So, long story short, we’re scoring position groups this week for Nebraska. Based off 2018 performance, returning production and incoming talent, we’re basically power ranking Nebraska’s roster heading into the 2019 season. Each group will be getting a score on a 10-point scale.
Next up is…
Returning: senior Mike Williams, senior Jaron Woodyard, senior Conor Young, junior JD Spielman, junior Todd Honas, junior Ty Chaffin, sophomore Jaevon McQuitty, sophomore Kade Warner, sophomore Chad Alioth Jr., sophomore Christian Banker, sophomore Brandon Robbins, sophomore Andrew Thurman, redshirt freshman Andre Hunt, redshirt freshman Justin Holm, redshirt freshman Bennett Folkers, redshirt freshman Wyatt Liewer
Incoming: freshman Darien Chase, freshman Jamie Nance
Returning production: 50.6 percent of targets, 54.9 percent of catches, 49.2 percent of yards, 53.3 percent of touchdowns
|Stanley Morgan Jr.||12||111||70||1004||7|
Stanley Morgan Jr. will leave Nebraska with the following accolades attached to his name:
- All-time leader in career receiving yardage (2,747)
- All-time leader in career receptions (189)
- All-time leader in consecutive games with a catch (38)
- Tied for second all-time in career touchdowns (22)
- Fourth all-time in 100-yard receiving games (seven)
- Most receiving yards in a single season (986 in 2017, then 1,004 in 2018)
In every sense, Morgan was a foundational receiver. He came back for his senior season to end his career “the right way,” was constantly praised by the coaching staff for his leadership on the field and in the locker room and was named a team captain.
He was easily the best perimeter blocker on the team and the only thing anyone could nitpick about his game — drops — became a virtual non-factor his final season. In 2017, Morgan had a catch rate of 56 percent. That number jumped to 63.1 percent this season. (Obviously, catch rate isn’t just catches-versus-drops on targets, there are other variables but drops factor in.)
You don’t just lose that and keep on keeping on.
Especially when Nebraska doesn’t exactly have a clear-cut replacement for Morgan. Not that soon-to-be junior JD Spielman can’t replace the production — Spielman had 818 yards in 10 games and eight touchdowns to Morgan’s seven — but Spielman doesn’t perfectly fit into Morgan’s shoes.
He’s is a 5-foot-9 speedster who picks you apart by finding the holes in zones. Morgan is a 6-foot-1 over-the-top threat you just throw the ball up for. Spielman is great at what he does (if he stays as long as Morgan, Morgan’s records will be his easily) and I’m not so sure you want to try and make him do anything different.
The perceived heir apparent was Jaevon McQuitty, who matches up to Morgan from a physical standpoint almost as well as anyone on the roster. But an injury cost him all of 2017 and inconsistencies kept him off the field for the vast majority of 2018. McQuitty will be a third-year sophomore with five games of experience and 0 career targets.
Maybe Kade Warner becomes the Huskers’ outside threat.
As Nebraska went through the season, it was in search of a firm No. 3 receiver next to Morgan and Spielman. Mike Williams was supposed to be that guy.
He was early then fell from the rotation as his perimeter blocking sagged. He forced his way back in late with better edge blocking and finished the season with 122 yards on 12 catches and an 80 percent catch rate. Williams prides himself on being one of the fastest players on the team. Pound-for-pound, he might be one of the strongest, too. Maybe another offseason in the system sets him up for a strong 2019, but that’s not really something you can confidently rely on after 12 catches in 2018.
When it wasn’t Williams, the staff turned to Andre Hunt, until an injury set him back.
At that point, the staff tested out Bryan Reimers who played more out than in but made plays in limited time on the field (nine targets, six catches, 52 yards).
The staff kept coming back to Warner, though. At 6-foot-1 with a strong frame, sound blocking instincts and sure hands, he might be the best bet Nebraska currently has.
Warner’s best play on the season came in the clutch, when the Huskers needed a two-point conversion to tie the game late against Iowa and Warner reversed field and found the open spot in the back of the end zone. He got blasted in the air, managed to get a foot down and hang on to the ball.
If we’re talking about rights for first shot at Morgan’s spot, Warner feels pretty deserving.
Then there’s the elephant in the room. What if Spielman tests NFL Draft waters? He’s eligible to submit his name this offseason and most expect him to at least explore the possibility. With his father being an NFL GM, you can be certain Spielman will get the unfiltered truth when it comes to his status as a draft prospect. If he’s a fourth-round grade, is that enough to pull him out?
Spielman has seldom spoken to the media in his two season’s in the spotlight, so to say we know what truly drives him would be stretching it. Maybe he doesn’t want to go. Maybe he loves it in Lincoln with wideout coach Troy Walters. Maybe this is much to make of nothing.
If he stays, Nebraska has a go-to receiver and a guy who quarterback Adrian Martinez had chemistry with right from the word, “Go.” If he leaves, Nebraska’s in serious trouble. But let’s cross that bridge when we get there.
Chase is a 6-foot-1, 175-pound, 4-star athlete out of Washington. Maybe he’s the guy who fills Morgan’s role in the future but if this season was any indication, it might be hard for receivers to come in right away and contribute out of the gates.
Nance, a 6-foot, 160-pound newly-minted-4-star from Oklahoma, itching to get in the weight room with Zach Duval but he plans to be in Lincoln in January and enroll early and he’s got some serious speed to burn.
The reality in the wideout room is this: 77 percent of 2018 receiver targets, 86 percent of the receiver yardage, and 100 percent of the receiver touchdowns came from two guys. Only two wideouts had more than 25 targets on the season. One of those two is gone and Nebraska needs someone else to step up.
A solidified third receiver was needed last year to compliment Morgan and Spielman (and give them a chance to rest). Nebraska still needs that. Except it now needs a solidified No. 2 as well. The offseason is where that stuff happens — guys take jumps and earn new roles — but I’ve typed the word “maybe” too many times in this piece.
Justification: Pretty much the same as the running back spot. There’s a clear-cut No. 1 option, I like the talent behind that No. 1, but there are roles that need filling and I don’t know how the pieces will look together yet.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.