With the 2021 campaign in the books and an offseason full of recruiting and transfer portal-ing underway, it’s as good a time as any to look at where each of Nebraska’s position groups sit heading into spring ball.
We’ll be breaking down this series into nine position groups—receivers, tight ends, running backs, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, specialists and, of course, quarterbacks—and giving them a 1-10 score, with 1 meaning the group isn’t looking too good and 10 meaning it’s in great shape and you, the Husker fan, should be excited.
We’ll start with receivers. First, let’s take a look at who the position group is losing, returning and adding from the 2022 recruiting class and transfer portal.
Losing: Samori Touré, Levi Falck
Returning (with how many years they’ve been in the program): Omar Manning (3rd year), Zavier Betts (3rd year), Wyatt Liewer (5th year), Alante Brown (3rd year), Will Nixon (3rd year), Latrell Neville (2nd year), Shawn Hardy II (2nd year), Kamonte Grimes (2nd year)
Incoming: Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (1st year, New Mexico State transfer), Victor Jones (1st year), Decoldest Crawford (1st year)
Notable walk-ons returning: Oliver Martin (3rd year), Chancellor Brewington (2nd year), Brody Belt (5th year)
Nebraska’s skill players accounted for a total of 215 catches, 3,197 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Touré and Falck caught a combined 64 passes, or 29% of all the catches. They also amassed 1,121 receiving yards, or 39% of the overall amount, and six touchdowns, 42% of all the receiving scores.
With Touré gone, Nebraska will need to find a new alpha. New receivers coach Mickey Joseph, hired away from LSU in early December, has two good ones to start with in Manning and Betts. Both wideouts came to Lincoln as highly-rated recruits—each were four-star prospects while the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Manning was the top-rated junior college receiver in the nation—but neither have had the success they’ve wanted yet.
After playing in just one game in 2020 and not recording a catch, Manning saw more playing time and targets in 2021 with 26 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-2, 200-pound Betts saw inconsistent playing time last season while finishing with 20 catches for 286 yards and took an option pitch for an 83-yard touchdown run against Northwestern.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 3, 2021
The addition of Joseph should help Manning and Betts reach their potentials as down-field threats in Nebraska’s new Mark Whipple-guided offense. If the Huskers can get both on the field at the same time, that can put stress on defenses and possibly create more opportunities for others. Having two big bodies like Manning and Betts on the outside who command attention from safeties should help lighten tackle boxes for the run game—which makes life easier on a rebuilding offensive line—and create more opportunities in the middle of the field for tight ends Travis Vokolek and Thomas Fidone II.
Of course, for all that to become a reality, Nebraska needs to improve its o-line and settle on a quarterback who’s able to complete those kind of passes down the field. Nebraska may already have that quarterback on the roster in Logan Smothers or Heinrich Haarberg. But head coach Scott Frost is looking for competition at that position and is actively searching for an experienced quarterback in the transfer portal. Former Florida State quarterback Chubba Purdy announced on Twitter that he received an offer from Nebraska.
Thankful to have received an offer from The University of Nebraska! pic.twitter.com/qRxMN3PVd7
— Chubba Purdy (@chubbapurdy) December 28, 2021
A quarterback-centered story in this series will run at a later date.
A fresh set of eyes and new voice in the room could benefit other young and intriguing Husker wideouts, not just Manning and Betts. Brown is another receiver who seemed like he was going to be the guy in the slot following the departure of Wan’Dale Robinson after the 2020 season, but like nearly everyone else in the wideout room, he saw sporadic playing time and hauled in just three catches for 30 yards.
You can throw in a group of wideouts from the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes who could start to contribute next season, too, including Nixon, Neville, Hardy and Grimes. Hardy, a 6-3, 190-pounder from Georgia, earned offensive scout team player of the year honors at the Huskers’ postseason awards banquet.
Brewington is an interesting piece as well. Undersized for a traditional tight end at 6-3, 185, he’s someone who was still able to carve out a role as a bone-crushing blocker in Nebraska’s short-yardage and goal-line packages. Could he evolve into more of a traditional receiver at Nebraska? He spent four seasons as a wideout at FCS Northern Arizona prior to landing in Lincoln.
Come for the Zavier Betts nickname, the o-line conversation, and the Samori Touré stats. Stay for the montage of Chancellor Brewington blocks.
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) October 4, 2021
Of the three newcomers to the receivers room, one has already grabbed the attention of the fanbase in Crawford, who is viewed as a huge recruiting win in Louisiana by Joseph. Crawford, a three-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, was an LSU commit while Joseph was still in Baton Rouge, but flipped to Nebraska after Joseph signed on to coach for the Huskers. Crawford has yet to visit Lincoln, which speaks to the relationship the young pass catcher has with Joseph.
While it remains to be seen if Crawford will be able to develop enough to see the field as a true freshman in the Big Ten, Garcia-Castaneda already has experience under his belt playing college football. After becoming a 1,000-yard receiver in his first season of college football at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, Garcia-Castaneda transferred to New Mexico State where he caught 37 passes for 578 yards and four touchdowns last season
After he entered his name in the transfer portal, the 6-foot, 185-pound Garcia-Castaneda had multiple Power Five programs after him. The Huskers won that recruiting battle over others like Utah, Iowa State and, maybe most importantly around these parts, Big Ten West foe Minnesota.
So, what score will the receivers room get? The loss of Touré hurts. He was a true deep threat and a transfer-portal success story. Falck was a possession receiver who was steady, but ultimately didn’t scare defenses like Touré could. There are players in the room who could develop into the kind of receiver that scares defenses—Manning and Betts—but until they show it consistently in their careers, it’s hard to label them as such.
Adding a teacher with instant credibility like Joseph to the mix should get not only Nebraska’s receivers, but the fan base, all sorts of excited. But until they prove it on the field, it’s just potential right now. And because of that, the Huskers’ receiving room gets a 6/10.