Next week, the 10 Most Intriguing Huskers series returns for its fourth year. But first, I wanted to revisit the lists we’ve had in the past.
The 2018 Class featured the following 10 Huskers (in order from 10th to first): Damion Daniels. Dicaprio Bootle, Alex Davis, Michael Decker, Will Honas, Mike Williams, Lamar Jackson, Greg Bell, Tyjon Lindsey, Adrian Martinez.
The 2019 Class (same ordering): Mike Williams, Jack Stoll, Cam Taylor-Britt, JoJo Domann, Dedrick Mills, Collin Miller, Cameron Jurgens, Adrian Martinez, Darrion Daniels, Wan’Dale Robinson.
And the 2020 Class: Chase Contreraz, Garrett Nelson, Chris Hickman, Ty Robinson, Dedrick Mills, Matt Farniok, Collin Miller, Cam Taylor-Britt, Omar Manning, Adrian Martinez.
(The No. 1 each year has links to each of the other nine, so they’re the only ones linked above.)
The prompt has always been “most intriguing” rather than best. This isn’t a projection of who will simply be Nebraska’s 10 strongest performers throughout the year, but rather a look at which players could swing the season if a few things happen.
Looking at those lists above, a couple of things will land a guy in the group. A wide variance between your ceiling and your floor, and the wide-ranging impact that could have on the team depending on which end of that spectrum you’re closer to will definitely get you onto the list.
A player with previously determined potential who has yet to live up to that potential has been on there often.
We’ve had newcomers as well as veteran players.
In 2018, three of the 10 on the list left the team before the year ended and a fourth saw his season ended by injury. That was a rough year. And it probably goes to show how volatile projecting this Husker team was in the early stages of Scott Frost’s rebuild. It was hard to know who was going to be where and how old was going to blend with new.
Lindsey is a big “what if” in Lincoln. He was a major Mike Riley recruit who seemed like he’d be a nice fit in Frost’s offense, but things just never meshed. Lindsey transferred mid-year.
A few from that 2018 group panned out, though. Martinez was the only quarterback selected from a competition that wasn’t assuredly won at that point. Bootle was on the 2018 list, too. Here’s what was written about him then:
Chinander singled out Bootle a handful of times during the spring when talking about guys playing well. Fisher said Bootle has been near the top of his production chart for most of the spring. It doesn’t help those in the media who are evaluating the secondary that he didn’t play in the spring game, we didn’t get to see any kind of growth that has supposedly been made, but Bootle may very well end up being one of the top two corners once the season begins.
At that point in his career, Bootle wasn’t a regular starter. He’d played in each game in 2017 as a redshirt freshman, but his first start came at safety. When the coaching staff changed over, Nebraska was immediately enamored with Bootle’s skillset. That 2018 season, Bootle led the Big Ten in passes defended.
He improved his weaknesses and established a reputation as a guy quarterbacks didn’t want to make a habit of testing.
In 2019, Collin Miller landed on the list:
When Miller first made the move, Ruud said he had the kind of natural explosion you look for at the inside spot. Not many guys can play both inside and outside, and it’s a testament to Miller’s football smarts and work ethic that he’s even in this position. … Middle backer in this defense is the guy who goes and makes plays. We saw a few glimpses of Miller’s ability to do that last season and if he can break through this time around, the Blackshirts would be in pretty good shape.
The defense took a step with Miller rotating as a third “starter” among two positions. The rotation of Mo Barry, Will Honas, and Collin Miller was a productive one and Miller had a nice season. A year prior, he’d put up 17 tackles, with a team-high eight on special teams. He showed a nose for the football there. And with Nebraska looking to find more than just a replacement starter at inside linebacker, it needed guys who’d shown promise to turn into more.
Miller did that. In 2019, he was perhaps Nebraska’s steadiest inside linebacker, parlaying that into a starter gig the following year (and another spot on this list). He had five tackles for loss and a sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles—a pretty good season. You wish he was able to finish out his career the proper way.
There have been five wide receivers to make the list in three years and only Wan’Dale Robinson among them has produced much value. Omar Manning, then a first-year Husker wideout by way of junior college, was No. 2 in 2020. How he might have changed the offense if he was on the field consistently was one of the biggest questions from last season.
On Manning, I wrote:
Sometimes the head coach can’t help himself and the good vibes go a little too far and the production doesn’t match. It is important to remember Manning is having to make the transition from junior college defensive schemes to Big Ten defensive schemes. … Technically speaking, it’s not “when” Manning produces yet, it’s still “if.” If Nebraska gets the guy it thinks it’s getting and if it gets that guy right away, Manning single-handedly changes the offense.
Perhaps too much was expected of the wideout in his first year. Of course, most junior college players are added with some degree of optimism they can be a plug-and-play kind of player, but the expectations of Manning were through the roof.
Some might say Nebraska drummed up excitement over what he could be with the way it described what he was, but no matter how glowing he was, Frost was simply stating facts in several instances. Manning, as we saw this spring, is a receiver unlike any other on the Husker roster. And Frost hasn’t coached a player with his measurables before. The free year helps tremendously here, Manning gets a virtual do-over to his first year with the Huskers.
He’ll probably show up on this year’s list again, too.
This year’s group will break from the tradition of five offensive and five defensive players. The two sides of the ball won’t be balanced in the ranking, which is probably necessary considering one side projects as a significantly stronger group with significantly fewer questions approaching the new year.
Hopefully these have been useful. Hopefully they’ve held up well in the readers’ eyes. Hopefully this year’s grouping features a few more hits.