In the last five years, no one in the Big Ten has recruited bigger offensive linemen than Nebraska.
Now that I have your attention. . . The average offensive line recruit to come out of high school and sign with a Power Five program has largely (no pun intended) stayed the same size. In 2017, 2018, and 2020, they stood 76.9 inches tall—a hair under 6-foot-5. In 2019, 76.8. In 2021, 77.1.
Weight—which wildly varies depending on where you’re pulling it from and is thus probably rather unreliable for these purposes—has pretty much stayed the same too. The average incoming scholarship freshman at a P5 program has hovered right around 292 pounds.
As some will likely expect, offensive line recruits under Mike Riley were smaller than average. In the 2015, 2016, and 2017 cycles, Husker linemen were under both in height and weight. (Frost’s guys have been two inches taller on average than Riley’s, a rather significant gap.)
Of course the first-year offensive lineman at a major college football program looks nothing like what the fifth-year offensive lineman does, particularly in a league like the Big Ten. Guys get into strength programs and pack on the size. Guys don’t normally sprout up in height, but putting on 40 or 50 pounds in a couple years isn’t uncommon.
To go from high school eating to major college football eating, now that’s an upgrade. Bryce Benhart, for example, came in listed at just under 290 pounds when he enrolled at Nebraska, according to his 247 measurements. Nebraska’s online roster—updated for the new year—lists Benhart at 330.
Unless you’re the Ohio States and Alabamas of the recruiting world, offensive line recruiting is finding a bunch of clay that loosely resembles what you want. Coaches win and die by how well they mold.
As Husker coach Scott Frost enters into his fourth season with the program, many are expecting progress to start showing on the field and not just behind closed doors. That’s fair, but one of the ways us outsiders can see real progress in the present is by looking at what has gone on with this Nebraska offensive line since Frost took over.
Frost and line coach Greg Austin have a profile that linemen preferably match: huge, athletic. Interestingly enough, in the last three recruiting cycles, Nebraska’s linemen have been some of the lightest on average of any Big Ten team.
Again, unreliable, but here’s the list: Maryland (310.3), Penn State (305.7), Ohio State (302.5), Minnesota (301.8), Indiana (290.8), Iowa (290.0), Michigan State (289.8), Michigan (288.6), Wisconsin (285.5), Illinois (285.0), Nebraska (283.5), Purdue (282.3), Northwestern (282.2), Rutgers (279.7). The three-year average for all Power Five programs is 292.2
A working theory: the better athletes playing on the offensive line who are going to catch Frost’s eye are usually the lighter guys with the kind of frame you can build on. Thinking of Teddy Prochazka. Nebraska appears fine bringing those kinds of dudes in because it believes in what strength coach Zach Duval can do in the offseason.
Nebraska has made gains on both sides of the line of scrimmage because of Duval’s work.
But the frame is super important. In the last five years, the average Nebraska offensive lineman signee has stood 78.1 inches tall, or just over 6-foot-6. That’s the tallest average among Big Ten programs.
It’s really noticeable in the last three cycles where Frost and Co. have been able to plan and strategize with the proper amount of time. Every single o-line guy they’ve signed in the last three cycles has been 6-foot-6 or taller. Average height has been 78.8 inches tall, again the biggest in the Big Ten.
The list: Nebraska (78.8), Minnesota (78.3), Wisconsin (78.0), Ohio State (77.5), Michigan (77.2), Michigan State (77.1), Purdue (77.1), Iowa (77.0), Penn State (76.9), Illinois (76.9), Maryland (76.9), Indiana (76.7), Northwestern (76.6), Rutgers (76.1). The three-year average for all P5 programs is 76.9.
(Not included in this exercise are guys who were recruited to play one position and then moved to another; for Nebraska that would exclude Cameron Jurgens and Ethan Piper. From a research-gathering standpoint, that was cleaner. If those two were included, Nebraska would still be at the top of the league.)
This recent 2021 crop is the clearest indicator of what Frost and Austin want. Nebraska signed three linemen who stood 6-foot-9, 6-foot-8, and 6-foot-6. Branson Yager and Henry Lutovsky are mountains of young men with athletic ability.
Frost’s scheme will pull anyone at anytime, and with Nebraska’s proclivity for swings and screens, the blockers up front need to be able to move.
The line group Nebraska has now is promising enough to excite Frost. “If there’s one group that I think is probably going to make the biggest jump this offseason on the offense, it’s that group,” he said following National Signing Day earlier this month.
That feeling is undoubtedly tied to the sheer size NU has in the trenches now.
“We’re in a league with big guys and I think right when our staff got here we didn’t think we were big enough to hold up against some of the huge people we were playing every week, so we made a real effort to get those guys,” Frost said last December. “But we can’t just take big guys either. These three (2021) kids are really good athletes and with training I think they can be exceptional players.”
Of Prochazka, Frost said “somebody with that kind of size and athletic ability has a ton of potential.”
Of Yager, Frost said “he’s a huge human being, too, but also really good athlete.”
Of Lutovsky, Frost said “he moves really well for his size.”
Heading into Riley’s final season in charge, the scholarship players in Nebraska’s offensive line room were 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds on average with 1.9 years of experience. Five years later, Nebraska’s offensive line is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier with nearly the exact same average experience (the difference goes to the thousandth decimal point).
There’s been a concerted effort. A lot of that size is still young, though. Frost will ultimately be judged by what his offense can do with the linemen he recruits and how many of them he can propel to the NFL, not necessarily by how large the average signee was under his tenure.
Development is the other half of the battle.
But the Nebraska teams Frost knew to be great were built around the pipeline. He knows how important that group is. In this modern Big Ten, Frost and Austin have been building a wall. Construction’s going well.
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.