There are a few topics so far during the Mike Riley era that are always hotly debated. Do the Huskers run the ball enough? Should Nebraska have ever hired a full-time special teams coach? Why does the team only recruit wide receivers?
OK, that last question is an exaggeration but it is a sentiment echoed by many in Husker Nation. Yes, sometimes it seems as if Nebraska only recruits wideouts, but I would challenge that perception by telling you that wide receiver is a “glamour” position that gets a lot of attention and the kids playing the position are more likely to talk to the media and be active on social media.
The other part of the equation creating the perception of Nebraska focusing too heavily on that position is the fact that Nebraska has missed its target number of players signed at that spot the last two recruiting cycles.
Think back to the ancient history of the 2016 recruiting class. Nebraska signed JD Spielman and Derrion Grim. Spielman is expected to contribute this season, but Grim left the program before the season started last year.
You may also remember the name Desmond Fitzpatrick. The big-bodied wideout (6-2, 189) was a long time Nebraska “silent commit” and Nebraska was so comfortable with what he was saying behind the scenes that they did not pursue other receivers very hard. One of those players Nebraska could have landed was local standout C.J. Johnson from Bellevue West, who looks to be a fine player at Wyoming. Fitzpatrick signed with Louisville in a surprise and is expected to have a breakout year catching passes from the reigning Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson.
Last recruiting cycle there were high hopes for what the crop of pass-catchers would bring. Nebraska was able to do some impressive work landing a trio of 4-stars in Tyjon Lindsey, Jaevon McQuitty and Keyshawn Johnson Jr. Lindsey was one of the crown jewels of the 2017 class and a major win on the trail after Nebraska flipped him from Ohio State.
Johnson, the vocal leader of that class, is currently taking a leave of absence from the team to mature. The door is open for his return and the updates per social media seem to be positive. McQuitty has had a tough time getting going but it’s not necessarily his fault. A shoulder injury kept him out of contact in spring ball and a recent knee injury in fall practice will cause him to miss the season.
There was a fourth receiver committed to Nebraska for a short time. Jamire Calvin’s recruitment was one of the strangest ones we’ve seen in a long time. After not choosing Nebraska at the U.S. Army All-American Game, then committing to Nebraska in January only to flip to Washington State in the end, Calvin left a lot of people confused.
Joseph Lewis is the other player I’d count as a “miss” for Nebraska in 2017 but it tells you something about the work Keith Williams has done if I can call the former No. 1 wide receiver in the nation a miss. Lewis visited Nebraska and loved it but in the end the allure of playing close to home for USC won out.
I would not take all of this to mean that Keith Williams can’t deliver, but rather a lesson in the numbers game. Nebraska got itself in a pickle in 2016 by not having enough irons in the fire so to speak. In 2017, they had four solid commits before one of them shocked everyone.
Nebraska is on the right path in the 2018 cycle having learned from the lessons of the previous two seasons. Right now they are sitting at three 4-star wide receivers committed with Manny Allen, Cameron Brown and Joshua Moore on board. Do not be surprised if they push to sign five players at that position this season, so you will see some big names on campus for official visits.
You’ll hear a lot about those players but it doesn’t mean that is the only position Nebraska recruits. It just means that they can’t miss again.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.