Scott Frost's newest crop of Cornhuskers is full of offensive talent but a little light on the other side of the ball
Scott Frost and his staff turned in their first full recruiting class as members of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program and the results may give some fans reason to celebrate, be frustrated or perhaps a bit of both. Let’s take a moment to run down the haul brought in following 2018’s 4-8 campaign to see at which positions Nebraska excelled and which ones the Huskers fell short.
When Luke McCaffrey committed to Nebraska, many fans questioned whether or not he would remain a quarterback — some still do. An incredible athlete like father Ed, he could still likely make a name for himself as a wide receiver in Frost’s offense. However, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco put that idea to bed. The Lincoln Journal-Star featured a December 2018 piece in which Verudzco said, "We’re fired up and really excited about Luke playing quarterback for us here. Luke’s going to play quarterback for us and he’s going to be a damn good one." Nebraska’s at a point where the quarterback depth chart is getting better, but it still has a significant level of concern if Adrian Martinez goes down. However, McCaffrey is an important piece in bridging the gap.
Running back: A
The Huskers locked down a physical presence to immediately replace Devine Ozigbo in junior college transfer and former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Dedrick Mills. They also picked up two excellent athletes to develop for the future in Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins.
Wide receiver/tight end: A+
Defining Wandale Robinson is somewhat difficult as he’ll be used at the DUCK-R position which is a running back/wide receiver hybrid. However, taking a gamble that he’ll snag a few more catches than spend time toting the rock, he’ll default to the wideout position for this evaluation. The Big Red had to take into account the departure of Stanley Morgan Jr. and they delivered. Picking up Jamie Nance, Darien Chase, and former Texas commitment Demariyon Houston on National Signing Day is huge for arguably the most talented unit on the team. Nance also has the opportunity to battle for the starting X receiver position this spring due to his enrolling early. This is easily the best wide receiver class Nebraska has had in a long time. Another Nebraska prospect — and one of the best — was brought in for the tight end spot with Omaha Burke’s Chris Hickman.
Offensive line: A-
Greg Austin needed offensive tackles in this class in order to continue his efforts to restore the pipeline to its former glory. He easily reached that goal. Bryce Benhart, one of the class’ crown jewels, may be ready to start this fall if the situation calls for it. The rest of the talent is developmental but have immense frames to build on. Michael Lynn, Matthew Anderson, and Jimmy Fritzsche provide a tantalizing foundation for the future. They average out to a height of almost 6-foot-6 and a weight of 260 pounds. Those are projects strength and condition coach Zach Duval must love.
Defensive line: C-
Another one of the biggest gets in this class is defensive end Ty Robinson. However, unlike Bryce Benhart, his potential to play more than the allowed four games to remain eligible for a redshirt — let alone start — is up in the air. He should be a difference-maker in short order, however. In-state prospect Garrett Nelson and Iowa native Mosai Newsom fit more into 3-4 linebacker roles rather than what the Blackshirts need up front. Ethan Piper, another Cornhusker State commit, has the frame to eventually move inside to nose tackle, but that’ll take time. Jamin Graham has the tools necessary to be an effective pass rusher, but he’s very much a work in progress physically. The lack of defensive linemen capable of disrupting the edge in this class is cause for concern. Seeing Nebraska hit the transfer portal for defensive needs up front seems like an inevitability.
Nebraska locked down its best in-state talent in Omaha Burke’s Nick Henrich and Tennessee native Jackson Hannah looks to be a sleeper that could produce early. The best part about the latter is that he’s extremely versatile with the ability to play both inside and outside. Nebraska did right by securing one of the best in-state talents in Garrett Snodgrass whose future will be intriguing to watch. Trouble cropped up in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day when it came to securing any other potential outside linebacker prospects, though. Dylan Jordan (TCU), Steven Parker (Kansas), and JUCO transfer Soni Fonua (LSU) were all recruits that would’ve seen time in the rotation at the very least. The Huskers could’ve used at least one of them. That makes the position another portal-worthy area.
Defensive backs: B+
The Big Red received a major commitment with Noa Pola-Gates’s addition, a vicious safety. Myles Farmer and Quinton Newsome also have the frame to develop into physical players. Javin Wright, son of former Nebraska defender Toby, is still growing and already checks in at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He may very well find himself in a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role before his career is over. Quality talent bumps this grade up a bit, but the lack of true cornerbacks gives it a definitive ceiling.
Considering Nebraska’s necessarily unique recruiting tactics — as in the need to be creative in finding and securing their talent — Frost’s first full class is one of the Huskers’ best in a while. You’d have to go back to 2011 to find a group of Nebraska signees ranked in the teens by 247Sports’ Composite Index. The Big Red’s main modern-day issue when it comes to recruiting has been a lack of consistency in building better classes over time. The 2005 group was top-10-worthy, but that’s the last time Nebraska can claim that. During the Bo Pelini era, the Huskers had a single jump into the top 20 but often swam around in the low 20s if not 30s, and even dropped as low as the 40s. That’s what will get you nothing but four-loss seasons.
Frost and crew did a fantastic job of addressing offensive needs, but the defensive side of the ball was left wanting. This year's class is a solid first step, but it’s time to take things to the next level by adding plenty of defensive talent and besting this year’s ranking in 2020. Securing a composite top-15 class next cycle is an attainable goal and Nebraska would have plenty to sell, especially if the Huskers can improve to at least eight wins and show noticeable strides on defense.
— 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.