Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s 2023 Spring Football Positional Reset: Wide Receivers

February 16, 2023

In total, Nebraska’s new coaching staff added 39 new scholarship players in the 2023 recruiting class. This puts the program’s scholarship numbers over triple digits in spring camp. With winter workouts ongoing and spring ball likely to impact who stands out to this coaching staff, Hail Varsity is taking a deeper look at what each position looks like right now.

Previous resets: Quarterbacks, Running Backs.

The personnel at wide receiver is subject to change. This is the most crowded position on Nebraska’s roster. The Huskers added two transfers and a handful of high school signings in its 2023 class as well. The coach tasked with overseeing the receivers is the youngest in college football. So, let’s dive into the situation.

First, Nebraska lost its all-time single-season receiving leader to the NFL Draft. Trey Palmer’s 71 catches, 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns all led the team by far. Nebraska ranked No. 82 in national passing offense with 220.8 yards per game. That includes the 10-quarter stretch when quarterback Casey Thompson did not play with injury and the offense essentially stalled. That passing offense ultimately ranked just ahead of Michigan but fell behind Texas State, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Pittsburgh.

In total, seven Husker players had 10 or more catches last year. Four of them were receivers and two of them return in 2023. Just one is still on the team. Marcus Washington is the leading returning receiver with 31 catches, 471 yards and one touchdown last season. The only other returner with notable contributions is Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who had 191 yards and a touchdown on five catches in just four games. Tommi Hill started at cornerback for the Huskers last season but finished the year, and appears on the 2023 spring roster, as a receiver. He previously played receiver in high school before making the shift in the week leading up to the Rutgers game. Alante Brown, the Chicago native who made 16 catches for 191 yards last season, was removed from the Nebraska football online roster on Wednesday.

There’s a group of potentially explosive receivers who have yet to contribute on the field. Janiran Bonner, Ty Hahn, Barron Miles Jr., Roman Mangini, Taveon Thompson, Elliott Brown, Shawn Hardy II, Alex Bullock and Victor Jones Jr. are all still on the roster. Bonner, Miles, Mangini, Hardy and Jones are all scholarship receivers who did not play at all last season. Miles, from Chandler, Arizona, hasn’t played in three seasons. Hardy hasn’t played in two seasons but was named Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2021. Hahn, Thompson, Brown and Bullock are all in-state walk-ons. None of them lined up at receiver in 2022 either.

Nebraska gained two portal arrivals in former Baylor receiver Josh Fleeks and former Virginia receiver Billy Kemp. This next season will be Fleeks’ sixth in college football. He had at least 14 catches in his first three seasons but registered just seven catches in 2021 and two last season. He was originally recruited to Baylor by head coach Matt Rhule, who is once again giving him a chance to shine. Kemp arrives for a final year of eligibility, already ranking fourth on Virginia’s all-time receptions list. Injuries limited Kemp’s production last season but he caught 74 and 67 passes, respectively, the two seasons before. He’s undersized compared to most Big Ten receivers but played outside and inside in the ACC. Rhule’s excited about his potential in the return game, as well as his leadership to younger receivers. Wide receivers coach Garret McGuire mentioned that leadership last week.

“He’s a freaking worker,” McGuire said of Kemp. “He’s setting the standard of the room and how we want to work. Whether that’s mat drills, doing the extra stuff on the Juggs.

“But that’s the whole group, seriously. That’s the ethos of that group right now. It’s their work ethic, I’ve been so impressed with that.”

The Huskers also secured standout high school receivers, including homegrown prospect Malachi Coleman. He had two touchdown catches in the Polynesian Bowl and will arrive at Nebraska as one of the most gifted pure athletes in the room. Demetrius Bell, Jaidyn Doss and Jeremiah Charles, three athletic receiving prospects signed with Nebraska. It’s unclear if they’ll contribute right away, considering their developmental futures. Then there are multi-sport standouts Jaylen Lloyd and Brice Turner. Both will compete in track and football at Nebraska. Rhule likes receivers with explosiveness and speed, which Lloyd and Turner both certainly have.

Of course, Rhule made the decision to bring back Garcia-Castaneda and Zavier Betts. Both previously left the football program for different reasons. Garcia-Castaneda entered the transfer portal after Scott Frost was fired and his touches diminished. Betts left the program last March and did not appear on the roster at all in 2022. He had 32 catches for over 400 yards with three touchdowns in two seasons at Nebraska. In 2021 he broke 100 rushing yards on just three attempts, showing his explosive athleticism. Rhule talked with colleague Jeff Nixon and eventually got in touch with the former Bellevue West standout.

“I like who he is as a guy, I’m rooting for him, I’m anxious to see him get back on the football field and do well in the classroom,” Rhule said of Betts. “So, I’m anxious not just to give him a chance but to be an advocate for him.”

In all likelihood, this position will dwindle further. There are currently 16 scholarship receivers on roster. Some may elect to transfer out if they don’t see contributing roles in offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s system. It’s worth noting Satterfield likes the group. He’d like to build depth, not only in sheer numbers but in diversity of receiver skillsets and body types.

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