As the 2019-2020 football season is about to start, here's look at some players you need to know.
50. Katerian LeGrone
6-3, 235 • Freshman • Tight end
After making one catch during his redshirt season in the win over Bethune-Cookman, LeGrone, by all accounts, made a nice move in spring, impressing position coach Sean Beckton with his improved grasp of the offense. LeGrone, a converted high school receiver with some extra weight, has the ability to stretch an opposing defense because of his speed. If there’s one area where coach Scott Frost wants tight end play to grow, it’s in making more chunk plays downfield. LeGrone won’t be an every-down tight end for several years, but, in the right situations, he can be the kind of big-play guy Cethan Carter used to be for the Huskers. Ten catches for 150 yards and a couple scores would be a good start.
49. Will Farniok
6-3, 290 • Freshman • Center
The younger brother of starting right tackle Matt Farniok, Will is shorter but possesses many of the same qualities as Matt. Tough, athletic, plays to the whistle. Will Farniok’s chosen position, center, can be trickier to play at the collegiate level, though, and takes a steady hand and well-trained vocal chords. Position coach Greg Austin demands that his players be vocal with one another — coach as well as they’re coached, so to speak — so Will Farniok has to continue growing there. He’s also competing with another redshirt freshman, Cameron Jurgens, for the center job. Jurgens has battled injuries for multiple years, so Farniok may have to be ready to roll at the drop of a hat.
48. Isaac Armstrong
5-11, 205 • Senior • Punter
This left-footer should have been the punter for multiple seasons, frankly, but it took multiple shanks and miscues by Caleb Lightbourn, who has since transferred to Oregon State, for Armstrong to finally punch through to the starting role. He averaged 43.6 yards per punt — ninth-highest in Husker history — and pinned the opponent inside its own 20 nine times. He can be a weapon for the Huskers this fall. Armstrong will likely have competition from Michigan State transfer William Przystup, but he has the advantage of having played with this team for four seasons and that left foot. It can be hard to track the punt of a left-footer. Spins differently. another 15-20 pounds of muscle, look out. He may very well play on special teams this season and fill in a little at safety. Newsome’s ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself.
47. Quinton Newsome
6-2, 180 • Freshman • Safety
Watching the tape of Newsome at safety is like watching a natural at the position. He tracks ball carriers so well when he supports against the run, and he can turn and find passes well, too. He was the quietest of the defensive back signees and may be the least heralded. He may also be the best. Once he puts on another 15-20 pounds of muscle, look out. He may very well play on special teams this season and fill in a little at safety. Newsome’s ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself.
46. Joseph Johnson
6-3, 235 • Freshman • ILB
The Gretna grad doesn’t look like a walk-on. Johnson wears weight on his frame well after a redshirt season, and now he’s needed at inside linebacker, which has a firm alpha in Mohamed Barry and a lot of questions otherwise. Collin Miller and Will Honas are likely the Nos. 2 and 3, and freshmen linebackers Nick Henrich, Garrett Snodgrass and Jackson Hannah are in the mix, too. Johnson has a leg up — for now — on the rookies because he’s healthy and has had a year in the defense. Henrich, having injured a shoulder in spring, is headed for a redshirt. Snodgrass and Hannah also will have a good crack at the No. 4 inside linebacker spot.
45. Barret Pickering
6-0, 195 • Sophomore • Kicker
Pickering was money at the end of last season. As a true freshman, he nailed his final 10 field-goal attempts, including three in the snow against Michigan State for a 9-6 upset win. The soft-spoken sophomore enters his second year with more confidence in himself, and from the coaching staff. With the schedule this year, Nebraska has a chance to double its win total from last season, or get back to nine wins for the first time since 2016. Pickering making field goals may mean the difference between wins and losses, with a slew of powerhouses headed to Lincoln.
44. Rahmir Johnson
5-10, 175 • Freshman • Running back
You could argue the position group with the most question marks is running back. With Devine Ozigbo gone and Maurice Washington’s status unclear, Johnson’s presence becomes even more important. He ran for more than 2,300 yards as a senior in high school, where the former four-star recruit was the No. 6 all-purpose back in the country. He is part of a trio of backs — including Ronald Thompkins and Dedrick Mills — who could reinforce Nebraska’s rushing attack. The starting running back position is wide open, and Johnson has as good of a shot as any to snag it for the first game.
43. Matt Sichterman
6-4, 310 • Sophomore • Offensive TACKLE
Sichterman is among a long list of offensive linemen in waiting. The sophomore tackle would have to beat out Matt Farniok or Brenden Jaimes on either side to start, and that doesn’t seem likely. Which means Sichterman is right where he was a year ago. The former three-star recruit from Cincinnati has put on weight and could move inside to a guard spot if necessary, but he is more than likely a second-half contributor if Nebraska has a big enough lead for him to see playing time.
42. Braxton Clark
6-4, 200 • Freshman • defensive back
Clark was one of the true freshmen Scott Frost played in four games to preserve his redshirt. Clark recorded a tackle against Bethune-Cookman. Though young, Clark is a tall corner who will fit behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Nebraska doesn’t have a ton of depth behind the boundary corners, so Clark could see some time should a starter go down. Or if someone isn’t cutting it.
41. Christian Gaylord
6-6, 310 • Senior • offensive TACKLE
Gaylord is an offensive tackle in waiting. The senior has been poised to make a move into the starting five on the offensive front for some time now, but he will again be the backup for both Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok. Both young tackles are solidified in their starting spots. But Nebraska has struggled to keep linemen healthy the past few years, and if one goes down, Gaylord could take over on either side if needed.
40. Kurt Rafdal
6-foot-7, 250 pound • Sophomore • tight end
Rafdal appeared in all 12 games last year, catching four passes for 67 yards. He averaged 16.8 yards per catch, fantastic for a tight end, particularly for a freshman. Rafdal and Austin Allen will always be interlocking parts, being 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 and in the same recruiting class. So he and Allen will compete for that second-string spot behind Jack Stoll. It may come down to who can be a better blocker between those two. At the worst, Rafdal gives Adrian Martinez a red-zone option should the NU receiving corps take a while to come along this season.
39. Cameron Jurgens
6-3, 270 • Freshman • offensive lineman
The comparison to Dave Rimington by Scott Frost isn’t rubbing away anytime soon for Jurgens. It’ll stick to him, no matter how his career at NU ends up. He has a chance to start in on that legacy this year as the odds-on favorite to be Nebraska’s starting center. That is, if he can stay healthy. Jurgens has been plagued by foot injuries the past few years, which has kept him on the sideline. Stay healthy, and Jurgens could be a key cog in the NU offensive machine with his athleticism at the center position. But if he struggles to stay on the field, even more questions loom for NU’s offense.
38. Noa Pola-Gates
5-11, 170 • Freshman • defensive back
Pola-Gates was a late but key pickup for Nebraska’s 2019 recruiting class. Ranked as the 147th best player in the class by 247Sports, the hard-hitting safety could start from day one if he picks up the playbook quickly. Pola-Gates is part of a thin safety group. He may need to pack on some weight this summer and fall to have a chance, but the ceiling for the No. 2 player from the state of Arizona is high. Pola-Gates recorded 57 tackles, five interceptions and seven pass breakups his senior year of high school.
37. Eric Lee
6-0, 215 • Senior • defensive back
After four years at corner, Lee’s moved to safety. And just at the right time. With the recent departures of CJ Smith and Cam Jones, Lee’s opportunity to see the field has expanded even more. With Deontai Williams likely solidified at one spot, Lee will compete with incoming freshman.
36. Andre Hunt
6-0, 190 • Freshman • wide receiver
Andre Hunt is a name that kept popping up this spring. He appeared in two games as a true freshman but didn’t catch a pass before redshirting for the season. Hunt traveled with the team, so he has that experience, too. The Nebraska coaching staff expects a lot from Hunt, a three-star recruit from California. Should he prove he can block and become a consistent option for Adrian Martinez, Hunt could easily become that third starting wide receiver Nebraska’s been looking for the past 12 months.
35. Jaron Woodyard
5-11, 190 • Senior • wide receiver
Woodyard has been sold as the fastest guy on the team. But that hasn’t translated into production just yet. The junior college transfer appeared in eight games last season and caught just one pass for 10 yards. Not exactly what Nebraska was looking for after Woodyard caught 36 passes for 522 yards and six touchdowns at Arizona Western Community College. But there’s plenty of opportunity for Woodyard to make an imprint in his senior year. Nebraska’s receiving corps is unproven, and dying for second and third options behind JD Spielman. Woodyard still presents an opportunity to take the top off a defense, but only if he can find his way onto the field.
34. Deontre Thomas
6-3, 290 • Sophomore • defensive lineman
Thomas can get lost in the shuffle on NU’s defensive line. He played as an undersized nose tackle his freshman year, was hurt his sophomore year and is behind the Daniels brothers and Davis brothers on the depth chart. But Thomas is now 290 pounds and healthy. He appeared in four games last season before missing the final eight with a hand injury. But he’s back and is part of a stacked defensive line. Despite his spot on the depth chart, with how often Nebraska will rotate defensive linemen, Thomas will see the field as long as he’s healthy. And he may finally be able to contribute to a pass rush with his size and speed off the ball.
33. Miles Jones
5-8, 175 • Freshman • running back
Jones caught one pass for 26 yards and ran once for 5 yards in his first season at NU. He redshirted, in part to heal a shoulder injury. Now healthy, he will line up all over the field. Nebraska’s thin at running back, so there’s a good chance he’ll get a decent load of carries. But the receiver depth isn’t ideal, either, so he could play a ton of Duck-R and slot receiver, too. Jones, a speedy four-star recruit from Florida, may not eclipse 100 yards in one category often. But with the number of positions he’ll play, he could get to the century mark in total yards in a hurry.
32. Will Honas
6-1, 235 • Junior • inside linebacker
Honas only appeared in four games last season and racked up 15 tackles, including one for loss. A knee injury against Purdue put him out the rest of the year. But because he only played in four games, he retained his redshirt and will have two years to make his mark in Lincoln. The Butler Community College transfer was back from that knee injury and practiced this spring. He’ll have to beat out Collin Miller and true freshmen Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass for the starting spot.
31. Austin Allen
6-8, 245 • Sophomore • tight end
As a redshirt freshman, the Aurora product caught two passes for 54 total yards. But the longer one, a 41-yarder up the sideline at Ohio State, shows what Allen could be this season: a huge, playmaking target for Adrian Martinez, particularly in the middle and on third down. Allen will be in a battle with Kurt Rafdal for the second-string tight end spot behind Jack Stoll. But with questions surrounding the offense’s playmaking ability in general, Allen could see a lot of time with two-tight end sets — should receivers not make the cut.
30. Caleb Tannor
6-2, 210 • Sophomore • outside linebacker
The impact wasn’t as immediate as the hype. But what does Year 2 have in store for the four-star recruit who turned down Florida, Auburn and other SEC schools to become a Husker? Tannor was a major signing day victory in 2018, and the Georgia native appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman. But he wasn’t the tackle-for-loss machine his prep stats and athletic frame suggested last fall, landing one among his 10 stops. Now the sophomore becomes an interesting test case for development under the second-year coaching staff. Another offseason of strength training and familiarity with the scheme gives him the potential to become one of the team’s most valuable defenders.
29. Alex Davis
6-5, 255 • Senior • outside linebacker
This college football thing has gone quickly for Davis. The Florida native didn’t learn the sport until he was a senior in high school. He was recruited as a defensive end in a 4-3 system, moved to outside linebacker in a 3-4 in 2017 and absorbed a different version of that scheme last year. Until now, it’s been more about thinking than reacting for the 23-year-old whom teammates call “Ace.” Davis played all 12 games last year with four starts but finished with just five tackles (none for loss). Expand that to his career, and it’s 37 games with nine starts but just 24 stops (four for loss). The end of the learning curve is almost here, and Davis has one more chance to pass the test.
28. Noah Vedral
6-1, 200 • Sophomore • quarterback
One injury could thrust Vedral into starting duty in an instant. As it is, at least the Wahoo Neumann grad already knows he’ll be eligible. Vedral navigated one of the stranger redshirt seasons last year. After working through the spring believing he would have to sit out 2018, the NCAA ruled midseason that he could return. And while he did play — completing two passes for 29 yards and running for a 20-yard touchdown in the second half against Bethune-Cookman — coach Scott Frost later expressed regret at deploying him while rusty and with the second-team offense. Vedral, who followed Frost from UCF, is as versed in the offense as any current Husker. If nothing else, he’s a valuable insurance policy for starter Adrian Martinez.
27. Kade Warner
6-1, 210 • Sophomore • wide receiver
In a crowded group of receivers trying to earn playing time, Warner has a niche. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters last fall compared the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner to like “another coach on the field ... you just feel comfortable with him.” He knows the offense, he blocks consistently, and he doesn’t drop passes. The 20-year-old wideout caught 17 balls for 95 yards in nine games last year. While other Husker receivers perhaps possess more physical upside, his reliability grade is among the best on the team.
26. Marquel Dismuke
6-2, 200 • Junior • safety
In a sense, Dismuke is the last man standing.
He’s still a Husker after every other recruit from the “Calibraska” movement departed. He’s still manning safety after Nebraska graduated its top three at the position.
Now the junior with 44 career tackles in 20 games (one start) is perhaps a favorite to start at safety. He’ll have competition from senior Eric Lee, and perhaps sophomore Cam Taylor along with a host of true freshmen.
But his investment in the program and effort on special teams will likely give him first crack at the job.
25. Trent Hixson
6-4, 300 • Sophomore • offensive line
The next in-state walk-on name to know might be the starting left guard this fall. Hixson, from Omaha Skutt, got a taste of major college football while appearing in four games last year. Since then, offensive line coach Greg Austin describes Hixson as playing with “his hair on fire.” Coach Scott Frost said in April that Hixson would be a top candidate for a scholarship among walk-ons if one becomes available. Nebraska could still shuffle its line in a variety of ways — for example, true freshman Bryce Benhart could play and move Matt Farniok inside from right tackle. But Hixson will be a trendy pick to play big minutes when fall camp arrives.
24. Tyrin Ferguson
6-2, 230 • Senior • outside linebacker
Ferguson flashed it at times last year. The Colorado game, when he more than doubled his career tackles with 10 stops. The five tackles in key moments against Michigan State. Now if only he could stay healthy. Ferguson broke out as a junior with 36 tackles (six for loss) and affected possessions when he was on the field. But a nagging ankle injury also cost him four games and limited him in others after fighting through turf toe in 2017. For all of Nebraska’s uncertainty at outside linebacker, Ferguson represents perhaps the most reliable option when 100 percent. The senior said in the spring he felt good and now understands the defense in full. As his status goes, so may the perception of Nebraska’s strength at outside ’backer.
23. Collin Miller
6-3, 245 • Junior • outside linebacker
Miller finally has a home, which could mean big things this fall. It feels like longer than three years ago that the standout from Fishers, Indiana, arrived as a projected defensive end. He moved to outside linebacker in 2017, then became a swingman there and at the inside spot after Scott Frost took over. He made 17 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now, Miller’s job is more clearly defined. The graduation of four-year starter Dedrick Young helped with that, as did injuries to other inside linebackers like Will Honas and Nick Henrich. Whether through ability or attrition, Miller will get a chance to prove his versatility and the fruits of his hard work.
22. Mike Williams
5-10, 185 • Senior • wide receiver
Williams already has the speed, the hands and the understanding of the offense. If he can also be a consistent blocker, his playing time could spike as much as anyone on the team. Walling off a defensive back is a must on Nebraska’s multiple edge plays, and Williams didn’t do it consistently enough last year to stay on the field. While he played in all 12 games — reeling in 12 balls for 122 yards — the juco transfer from East Mississippi Community College had just one reception of longer than 20 yards, went multiple games without a catch and didn’t score. Opportunity awaits at a position with unproven depth. Williams has the chance to grab it, but he’s running out of time.
6-2, 340 • Sophomore • defensive lineman
Here comes Nebraska’s long-term answer at nose tackle. While this fall is the third season in the program for the big man from Dallas, Daniels still won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until the Aug. 31 season opener. A season to learn under older brother and grad transfer Darrion Daniels won’t hurt, and neither will another offseason to build his strength and conditioning. Damion Daniels recorded 12 tackles in 12 games last year after redshirting in 2017. While the younger Daniels may not start, watch how many consecutive plays he can go before coming out. D-line coach Tony Tuioti said in the spring that the number was around three, with the goal of reaching five and eventually Darrion’s total of 6-8.
20. Ben Stille
6-5, 295 • Junior • defensive lineman
Stille checks many of the boxes of a future NU star. The Ashland-Greenwood grad grew up a Husker fan. He plays with a high motor. He declined a Blackshirt jersey at one point last year because he thought he hadn’t played up to its standard. Perhaps the final piece for Stille is on-field disruption. He weighed 240 pounds as a true freshman in 2017, playing end and outside linebacker. He only had time to add 15 pounds when the new staff kept him exclusively on the line, where he made 25 tackles last season. Five of those were sacks, which is the most among NU returners. Now with a full offseason of strength training, he could be the biggest in-house improvement on the team as a pass rusher and edge setter.
19. Kanawai Noa
6-0, 200 • senior • wide receiver
Nebraska has had success in the graduate-transfer market under Scott Frost. That trend may continue with Noa.
When no wideouts distinguished themselves in spring ball after the departure of Stanley Morgan, coaches found the playmaker who made 96 career catches for 1,267 yards and six touchdowns at California. Noa’s only injury-free campaign was 2017, when he caught 56 balls for 788 yards and four scores out of the slot.
But with veteran JD Spielman entrenched at that position, Noa is likely to line up on the outside. Half a dozen receivers could take off with Morgan’s old role. Noa brings a proven toughness and track record of production to the race.
18. Boe Wilson
6-3, 300 • Junior • offensive line
Nebraska will have two new starters on its interior line. Then there’s Wilson, who has suddenly gone from the new guy to an elder statesman in the middle of the field. Fans clamored and coaches discussed Wilson’s breaking through in 2017, though he mostly saw action on special teams and even as a goal-line fullback. But after beginning last season as a backup, he started the last nine games at right guard en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten status. Assuming Matt Farniok stays at right tackle, the Huskers will be breaking in a new center and left guard. If Wilson continues to lock down his spot, NU will be that much better early on.
17. Cam Taylor
6-0, 205 • Sophomore • defensive back
Nebraska wants defensive backs who can play everywhere. Taylor takes that to another level. While the long-term outlook for the Alabama native and former three-star recruit might be corner, he’ll likely be a wild-card fill-in all over the field this fall. The former high school quarterback has contributed on all four special teams units and can play safety or nickelback, as well. While he was more of a factor in substitution packages last year, the departure of three senior safeties means Nebraska will be looking for help on the back end. He recorded 12 tackles in 11 games a year ago. Factor in how Taylor pushed the older defensive backs as a true freshman, and the ingredients are there for him to become one of NU’s youngest defensive leaders, if he isn’t already.
16. Jack Stoll
6-4, 260 • junior • tight end
If the tight end position gets going again at Nebraska, Stoll figures to be a big reason why. Coach Scott Frost has said Stoll’s name more than once when listing leaders and underclassmen he’s excited about. From Lone Tree, Colorado, Stoll is already a capable blocker and made 21 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns last season. While others at his position may have more physical upside or long-term potential, no one offers the same reliability and intangibles. A campaign like UCF tight end Jordan Akins enjoyed in Frost’s offense in 2017 — featuring 500-plus receiving yards and more than 16 yards per catch — would further signal that the potent attack is evolving at Nebraska.
15. Wan’Dale Robinson
5-10, 190 • Freshman • wr/rB
The hype is high for Robinson. And the talent is real. Recruiting services think so, with the Kentucky native ranking 15th among all Nebraska commits by 247Sports since it began tracking in the early 2000s. Nearly the entire Husker coaching staff was part of his in-home visit last winter and raved about him in the spring. Most top programs nationally offered the electric playmaker, who totaled 118 offensive touchdowns and 8,582 yards from scrimmage as a prep star. Minor injuries kept Robinson out of the Red-White scrimmage, so he’s yet to show what he can do at the college level. Expect to see him take off right away — he would have the ability to do so even if receiver and running back weren’t both positions of need entering the season.
14. JoJo Domann
6-1, 235 • Junior • OLB/DB
Exactly where Domann will line up on the field isn’t always obvious. That’s just fine for Nebraska as long as he’s out there. NU’s most versatile defender has his own position name — Cinco. He can come to the line as an outside linebacker or drop into coverage as a defensive back. With the Huskers starving for a pass rush most of last year, his strip-sack of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins was perhaps the team’s most memorable defensive play. Multiple ACL surgeries shelved the Colorado Springs product for all of 2017. Injuries limited him to eight games last year, with Domann hearing from coaches that he was one play away from earning a Blackshirt. If he can stay healthy and get after the QB with any consistency, that will be the floor for him this fall.
13. Matt Farniok
6-6, 335 • Junior • offensive line
Here comes the new vocal leader of the offensive line. The signs were there this spring, when coaches and teammates confirmed Farniok’s observation that he’s the mouthpiece for a group that graduated two veterans — and communicators — in guards Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster. After starting all 12 games at right tackle last year, Farniok earned the right to be the one holding others accountable. While some offseason scuttlebutt had Farniok shifting inside to guard, he remained at tackle throughout spring ball. He’s athletic and strong enough to stay there for another two years as a plug-and-play starter. There’s a toughness gene, too — last year he broke fingers and tore ligaments but said he “just had to play through the little stuff.”
12. Dedrick Mills
5-11, 220 • Junior • running back
Mills broke free of any lingering academic doubts in May. Now he’ll get the chance to take the opportunity to the house — perhaps over and over again. The former standout at Georgia Tech and Garden City (Kan.) Community College could have a Devine Ozigbo-like impact on Nebraska’s running game with his physical, up-the-middle style. And he’s already shown he can do it in college, rushing for 1,358 yards and 19 touchdowns in 10 juco games last year and averaging 85.7 yards per game with 12 scores at Georgia Tech in 2016. Talent and opportunity appear to be lining up for the rounded back. All the more if freshman Wan’Dale Robinson spends more time at receiver and sophomore Maurice Washington can’t clear up his legal situation.
11. Carlos Davis
6-2, 325 • Senior • defensive line
Davis has long been one of the more respected Blackshirts among teammates, but now he has the experience to reinforce his reputation. His 25 career starts are the most among returning Nebraska defenders, and he began the final eight games last year at nose tackle out of necessity while piling up 23 tackles — three for loss — and one quarterback hurry. With more talent emerging at nose, he’ll likely shift back to his more natural spot at end. His 2017 totals of 42 tackles and 2½ sacks on the edge seem like a good baseline for expectations this fall. Nebraska’s starting line is littered with veterans, but few have the leadership opportunity Davis does.
10. Khalil Davis
6-2, 315 • Senior • defensive line
After a strong junior season that merited Big Ten honorable mention, Khalil Davis, the twin of Carlos Davis, is poised for a breakout senior season. He was selected by coaches to attend Big Ten media days, and he helps anchor an experienced defensive line that should be — and needs to be — among the Big Ten’s best in 2019. Khalil has gained weight and mass, and while he may be a better fit for 4-3 tackle in the NFL, he’s more than capable in this 3-4 defense, especially on third down. Davis could have five sacks or more this season.
9. Brenden Jaimes
6-6, 300 • junior • offensive tackle
A starter since his true freshman season, Jaimes has put on roughly 40 pounds the past two years. He has worked on becoming a more vocal leader, as well. Jaimes’ most important job is to protect the backside of quarterback Adrian Martinez, and other than a few hiccups — last season at Northwestern — he has done that well. Jaimes is a good athlete and an above-average run blocker. As a junior, he’s likely to be one of the better tackles in the Big Ten.
8. Dicaprio Bootle
5-10, 195 • Junior • cornerback
Gamer deluxe. Bootle competes and competes at corner, never giving an inch even if he gives away a few pounds and a little height. Opposing teams threw at him a lot, and while he didn’t win every one-on-one battle, his league-leading pass breakup total indicates he’s one of the better field corners in the Big Ten West, and perhaps the league. Bootle is capable against the run, as well, and a genuine leader in his position room. Smart, well-liked, hard-working. Bootle is a coach’s dream.
7. Maurice Washington
6-1, 190 • Sophomore • R. back
A player so talented that he could arrive on campus right in time for training camp last summer, play the season 20 pounds underweight and pick everything up so fast he ran for 455 yards and caught 24 passes for 221 yards. Washington’s sheer gifts are offset by off-the-field issues that hindered his progress since high school and could mean he misses some playing time in 2019. Until a felony charge is resolved in a California court, NU may be hard-pressed to allow Washington onto the field. When he’s out there, it’s clear: He can play the game at a high level.
6. Deontai Williams
6-1, 205 • Junior • Safety
A big-time playmaker in spot duty last season, Williams should slide into a starting role. And he has the size, speed and aggression to become one of the Big Ten’s best safeties. He’ll overplay his hand at times, but Williams has little fear in run support and he can cover ground quickly in the pass game, as evidenced by two interceptions last season. Williams will be one of the defense’s leaders and perhaps its best trash-talker.
5. Lamar Jackson
6-3, 215 • Senior • cornerback
He has the frame, the length, the speed and the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks. One of the nation’s best corners, for that matter. For Jackson, it’s been a journey to that moment — one that has included a benching — but when No. 21 turns and runs with a speedy receiver, he wins much more often than he loses. His continued growth as a player will be key to NU’s secondary growing into one of the league’s best, and Jackson has the right kind of coach, former NFL-er Travis Fisher, to push him toward it. Jackson tackled better at the end of last season than he ever has, and he should enjoy a big senior campaign opposite another seasoned corner, Dicaprio Bootle.
4. JD Spielman
5-9, 180 • Junior • wide receiver
A player so smart that teammates almost never see him sweat, Spielman is called the “ultimate gamer” by his teammates for his ability to flip a cool, detached personality over to one of the best players on the field. The secret to Spielman’s success is both his football IQ — as the son of an NFL general manager, that’s not a surprise — and his light-as-a-dancer feet, which can get him out of trouble — and opposing tacklers — with ease. Few players turn and run the way Spielman does, and he’s a good returner, too. His health is paramount, and, like a well-tuned sports car, Spielman can’t get too banged up. With a guy who flips the switch, practice is prologue.
3. Darrion Daniels
6-4, 340, Senior, Defensive tackle
One of the most valuable transfers in recent Husker history, Daniels came to campus ready to work and lead. And, by all accounts, he’s done that, immediately becoming one of the top voices for the Husker defense. He’d be valuable in that way alone, but what vaults Daniels into the top five is his value as a true nose tackle and his willingness to take up two offensive linemen in the middle of the field. A 3-4 defense needs a great nose tackle, and Daniels has the size and strength to be that for Nebraska. The better he is, the better the linebackers and safeties behind him can be.
2 .Mohamed Barry
6-1, 230 • Senior • inside linebacker
The heart and soul of Nebraska’s defense, Barry was the first Husker to have more than 100 tackles in a season since Lavonte David. Barry possesses some of David’s instincts, too, in wanting to run to the ball, wreak havoc and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike David, Barry has lacked an elite defensive line in front of him … until now. Barry should find it much easier to make run stops without having to constantly take on lead blockers all over the field. As a leader, Barry is perhaps Nebraska’s best. He’s a no-nonsense, passionate truth-teller who wants to hold his teammates accountable for their actions.
1. Adrian Martinez
6-2, 225 • Sophomore • quarterback
He’s the straw that stirs the whole Nebraska drink, the player some refer to as coach Scott Frost’s right-hand man. Martinez was terrific as a true freshman — his ability kept the Huskers in a lot of games — and should be even better as a sophomore. If he’s great, he could be the Big Ten’s best quarterback — and help lead the Huskers to either a division or a conference title. In Year 2, Martinez is being asked to shoulder more of the load as a leader and get to the smaller, more essential details of the offense. With quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco guiding him, Martinez gets a very technical, thorough foundation from which he can make plays. While Martinez will be asked to cut down turnovers and perhaps scramble a little bit more, his playmaking instincts are strong, as is his arm. Martinez is, in short, one of the most talented quarterbacks to roll through Nebraska in many years. Frost knows it, and he wants to maximize the team’s excellence while Martinez is here.