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2023 Nebraska Football Position Preview: The Wide Receivers

They’re open! Throw it to them!

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

At the end of the season last year, only one thing from the receiving core was certain, Trey Palmer was gone (please come back). Nebraska’s new record setter was a high-powered basketball star, one and done. The only shining constant in a group that was a Forest Gump-esque box of chocolates.

This season is far different. We aren’t sure of many of the roles the wide receivers will have in the new offense. From the sounds of things, if you don’t block, you don’t play. I’m certainly fine with that, as key blocks from the outside means the difference between touchdowns and measly first down runs. This group also boasts some speed and variety, something that has been sorely lacking in the passing game the last few years.

Let’s take a look at this year’s pass catchers, starting with the returning members.

Marcus Washington:

2022 Season stats: 31 receptions 471 yards 1 touchdown

Marcus is the proverbial “Ok Boomer” of the receiving corps. Being the old man has its perks, as he has the opportunity to be the biggest leader of the wide receivers. Although he’s currently injured, look for him to improve on last year’s stats, as he could be the big play threat that can lift the top off of defenses.

Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda:

2022 Season stats: 5 receptions 120 yards 1 touchdown

Isaiah only played in four games last season, but any time he caught the ball it was productive. His role here can be one that makes the biggest jump statistically from last season. He’ll figure to play in more games this season, which if he can get anywhere close to his 24 yards per catch will be a massive advantage. Much like Washington’s role last year, he could be the guy that’s open underneath that could do some damage.

Zavier Betts:

The man who returns with a new beginning. The genuine belief I hold here is that he is the air-it-out apparent to Trey Palmer. The biggest deep ball threat that Nebraska will probably have this season. The redemption factor off the field from last year could be the key to unlocking his potential this year. His return has suggested he’s bought into the new system, which can only be beneficial for Nebraska.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a meager two receivers who return from last year that had any stats. The next prominent one just returned to the program. Returning production from the wide receiver position is so thin you’d think it features on the next Jenny Craig ad campaign.

Let’s take a hot minute to check in on some faces that will help the passing game.

Billy Kemp IV

Word on the street has it the IV in Billy’s name is what defensive backs will need after trying to catch him. Kemp is possibly the fastest guy in the group, and with his size could be used as a versatile player. I can only hope he plays a role here similar to what K.J Hamler was at Penn State. Capable of setting up out wide for a deep ball, or coming inside in the slot, Kemp could be the type of possession receiver who could turn first downs into touchdowns quickly.

Malachi Coleman

The prized recruit coming out of the Cornhusker State. Coleman looks to factor in the passing game quickly for the hometown team. At 6’4, many (me included) would love to tell Mr. Sims to just throw it in the air and let him go get it. Coleman has speed and as he develops as a route runner, look for him to be one of the main targets, especially early in the season.

The new offensive system won’t be nearly as spread out as it was under the old regime. 4 and 5 wide receiver sets aren’t going to be a prominent factor, so overall playing time for many guys might not be available. But the names I have mentioned are the ones expected to stand out in the upcoming season.

As I did with the running backs, I would also like to quickly mention the remaining receivers on the roster. So a Go Big Red shoutout to Cooper Hausmann, Ty Hahn, Joshua Fleeks, Barron Miles Jr., Roman Mangini, Taveon Thompson, Elliott Brown, Alex Bullock, Demitrius Bell, Jeremiah Charles, Jaidyn Doss, Jaylen Lloyd, Brice Turner and Cooper Wilson.

May you pancake block many a corner or safety and may you catch every ball that’s thrown to/at you. I also hope there is a diamond in the rough that stands out this season, but I don’t look like a giant idiot for not mentioning them.