The question of the most important player going into this season reminds me of a debate I once had on whether certain athletes were overrated. One case was a debate over Jay Cutler. A friend of mine said that Cutler was overrated. I disagreed. His response was “he’s like a bottom 15 quarterback!” Agreed, which is where people think he should be so he is actually perfectly rated.
Thus, the best players on the Nebraska football team are not always the most “important.”
Who is the best player on the team? Some might say that it is Wan’Dale Robinson. I could agree, but is he one of the most important players going into the 2020 season? I don’t think so.
So here are what I believe are the top five most important players going into 2020.
Adrian Martinez - Quarterback
This was the easy one. Did you know that Martinez already has 11 records at Nebraska? The way people felt about him after the 2019 season, it felt like he might have zero. The potential is so evident and obvious when watching Martinez. There were valid reasons that Martinez was a pre-season Heisman candidate going into 2019.
Though I don’t believe he was ever healthy, even going into the 2019 season. Call it the eye test. Call it whatever you want. He was not himself.
The lack of quality play at the quarterback position cost the Nebraska football team maybe four to five wins last year.
That is difficult to write. It is exciting however to think of possibilities going forward because there are so many reasons to be optimistic about the offense in 2020. Particularly the play of Adrian Martinez.
Hopefully that with the spring of Martinez is able to go into fall camp completely healthy. With the added experience, I think his junior year could be a spring board for the program.
Regardless, the quarterback will almost always be the most important player on a football team.
Unless you are Wisconsin. It doesn’t seem to matter for Wisconsin.
Omar Manning - Wide Receiver
From the mouth of Scott Frost:
Omar we are really excited about. Last year we wish we were a little more productive at our outside receiver spot. That is one place we wanted to have someone come in and potentially help us right away. There wasn’t a better guy in the country in my opinion for what we were looking for than him. He looks different than anybody I’ve ever coached and has tape to match.
I think it is safe to say that we should not expect J.D. Spielman to be back next year. So a ton of production will not be returning which makes somebody like Omar Manning such a big deal.
He’s 6’4” 225 pounds and will likely be the best wide receiver on the team when practice starts. I don’t know if Wan’Dale should be considered a true wide receiver. We shall see. The fact that I believe Manning might be the best on the team may have more to do with the fact that he is unlike many of the other wide receivers on the roster. Nebraska appears to have stocked up on some smaller but faster receivers.
Somebody with his size will make a huge difference in the end-zone. Giving Martinez the opportunity to throw the ball up at times and expect somebody to come down with it may be a bigger deal than we currently realize.
I don’t know if the defense will ever but the type of defense to shut a team down, so if Nebraska gets the offense rolling then that might make the difference. A future possible pro prospect on the outside would be extremely important.
Chase Contreraz - PK
Nebraska used six different kickers to attempt field goals in 2019. That is insane.
Speaking of the quarterback position costing us wins, we will never know how much the lack of a kicking game ended up costing Nebraska. It is tough to run an offense when you get to 4th and 3 from the 25 yard line and you aren’t sure whether your kicker can make the field goal.
Right now Chase Contreraz appears to be the leading candidate to take over the kicking duties. He had a great season at Iowa Western. He connected on 15-of-18 field goals and 44-of-46 extra points.
That already appears to be an upgrade.
Nebraska has also added walk-on Ryan Novosel to compete as well. May the best man win. Regardless, Nebraska football fans should appreciate the value of a competent field goal kicker.
Keem Green, Jordan Riley, Damion Daniels, Deontre Thomas, Casey Rodgers, Tate Wildeman, Ty Robinson, and Pheldarius Payne - Defensive Linemen
Okay, so that was cheating. Will the best defensive linemen besides Ben Stille please stand up?
There is a lot of production that will need to be replaced after the graduations of Darrion Daniels, Khalil Davis and Carlos Davis. Stille and maybe Damion Daniels are the only “veterans” returning.
We need some run stoppers and hopefully, for the first time in several years I hope we have some guys who can rush the passer.
The ability to get some guys in there who can be productive will be extremely important.
Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah, Luke Reimer, and Eteva Mauga-Clements - Inside Linebackers
I cheated again. So sue me.
Finding a higher level of play at the Inside Linebacker position is so important for this defense. We all loved Mohamed Barry. He played hard but he was out of position a lot of time.
Jon’s favorite coach, P.J. Fleck, even mentioned how our linebackers were not great at run fitting sideline to sideline. They torched us.
Toward the end of the 2019 season there were rumblings that Nick Henrich had made a lot of strides but they wanted to red-shirt him. Eteva Mauaga-Clements was a production machine in juco so hopefully that can translate to Big Ten Football. Jackson Hannah came in as one of the highest regarded recruits from that class but we didn’t hear much from him. Luke Reimer was one of the actual few true freshmen who burned his redshirt.
Collin Miller and Will Honas are the presumptive starters. Maybe one of these guys can unseat them? Regardless, the quality of play at the inside linebacker position needs to be better. If that ends up being Miller and Honas then I would be all for it.
I believe Huskers should be confident in their secondary. That won’t matter if the defensive line and linebackers aren’t better.