JD Spielman needs to set the tone on and off the field for fellow receivers
One thing that no college football prognosticator can properly quantify is leadership. It can be the difference between winning and losing when all things are equal between two teams. Nebraska does have a leader on each side of the ball that immediately stands out in quarterback Adrian Martinez and inside linebacker Mohamed Barry. However, these two need help to not only keep the momentum going when everything's clicking, but also pick teammates up when they're down.
Here are five candidates to join their ranks by the time spring football comes to a close in less than two weeks and heading into summer:
JD Spielman, WR
Stanley Morgan Jr. didn't only take his offensive output with him when he left Nebraska. For as good as the 2019 wide receiver corps may be, it does need some guidance. That begins with the most dynamic returning receiver, Spielman. He may have finished last season with 186 fewer yards than Morgan, but he wound up with eight touchdowns to Morgan's seven.
Now an upperclassman, Spielman's job isn't only to aim for the top of the stat sheet. He also must help mold a crew that boasts Swiss Army knife Wan'Dale Robinson, let alone those who'll be coming in the fall. Players like Mike Williams, Andre Hunt, Kade Warner, and others may contribute to the Huskers' fortunes, but Spielman must set the tone for them early and be an example to follow.
Wan'Dale Robinson, DUCK-R
While a newbie at the collegiate level, Robinson has the ability to lead by action much in the same way running back Maurice Washington did as a true freshman. Washington was obviously wiry and underweight going up against Big Ten defenses, but he happily took every lick and did what he could do contribute on every play. Robinson has the benefit of being a threat in a multitude of ways. In fact, he opens up the offense for other players to excel as well.
He can be the reason Spielman breaks free for a wide-open catch and score, Washington tears off a long run or Martinez scampers for six, even as a decoy. Robinson doesn’t necessarily have to be a vocal guy out of the gate to have an impact either. Washington's actions and swagger did his talking for him, which is exactly what No. 1 can do when he takes the field versus South Alabama and beyond.
Matt Farniok/Boe Wilson/Brenden Jaimes, OL
Any one of these three would make an excellent leader and this is an offensive line that has talent, but needs both defined depth plus a distinct voice or two. Nebraska loses the most efficient lineman when it came to guiding 2018 scoring drives in Tanner Farmer. However, Wilson was second in this respect while Farniok and Jaimes did their part on more than one occasion. As a lineman capable of playing both inside and outside, Farniok seems like the ideal candidate.
Wilson's play speaks for itself with a bullying attitude in the trenches. Jaimes could move on to the NFL should two more years under offensive line coach Greg Austin's tutelage help him to continue to improve and hone his skills. A strong voice up front to aid skill players like Martinez (read: Spielman, Robinson, etc.) could be the aforementioned difference in winning the Big Ten West or not when crunch time comes.
Darrion Daniels, NT
Nebraska hit the jackpot when they talked Daniels into playing his final year in a cream helmet accented with a scarlet "N." Things may not have worked out as well as he would have hoped at Oklahoma State, but he was a vocal member of the locker room and his teammates took notice. That has carried over since joining his baby brother Damion in Lincoln. Darrion can not only make his presence up front but he can help set a foundation for the future by taking young guns under his wing helping new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti get the most out of this group.
In Daniels, the Huskers have a player that truly demands a double-team up front. This is perhaps the first time Big Red fans have been able to say that since 2009 when Ndamukong Suh was wreaking havoc. No one's expecting No. 79 to start racking up Heisman votes, but defensive coordinator Erik Chinander doesn't need that. All he needs are open lanes to give his defensive ends and linebackers the opportunity to make some plays at and behind the line of scrimmage. Daniels should be effective in that role while jawing with the opposition along the way.
Lamar Jackson, CB
A new father, Jackson's had his eye on an NFL career for quite some time now. If he wants to make a firm declaration, he needs a phenomenal senior season opposite Dicaprio Bootle. Now that Jackson is playing with the physicality Scott Frost and the coaching staff knew he was capable of tapping into, whether he can consistently get up in the opposition’s grill both literally and metaphorically will determine his fate. Bootle’s already a lockdown defender and could scribble his name in the record books again with a season that mirrors 2018. If Jackson is able to step up and form a true cornerback tag team with Bootle that torments Big Ten quarterbacks, the Huskers' secondary should see a solid jump after finishing 78th nationally against the pass last season.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), on Facebook, and enjoy the Eight Laces podcast. To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.