If there’s one position group that took a step backward for Husker football in 2019, it was the wide receivers. In 2018, Stanley Morgan ended his senior season as Nebraska first-ever 1,000 yard receiver, but in 2019, nobody really stepped up to fill those shoes. How much of this was the result of recruiting or development failures remains to be determined as this group will have the biggest changes moving into 2020.
Assistant Coach Troy Walters (now with the Cincinnati Bengals)
Kanawai Noa (10 games, 17 catches, 245 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Mike Williams (12 games, 5 catches, 109 yards)
Jaron Woodyard (3 games, 3 catches, 9 yards)
Darien Chase, Redshirt Freshman (4 games, 1 catch, 13 yards)
Junior college transfers Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard never were able to make much of an impact at Nebraska; Williams appeared in every game with limited production in his two years at Nebraska while Woodyard’s three games entitles him to a redshirt. He’s entering the transfer portal and will finish his college time elsewhere. Cal graduate transfer Kanawai Noa started his Husker season slowly, but finished stronger as he caught 10 passes for 171 yards in his final three games last season. His season ended after tearing his meniscus, requiring surgery. Darien Chase played sparingly in his redshirt season, but decided last week to enter the transfer portal.
JD Spielman, Sr. (12 games, 49 catches, 898 yards, 5 touchdowns)
Wan’Dale Robinson, So. (10 games, 40 catches, 453 yards, 2 touchdowns; 88 rushes, 340 yards, 3 touchdowns)
Kade Warner, Jr. (7 games, 8 catches, 101 yards)
Jaevon McQuitty, Jr. (3 games, 2 catches, 14 yards)
Chris Hickman, Redshirt Freshman (4 games, 1 catch, 0 yards)
For a coach who espoused a pro-style passing offense, Mike Riley and his staff struggled with recruiting and developing receivers during their three years in Lincoln. Stanley Morgan was a Pelini commit, while guys like Derrion Grim and Tyjon Lindsay left for the west coast. Lavan Alston and Keyshawn Johnson Jr. moved on, leaving JD Spielman and Jaevon McQuitty as the only scholarship receivers from the Riley era left once Lindsay followed Riley back to Oregon State. Spielman has a chance to leave Nebraska on top of several Huskers’ career receiving records. He’s currently third in career receptions (170, 11 behind Kenny Bell’s 181) and career receiving yards (2,546, just 143 behind Bell’s 2,689).
Robinson split time last season between I-back and receiver with mixed returns. The goal of getting the ball into Robinson’s hands more often after Maurice Washington’s off-the-field issues escalated seemed to be noble, but injuries limited him greatly in four of Nebraska’s final six games. With Nebraska’s improved depth at running back, that would seem to limit the need to use Robinson as an every-down running back in 2020. Dedrick Mills emergence after Robinson’s injury should also serve to temper the wear and tear on Robinson and allow Robinson to be utilized more effectively as a receiver.
Kade Warner would have seen more action last season if injuries hadn’t held him out the first month of the season. As the largest receiver (6’1” 210 lbs.) in last year’s rotation, he filled a glaring weakness in the roster after Morgan departed for the Bengals. Chris Hickman earned raves for his perimeter blocking, and with his size (6’6”), could be a heck of a red-zone weapon down the line. If he puts on enough weight in the offseason, he could shift back to tight end, but he may have proven his worth at receiver.
Jamie Nance, Redshirt Freshman (4 stars)
Demariyon Houston, Redshirt Freshman (4 stars)
Alante Brown, Freshman (4 stars)
Assistant Coach Matt Lubick
Jamie Nance and Demariyon Houston both were considered top 50 receivers by Rivals in the 2019 recruiting class. Alante Brown was a high school quarterback who signed with Texas Tech a year ago, only to head to a prep school and play receiver. If he can find his way onto the depth chart, Brown looks to be a versatile weapon that a creative playcaller could really exploit.
Matt Lubick reportedly was Scott Frost’s choice to be the Huskers offensive coordinator and receivers coach two years ago, but after UCF declined to promote Troy Walters, Frost felt he needed to stick with Walters. It would make sense if true, as Frost simply would not have been able to compromise UCF’s Peach Bowl preparations by creating division in that locker room. Lubick worked with Frost at Oregon for three seasons before Frost left for UCF.
Zavier Betts, Freshman (4 stars)
Omar Manning, Junior (4 star Juco Transfer)
Marcus Fleming, Freshman (4 stars)
Will Nixon, Freshman (3 stars)
When Zavier Betts and Omar Manning join the football program this summer, they’ll immediately change the look of the wide receiver room just by their physical stature. Betts (6’2”) and Manning (6’4”) tower over the other scholarship receivers and should give Nebraska physical receivers that can get the ball in traffic. Manning was the #1 ranked receiver in the junior college ranks this past season; the Huskers had to fight off numerous SEC, ACC and Pac-12 schools to get him to Lincoln.
Why Be Pessimistic?
Some of us thought Nebraska would win the Big Ten West in 2017. That blew up in our face, primarily because of the passing game.
We thought 2018 and 2019 would be significantly better. They weren’t.
We’ve heard the talk before why things are going to be better and been burned. So pardon us if we wait to have it proven on the field.
Why Be Optimistic?
Husker fans were irrational the last few years. The analytics guys warned us Nebraska was heading to a dark place in 2017. We didn’t listen. They told us to temper expectations in 2018. We didn’t. They weren’t sure about 2019 either.
So when analytics guys saw signs of spring last fall, it’s natural to discredit it. Just remember they foresaw our long winter beginning three years ago.
Top 10 projected offenses in 2020, per SP+:— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) February 13, 2020
1 Bama (46.1)
2 OU (44.9)
3 Ohio St (44.2)
4 Clemson (43.4)
5 LSU (41.9)
6 Minn (40.8)
7 Texas (40.3)
8 UNC (39.7)
9 USC (39.6)
10 Nebraska! (39.2)
Devonta Smith's gonna have like 2500 receiving yards, and I'm here for it.
And returning production in receivers is a big factor in these projections. It’s not a guarantee that things are going to be “all better”...but there are signs of progress in Lincoln.
2020 Nebraska Wide Receivers
|1||Wan'Dale Robinson||5-10||190||So.||Frankfort, Ky. / Western Hills|
|3||Jamie Nance||6-0||170||R-Fr.||Blanchard, Okla. / Blanchard|
|4||Jaevon McQuitty||6-0||200||Jr.||Columbia, Mo. / Battle|
|5||Demariyon Houston||6-0||180||R-Fr.||Oklahoma City, Okla. / Millwood|
|10||JD Spielman||5-9||180||Sr.||Eden Prairie, Minn. / Eden Prairie|
|13||Darien Chase||6-1||200||R-Fr.||Vancouver, Wash. / Union|
|29||Bennett Folkers||6-2||205||So.||Gothenburg, Neb. / Gothenburg|
|36||Christian Banker||6-0||190||Jr.||Omaha, Neb. / Skutt Catholic|
|45||Ty Chaffin||6-5||215||Sr.||Burwell, Neb. / Burwell|
|47||Austin Jablonski||6-2||215||R-Fr.||Lincoln, Neb. / Pius X|
|81||Kade Warner||6-1||210||Jr.||Scottsdale, Ariz. / Desert Mountain|
|85||Wyatt Liewer||6-3||195||So.||O'Neill, Neb. / O'Neill|
|87||Chris Hickman||6-6||215||R-Fr.||Omaha, Neb. / Burke|
|Zavier Betts||6-2||200||Fr.||Bellevue, Neb. / Bellevue West|
|Elliott Brown||6-1||175||Fr.||Omaha, Neb. / Elkhorn South|
|Alante Brown||5-11||190||Fr.||Chicago, Ill. / Simeon HS/St. Thomas More (Conn.) Prep|
|Broc Douglass||6-0||160||Fr.||Grand Island, Neb. / Grand Island|
|Marcus Fleming||5-10||170||Fr.||Miami, Fla. / Northwestern|
|Ty Hahn||6-2||180||Fr.||Johnson, Neb. / Johnson-Brock|
|Omar Manning||6-4||225||Jr.||Lancaster, Texas / Lancaster HS/TCU/Kilgore College|
|Will Nixon||5-11||185||Fr.||Waco, Texas / Midway|