Mike Riley has spent his first three years one upping himself on the recruiting trail. According to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, the Huskers have finished with the 30th, 24th and 23rd ranked classes during Riley's tenure. The 2015 class, underrated in my opinion, was a transition class compiled in just over 8 weeks - with over half of that time falling under the NCAA mandated Dead Period. The improvements and strides made on the trail have been impressive during Riley's first two full classes.
In an interview with the Portland Tribune last Monday, Riley said he is creating an entire department dedicated to recruiting. "We're in the process of putting that together to help us in the acquisition of talent," Riley explained. Riley didn't expand on how the new recruiting department would be structured. Clearly a social media presence will be a part of it. The now-departed Ryan Gunderson was exceptional in that capacity. I would suspect Billy Devaney has a major influence on how the impending department is put together. If I am Nebraska, I jump in with both feet and create a department worthy of envy by the rest of the country. Hire a large contingency of people to contribute in various ways.
Have one section devoted to social media and expanding the Husker brand. Have another section of professional, proven talent evaluators who pour over tape of high school and junior college prospects - Devaney should have a Rolodex full of scouts he could bring in for that. I would also hire individuals - perhaps former or current high school coaches or college assistants - who have an extensive background and ties to cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami - to name a few - who could help with inroads to these important recruiting zones. Someone like Kenny Wilhite and his ties to St. Louis are a good example of the sort of people who should be in charge of key hot spots for Nebraska. The program has the money to do it and do it right. I would like to see Eichorst okay a 25-man department and a $2 million-per-year budget. Sound too ambitious? I don't see any other option. Nebraska needs to continue to move forward with big ideas and progressive moves inside the program.
It'll be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming recruiting department. As it stands now, the staff has turned its attention fully to the 2018 class - and did so before the 2017 classes signatures were dry on their NLI's. As of this writing, the Huskers have already extended 136 offers to the 2018 class according to 247Sports. Nebraska is expected to sign a relatively small class - likely the smallest in Riley's time in Lincoln. His first three classes have numbered 20 ('15), 21 ('16) and 20 ('17) on signing day. Nebraska has 13 seniors on scholarship and two open scholarships. That's 15, and Big Ten rules would allow the Huskers to sign three over that. With attrition - a yearly occurrence - Riley might be able to push this class to 20, but we'll see. There are some underclassmen walk-on candidates who could take up those two open scholarships (Cole Conrad, Bryan Reimers) and Nebraska will surely be chasing a few graduate transfers this offseason if they feel they can come in and help. The team already took a run at former Clemson defensive lineman Scott Pagano. If the team identifies a wide receiver, tight end or defensive lineman who can come in and help, they'll surely look at them.
With a week before the start of Spring Ball, what might Nebraska's recruiting board look like? How do they initially plan on allocating the scholarships throughout the 2018 class? It might look like this...
Despite the graduation of 4-year starter Tommy Armstrong, I anticipate a more talented and competitive quarterback room in 2017. Danny Langsdorf has done a tremendous job of adding talent since he got to Lincoln. Guys that possess the skillset he is looking for and fit his vision of the offense moving forward. This coming season, either Tanner Lee or Patrick O'Brien will usher in a new bread of quarterback at Nebraska. Short on numbers, the staff was able to add a fourth QB to the mix in sophomore junior college transfer Andrew Bunch, whose presence should allow the Huskers to redshirt incoming freshman Tristan Gebbia. The team will benefit from having all four quarterbacks on campus and available for spring drills.
Langsdorf will look to continue to do what he has been doing. Nebraska's offensive coordinator has reeled in a quarterback from his top group in each of the last two classes. Having 2017 class quarterback Gebbia on board since April allowed Langsdorf to spend most of the past year working on the 2018 class and right now he has his eyes set on a pair of top prospects.
Early Husker Targets: Those two targets are Colson Yankoff (Coeur d’Alene, ID) and Tanner McKee (Corona, CA). Yankoff, who was offered by Langsdorf in October, is an accurate dual-threat passer whose film will remind you of former Oregon star Marcus Mariota. McKee visited Lincoln in November for the Maryland game and was offered during his visit. He recently earned the first Elite 11 invitation of the year after an impressive showing at The Nike Opening Regional in Houston.
Running Back (1-2)
Despite a small upcoming class, the staff could be looking to add two running backs in this class. The staff tried hard to add a second tailback to the 2017 class but were unsuccessful. If there's no attrition to the group, the team still returns just four tailbacks in 2018 - when Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon are set to be seniors. With no proven standout at the position, it stands to reason that the staff will look to add a couple guys.
Early Husker Targets: One target who is expected to eventually join this class is Grahm Roberts (Wilmington, DE), the younger brother of 2017 signee Avery Roberts. The bruising Roberts has Big Ten running back written all over him, but the staff also hasn't completely closed the door on playing him at linebacker. Either way, a second tailback would be a wise decision.
Assuming (which is dangerous in recruiting) Roberts is eventually a member of this class, Riley and company can turn their attention towards adding a blue-chip recruit to join him. The top target on the board is T.J. Pledger, who worked out at Nebraska's satellite camp in Los Angeles last June. Considered one of the top all-purpose backs in the country, Pledger has said that Oklahoma and Nebraska are currently his top two - with the Sooners being the popular pick to land the U.S. Army All-American. Pledger hasn't visited campus yet but he plans to be in Lincoln to see Nebraska's Red-White game on April 15. That will be a huge visit because Pledger has said he would like to commit by May. Kirby Bennett (Las Vegas, NV) is another guy to keep an eye on.
Wide Receiver (3-4)
For the second year in a row, the Huskers missed on their target number at wide receiver thanks to late flips from Desmond Fitzpatrick (2016) and Jamire Calvin (2017). The Huskers signed three receivers to replace the departing trio of Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore, but attrition has hit this position group hard. From 2014-16, the team signed six receivers (Kevin Gladney, Monte Harrison, Jariah Tolbert, Glenn Irons, Lavan Alston, Derrion Grim) who are no longer with the program.
De'Mornay Pierson-El is the only scholarship senior, but Nebraska will still only have seven receivers on scholarship heading into 2018. The team could use another trio - at least - in the 2018 class.
Early Husker Targets: The Huskers have a commitment from four-star athlete Eric Fuller (Los Angeles, CA), who could play corner or receiver on the college level. Nebraska is likely to give Fuller a look on offense first - if they can hold on to him until February. Fuller continues to receive offers despite his commitment and you can bet national programs like Michigan and Oklahoma, along with Pac-12 powers like USC, Oregon and UCLA will continue to press.
Nebraska is shooting for the (five) stars with prospects like Jalen Hall (Los Angeles, CA) and Brian Hightower (Bradenton, FL), but those two remain long shots. Keith Williams has several four-star players interested however. The top target on the board is probably Kamryn Babb, who plays for the same Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis (MO) that produced Husker running back Tre Bryant. The Huskers hosted Babb for a junior day last March, and had him on campus for their game against Purdue in October. Ohio State has made Babb a priority as well. Nebraska will have their hands full with this one.
Nebraska got a bit of good news on Friday when one of their top targets, Manuel Allen (Corona, CA), decommitted from USC. Allen is friends with 2017 signee Tyjon Lindsey and the staff is really pushing to get the two of them out together for the spring game. Another guy who is quickly rising to the top of the receiver board is four-star Joshua Moore, another IMG Academy player who plans to visit for Nebraska's Red-White game. Some other notable targets with strong interest in Nebraska are Lawrence Keys III (New Orleans, LA), Nikko Hall (Calabasas, CA), Nikko Remigio (Santa Ana, CA) and Cameron Brown (St. Louis, MO).
Tight End (1)
The tight end position has traditionally been an important piece to Riley's offenses in the past. Nebraska has signed five tight ends in the last three recruiting classes as Riley continues to try and rebuild that room. With a smaller class and those numbers at the position, I would only expect one to be brought in this year.
Early Husker Targets: Nebraska already has their class tight end. Local standout Cameron Jurgens out of Beatrice has been the best player in the state since his sophomore year. He has been committed since August of 2015. Jurgens is the highest rated recruit to come out of Nebraska since Baker Steinkuhler back in 2008. Cameron is an exceptional talent who could potentially thrive at tight end, defensive end or linebacker.
Offensive Line (3)
There are 17 full-time scholarship linemen in the program now and that doesn’t include Cole Conrad - who is on scholarship for the spring and could be in the fall. The Huskers are set to graduate three scholarship seniors (David Knevel, Zach Hannon, Dwayne Johnson) who have yet to make a mark on the program. Thanks to aggressive recruiting by Mike Cavanaugh, the team has 11 scholarship linemen who are sophomores or younger. You never pass up a great offensive linemen whenever you can find them, but I don't expect a big o-line class.
Early Husker Targets: If there's one prospect who everyone expects to be a part of this class at some point it's Will Farniok (Sioux Falls, SD), younger brother of 2016 signee Matt Farniok - and the fourth Farniok brother set to play FBS football. Along with Matt, Tom (Iowa State) and Derek (Oklahoma) also played collegiately. Will received his Husker offer in October of 2015 and has been to Nebraska several times since. He is a good looking center prospect who should be a nice piece to plug in an develop behind John Raridon and Michael Decker.
Cavanaugh is also hard after Antwan Reed, an offensive tackle from the same high school in Muskegon (MI) as 2016 linebacker signee Andrew Ward. Reed has plans to be in Lincoln to see Nebraska's Red-White game. Cavanaugh is also after Will Craig (Granite Bay, CA) who plans to visit in the summer - and perhaps sooner, and Joey Ramos (Glendale, AZ).
Defensive Line (3-4)
The transition to a 3-4 is going to leave plenty of options at linebacker, but the staff will need to rebuild the defensive line. There aren't a lot of players already in the system who fit an ideal 3-4 front. Most of the previous defensive ends will make better outside linebackers in the new scheme. DaiShon Neal is probably the only defensive end who will remain from last season once the shuffling is complete.
There also isn't a true nose tackle on the roster outside of 2017 signees Damion Daniels and perhaps Deiontae Watts. The profile that will be recruited for the new front will be vastly different from the previous 4-3. Guys like Carlos and Khalil Davis are very good fits for the end spots, as is 2017 signee Deontre Thomas. Mick Stoltenberg isn't the best fit, but the staff will need to figure out where to play him because they don't have a lot of options in the program right now.
One of the most important positions on the defense from here on out is going to be nose tackle. You can expect the staff to target at least one true nose in each class moving forward. The profile they recruit for defensive end is also going to be philosophically different than what they have recruited before. Former Husker Greg McMullen is the sort of prospect you will now see the staff target.
Early Husker Targets: The staff would love to fill their d-line class with players inside the 500-mile radius. They already have a commitment from in-state standout Masry Mapieu out of York. Mapieu received an offer after impressing John Parrella and the Husker staff last June during a Friday Night Lights camp - and accepted on the spot. The staff is also heavily recruiting a pair of prospects out of St. Louis (MO). Trevor Trout (Chaminade) visited Lincoln last summer and Parrella has made him a priority for 2018 ever since. Michael Thompson (Parkway North) has not made it out to see Nebraska yet but you can be sure Parrella is trying to change that.
Nebraska is also in a heated recruiting battle with Oklahoma for Dallas (TX) Bishop Dunne star Calvin Avery, who is high school teammates with 2017 signee Damion Daniels. Avery is arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the state of Texas for 2018 and would be an ideal fit at the nose, but like T.J. Pledger, right now he is trending towards the Sooners.
The Huskers are in pursuit of a couple guys who would be great fits at defensive end. Daniel Parker (Blue Springs, MO) was offered last June after a strong performance at the team's Big Man camp. Parker, who some felt was the best lineman at any of NU’s camps last summer, committed to Missouri last July but reopened his recruitment in September. The Davis twins attended the same high school and Parker looks up to the duo. He would be a nice addition to the class. Joshua Landry (Houston, TX) is also a nice end prospect for Nebraska's 3-4. Landry was recently named the defensive line MVP at The Nike Opening Regional in Houston. The Huskers are in very good shape right now and are considered his leader at the moment.
One local name to keep an eye on is Lincoln Southeast standout Bryson Williams. After an impressive performance at last summer's Friday Night Lights camp, Williams put himself on Nebraska's radar. He recently received a scholarship from Kansas State and one could be coming soon from Minnesota. UCLA and Iowa State are also beginning to look at him. Williams might be a nice fit at defensive end and could be someone the staff keeps tabs on this fall.
It's tough to say how many linebackers the staff will try to add with a small class. Trent Bray has stocked the room with promising youngsters and there are several defensive ends who are likely to move to outside linebacker, including Freedom Akinmoladun, Alex Davis, Collin Miller and Sedrick King. You can probably expect the staff to go after a few top guys who they see as closer fits to what they will recruit from now on.
Early Husker Targets: Dorian Hardy (Paramus, NJ) is the ideal outside linebacker in this system and the Huskers are making him a priority - but so are teams like Alabama, Penn State, LSU, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan and Miami. With so much young talent (12 players who are sophomores or younger), the team can afford to swing for the fences with the few spots they have this year.
Another linebacker that the staff has been recruiting for a while is All Saints Episcopal (Fort Worth, TX) standout Grayson Mann, who is one of the top linebackers in the Lone Star state for 2018. Nebraska offered back in August and Mann took an unofficial visit to Lincoln for the Minnesota game last November. Mann is looking to return to Nebraska for the Red-White game, but nothing is set yet.
Defensive Back (4-5)
Defensive back is probably the biggest need position for the upcoming class. Nebraska loses starters Chris Jones, Joshua Kalu and Kieron Williams, along with Boaz Joseph. After only signing one DB in 2017's class, the Huskers will need to sign around four this year. Nebraska will only have five scholarship corners returning in 2018, and two of those players (Lamar Jackson, Marquel Dismuke) might still be better suited for safety.
At his signing day press conference, Mike Riley made a point of telling reporters they’d see a “long list of defensive backs on signing day” next year. Donté Williams is going to be a busy man on the trail this year, which as Nebraska's best recruiter, isn't exactly a bad thing. Williams will have a full cycle to recruit for the Huskers and will be able to sell prospects on immediate playing time. I expect Nebraska to sign at least three cornerbacks and a class safety.
Early Husker Targets: The top target on the defensive board is cornerback Brendan "Bookie" Radley-Hiles. The cousin of Tyjon Lindsey and teammates at Calabasas with Keyshawn Johnson and Tristan Gebbia, Radley-Hiles attended Nebraska's spring game last April and then wowed coaches and fans alike at a Friday Night Lights camp in June. In front of an estimated 3,000 Husker faithful, Bookie stood out amongst the nine Rivals four and five star prospects in attendance that day. Radley-Hiles went one-on-one with Lindsey, Johnson, as well as Joseph Lewis, Jaevon McQuitty and DaRon Davis and was arguably the most impressive player at the camp. Bookie also came out for an unofficial visit in October to see Nebraska take on Illinois.
Radley-Hiles transferred to IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) for his senior year and he could end up being a strong peer recruiter for the Huskers if he chooses to commit to Nebraska. Riley and his staff are after several IMG players and Bookie is planning to return with a few of them for Nebraska's spring game in April. Nebraska is right at the top of the list for his services. Bookie has a strong connection to Riley, who has taken a lead role in his recruitment since last April's spring game. You can also be assured that Lindsey, Johnson and Gebbia are peer recruiting Bookie hard. The Huskers will have to hold off Notre Dame, Florida, UCLA and USC.
The staff is also hard after Lee's Summit West (MO) athlete Mario Goodrich, who attends the same high school that produced Husker lineman Boe Wilson. It is also the same school of Monte Harrison, one-time Nebraska football recruit who chose a career in pro baseball. Goodrich is friends with Harrison, who has been filling Goodrich's ears with positive reviews of Nebraska. Goodrich took an unofficial visit to Lincoln for the game against Minnesota in November. At 6-foot-2, Goodrich would be a nice addition at corner.
Donté Williams has also made some headway with Isaac Taylor-Stuart (San Diego, CA), one of the top corners in this class who is planning to visit for the spring game. Taylor-Stuart has been friends with 2017 Husker signee Elijah Blades since the two of them met last summer at a Nike Regionals camp. Another four-star corner, Christian Tutt (Thomson, GA) is planning to be at the Husker spring game as well. Verone McKinley III (Carrollton, TX) is another top-rated corner with high interest in the Huskers.
The top safety on the board is probably four-star Steve Stephens (Fresno, CA) who was named the overall MVP at a recent Under Armour All-America Camp in Southern Cal, earning an invite to the prestigious All-America Game in the process. Stephens plans to be in Lincoln for the spring game.
Another in-state player to keep an eye on is Moses Bryant out of Elkhorn South. Bryant has rushed for over 4,000 yards so far in his career, but he is probably better suited to play defensive back or receiver. Moses worked out as a defensive back at Nebraska’s Friday Night Lights camp last June. He worked the previous summer at wide receiver for Husker coaches. He has looked good at both positions and could be someone who receives an offer this summer.
Nebraska will lose All-Conference kicker Drew Brown following the 2017 season. Riley is someone who likes to have a scholarship kicker, punter and long snapper. With such a small class, though, does Riley want to take up a spot this year with a kicker? Riley added a nice walk-on in the 2017 class with the addition of Cole Frahm, who was named to the Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska team in 2016 and was an all-Metro pick in both 2015 and 2016. He was also an honorable-mention all-state choice as a junior. Frahm turned down scholarship offers from South Dakota State and Augustana to walk-on for the Huskers.
Riley will no doubt keep an eye on Frahm as he redshirts this season. He will need to determine if Frahm has the potential to take over for Brown in 2018 or if the Huskers will need to target a scholarship option instead.
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.
Turning the focus towards 2018
With a department dedicated towards recruiting in the works, the staff turns its attention to 2018.
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