Not that long ago, to be a wide receiver at Nebraska was to be a glorified blocking dummy. That element of the game is still crucial to the Cornhuskers’ offensive success, but much as the quarterback position has dynamically changed in Lincoln, so have the wideouts’ roles. Thanks to the introduction of Scott Frost’s offense, wide receivers, and tight ends, are ratcheting up production and that only looks to increase in 2019.
Prior to last season, Nebraska had never been able to claim a 1,000-yard receiver. There was a point last year where it appeared the stars might align for the Huskers to claim two. Stanley Morgan Jr. ended the 127-year-long drought by posting 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. JD Spielman had an impressive year of his own with 818 yards and bested Morgan’s scoring total by one.
The duo was clearly quarterback Adrian Martinez' favorite targets as the next four leading pass-catchers combined for 291 receiving yards. However, their impact also was felt by way of the aforementioned blocking. Both Mike Williams and Kade Warner made a living assisting both the running and passing games by effectively taking defenders out of a play.
Then-sophomore Tyjon Lindsey requested a transfer during the first week of October and is now a member of the Oregon State Beavers joining fellow former Husker QB Tristan Gebbia.
At tight end, Jack Stoll showed he could be efficient, but was still getting used to Frost’s offense resulting in his effectiveness being streaky. His successful snags were impressive as he ended the season with 245 yards and three touchdowns.
Key Departures: Stanley Morgan Jr. (70 rec., 1,004 yds., 7 TDs)
Key Returners for 2019: WRs JD Spielman (Jr.), Kade Warner (So.), Jaevon McQuitty (So.), Mike Williams (Sr.); TEs Jack Stoll (Jr.), Austin Allen (So.), Kurt Rafdal (So.)
Frost had fun dialing up plays for Morgan and Spielman, but the chessboard gets an added dimension with incoming freshmen Wandale Robinson, Jamie Nance, Darien Chase, and Demariyon Houston.
With Morgan’s departure, Spielman is the obvious leader of the pack. The loss of Nebraska’s most productive receiver can be somewhat mitigated with a more diverse way of picking up yardage. Not only will Husker fans see players like Nance, Chase, and Houston fighting for playing time, but Robinson appears poised to claim the starting job at Nebraska’s DUCK-R spot. Frost looks to use players at this position — Robinson specifically — as he did Kansas City Chief De’Anthony Thomas during their time at Oregon.
As it stands, Spielman is probably the best bet for a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, but overall yards generated by wideouts probably sees a spike.
At tight end, Stoll should be ready to pick up where he left off. It’ll be interesting to see if he has a jump in production like Houston Texan tight end Jordan Akins did during his time under Frost at UCF. In 2016, Akins had 35 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns as the Knights’ third-leading receiver. In 2017, tight ends coach Sean Beckton — who holds the same position at Nebraska — helped him increase those numbers to 515 yards and four touchdown grabs on three fewer catches.
Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal — standing 6-8 and 6-7, respectively — offer massive red-zone targets that can help provide a number of mismatches. Nebraska could go with a more physical three tight-end front with bigger running backs or use the same trio with speedsters such as Spielman or Robinson to create migraine-inducing formations for defensive coordinators. Look for in-state signee Chris Hickman to take full advantage of a redshirt year to learn the ropes.
Position Grades for 2019: A- (Wide Receiver); B (Tight Ends)
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.