Wide Receivers (11 Scholarship, 10 Walk-on)

Returners: SR JD Spielman, JR Jaevon McQuitty, SO Wan’Dale Robinson, rFR Jamie Nance, rFR Darien Chase, rFR Demariyon Houston, SR Ty Chaffin (walk-on), SR Todd Honas (walk-on), JR Kade Warner (walk-on), JR Christian Banker (walk-on), SO Bennett Folkers (walk-on), SO Wyatt Liewer (walk-on), rFR Austin Jablonski (walk-on)

Newcomers: JR Omar Manning, FR Zavier Betts, FR Will Nixon, FR Marcus Fleming, FR Alante Brown, FR Elliott Brown (walk-on), FR Ty Hahn (walk-on), FR Broc Douglass (walk-on)

Departures: Kanawai Noa, Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard

Wide receiver will be one of the the most interesting position groups to follow this spring and fall. It was one of Nebraska’s biggest needs in the 2020 recruiting class and the coaches went out and added eight new players to the room, five of which were scholarship recruits.

JD Spielman is coming off his third straight 800-yard season, and Wan’Dale Robinson put up nearly 800 yards from scrimmage and over 1,000 all-purpose yards as a freshman. Beyond those two, Nebraska has 11 receptions and 128 yards returning from wide receivers, the vast majority of that production belonging to a walk-on in Kade Warner who missed five games with injuries.

Outside of Spielman and a couple walk-ons, the most senior member of the room is Jaevon McQuitty who is entering his fourth season on campus. McQuitty looked like he was going to play as a true freshman before he tore his ACL in fall camp and redshirted. He played in six games as a redshirt freshman but didn’t record a single catch. Last season, with Nebraska desperate for wideout production, he still only played in three games, catching two passes. For whatever reason it seems like things just haven’t clicked for McQuitty and it’s hard to tell what the future holds for him with what appears to be even more competition coming to that group.

Robinson was the only freshman wideout who earned playing time right away while the other three—Darien Chase, Jamie Nance and Demariyon Houston—all redshirted. Chase was the only one of the three to record a catch while Houston didn’t even appear in a single game. Will these three be ready to see the field in year two, or will they get passed up by newcomers?

The headliner of that newcomer group is obviously Omar Manning, the big-bodied wideout at 6-foot-4 that Nebraska just didn’t have in 2019. Nebraska is going to need a lot more from him than it got from the last two JUCO wideouts the staff brought in. Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard combined for 21 receptions for 250 yards in two years.

Among the high school recruits, Zavier Betts is the biggest name as Nebraska’s second-highest rated recruit according to Hail Varsity’s composite. At 6-foot-3, Betts is a freak athlete who can both take the top off the defense with his speed and elevate to win 50-50 balls with his explosiveness and strength. Alante Brown and Marcus Fleming are both 4-star recruits as well, however, and Brown is enrolling early after spending a post-grad year at a prep school in Connecticut. That could give Brown a leg up on the other freshman wideouts, but Fleming is a burner while Will Nixon is a do-it-all type of receiver.

Nebraska has a deep group of walk-ons headlined by Warner who has continued to earn playing time over scholarship players. The most intriguing of the walk-on newcomers is Johnson-Brock product Ty Hahn, who is scheduled to be placed on scholarship at some point down the line during his Nebraska career.

Besides Williams and Woodyard, Kanawai Noa — Nebraska’s third-leading receiver — is the only other departure. His perimeter blocking will be missed, but he never developed a consistent connection with Adrian Martinez and struggled to turn targets into receptions.

Tight Ends (5 Scholarship, 4 Walk-on)

Returners: SR Jack Stoll, JR Austin Allen, JR Kurt Rafdal, JR Travis Vokolek, rFR Chris Hickman, SR Brian Perez (walk-on), SO Bryson Krull (walk-on), rFR John Goodwin (walk-on)

Newcomers: Nate Boerkircher (walk-on)

Departures: None

Sean Beckton is bringing everybody back in its room as Nebraska didn’t ave a single senior at the position and has not lost anyone to the transfer portal. Jack Stoll and Austin Allen accounted for the vast majority of tight end snaps last season, and both have grown into team leaders. As the senior member of a very young group, Stoll tackled that leadership role from the moment Beckton arrived in Lincoln, and this season Allen went from splitting back-up duties with Kurt Rafdal to earning an -OR- designation on the depth chart along with Stoll.

Rafdal saw much more playing time in 2018 as a redshirt freshman than he did this past season as he played in just five games with one reception. He’ll have to deal with even more competition heading into 2020 with the addition of Travis Vokolek and Chris Hickman.

Vokolek, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound monster, redshirted last year after transferring from Rutgers. As a sophomore, he caught 16 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns for the Scarlet Knights. Physically, Vokolek is kind of in-between the shorter, stockier Stoll and the taller, longer Allen.

At 6-foot-6 and listed at 215 pounds, Hickman is leaner than everyone else in the room even after a redshirt year of adding weight. He played in a few games this past season, seeing action both on special teams and on offense. He even played a little wide receiver. 

Hickman won’t be limited to the four-game window this season and Vokolek won’t be limited at all, which could shake up the depth chart quite a bit.

The only true newcomer to the room is walk-on Nate Boerkircher out of Aurora, whose older brother is also on the team as a walk-on offensive lineman.

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