Pernell: 2018 Recruiting Class Summary
Top 40 Recruiting Classes
2. Ohio State
5. Penn State
10. Florida State
12. Notre Dame
17. Texas A&M
19. South Carolina
23. Virginia Tech
24. North Carolina
25. Mississippi State
26. N.C. State
31. Michigan State
33. Oklahoma State
35. West Virginia
37. Arizona State
Ranking Nebraska’s Commits
1. RB Maurice Washington (Trinity Christian (TX) – Stockton, CA)
2. QB Adrian Martinez (Clovis West – Fresno, CA)
3. OLB Caleb Tannor (Miller Grove – Stone Mountain, GA)
4. S Cam’ron Jones (Mansfield – Mansfield, TX)
5. ILB Will Honas (JUCO – Wichita, KS)
6. S CJ Smith (Oxbridge Academy – West Palm Beach, FL)
7. TE Cameron Jurgens (Beatrice – Beatrice, NE)
8. WR Dominick Watt (Miramar – Hollywood, FL)
9. RB Greg Bell (JUCO – Chula Vista, CA)
10. WR/RB Miles Jones (American Heritage – Miramar, FL)
11. DE Tate Wildeman (Legend – Parker, CO)
12. WR Jaron Woodyard (JUCO – Gaithersburg, MD)
13. DB Deontai Williams (JUCO – Jacksonville, FL)
14. DB Cameron Taylor (Park Crossing – Montgomery, AL)
15. WR Andre Hunt (Paraclete – Palm Dale, CA)
16. OLB David Alston (Woodbury – Saint Paul, MN)
17. CB Braxton Clark (Dr. Phillips – Orlando, FL)
18. OL Will Farniok (Washington – Sioux Falls, SD)
19. OT Willie Canty III (Glades Central – Belle Glade, FL)
20. WR/TE Justin McGriff (Jefferson – Tampa, FL)
21. WR Mike Williams (JUCO – Lake City, FL)
22. TE Katerian Legrone (B.E.S.T Academy – Atlanta, GA)
23. DE Casey Rogers (Prep School – Syracuse, NY)
*K Barret Pickering (Hoover – Hoover, AL)
The Huskers signed 24 players to their 2018 class. The 24 recruits hail from 12 different states: Florida (8), California (4), Alabama (2), Georgia (2), Colorado (1), Kansas (1), Maryland (1), Minnesota (1), Nebraska (1), New York (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (1)
Position Group Summaries
Quarterback (1): The top priority for any recruiting class – particularly when a coaching change is involved – is finding your class quarterback. Nebraska will be shifting their offensive system and brining in a guy who fits your new philosophy is paramount. The very first offer this staff made – to anyone – was to Adrian Martinez. Within an hour or so of winning the AAC Championship, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco was on the phone offering Martinez a scholarship.
“When I was evaluating quarterbacks for this class a long time ago, Adrian was my favorite guy in the country,” Frost revealed. “We didn’t think we had a chance to get him at our previous school, but now getting to Nebraska, he was interested.” The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Martinez accumulated 2,562 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions, and added 1,462 rushing yards (8.0 per carry) and 14 more scores as a junior but didn’t play his senior year at Clovis West (Fresno, CA) after having shoulder surgery in March to repair a torn labrum. A consensus four-star recruit ranked as high as No. 98 in the country by Rivals, Martinez received nearly 30 offers that included Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma and Oregon. He had been committed to Tennessee since May but the coaching change in Knoxville prompted him to look around. He visited Nebraska a week after being offered and signed with the Huskers during the early signing period.
Martinez was selected to play in the prestigious Under Armour All-American Game. It was his first game in 406 days. Despite the long layoff, he drew praise from national evaluators for his consistency all week during practices. Martinez threw for 28 yards and a touchdown on 3-for-8 passing and rushed for 20 yards on three carries. He enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. Grade: A-
Running Back (2): Moving forward in the new offense, Husker coaches will be looking for a versatile skill set with their running backs. Frost and his staff began that transition nicely with the 2018 class. Two-time NJCAA first team All-American Greg Bell out of Arizona Western C.C. has a chance to come in and compete for the starting spot immediately. The 6-foot, 200-pound Bell rushed for 1,187 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman season and followed that up by rushing for 1,217 yards and 11 scores this past season. He also helped Arizona Western reach the JUCO National Championship game this past season. As a senior in high school, Bell had 320 carries for 2, 632 yards and 33 touchdowns leading his Chula Vista (CA) Bonita Vista squad to their first CIF title in its 49-year history. Bell, the No. 1 juco running back in the country according to Rivals, is Nebraska’s first juco running back signee since Kenny Wilson in 2006. Bell enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. He is rated a four-star recruit by Rivals and ESPN, who lists him as the nation’s No. 20 junior college prospect.
Nebraska added to the room on signing day when Maurice Washington chose the Huskers over fellow finalist Arizona State. Frost and his staff hit on one of the most overlooked players in the 2018 class. Washington went under the radar after sitting out his junior season in California for his perceived “athletically motivated” transfer. He burst onto the prep scene as a sophomore at The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale (CA), rushing for 1,827 yards and 29 touchdowns. But the school fired an assistant coach with whom Washington was close, prompting him to transfer to the public school in his area. Section officials viewed his move as athletically motivated and declared him ineligible for the entire school year. He ended up transferring to Trinity Christian in Cedar Hill (TX) for his senior year and had an outstanding season. Washington played running back, receiver, wildcat quarterback, cornerback, safety, linebacker, returned punts and kickoffs and punted – leading his team to a state title.
Washington set several school records, racking up 1,253 rushing yards (10.2 per carry) and 15 scores along with 26 catches for 582 yards (22.4 average) and nine touchdowns, while being named the Texas D11 Player of the Year. Despite enjoying a comeback season of sorts, academic concerns continued to scare off teams. Nebraska began recruiting him when the staff got to Lincoln and delayed his initial official visit while they waited to see if he could become eligible. When they saw a path to eligibility, they set up his visit for the final weekend before signing day.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Washington’s recruitment started to really take off after his performance in the Under Armour All-American game in early January. He totaled 159 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. He set an Under Armour All-America Game record for touchdowns scored (3) and became the first player in the 10-year history of the game to post both a rushing and receiving touchdown on his way to being named MVP. The entire week leading up to the game, Washington was regarded as one of the best overall talents among some of the best players in the nation. Soon after, teams like Ohio State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Clemson, Florida, UCLA, Florida State and others joined Nebraska in their pursuit of Washington.
Washington is a special athlete. Several teams recruited him to play cornerback, where his size, athleticism and ball skills could probably translate into an All-Conference defensive back. Instead, Frost will use those traits and make him the focal point of his offense at running back. He is rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN and 247Sports. ESPN listed him as the No. 93 overall prospect in the country and as the nation’s fifth-best running back. Grade: A-
Wide Receiver (6) and Tight End (2): Scott Frost doesn’t look at offensive positions in traditional ways. He’ll use running backs, receivers and tight ends in ways few teams do. Last season, UCF had 16 different players with a rushing attempt and 17 players who caught a pass. Frost loves to get a lot of people involved and he does it unconventionally. He wants playmakers with speed, versatility and an ability to take advantage of 0ne-on-one situations. Frost would like to carry 10 scholarship receivers, and Nebraska had six when he arrived. One of them, Zack Darlington, announced January 30 that he was leaving the program to join the Army. Another, Keyan Williams, only played in two games last year (one reception) because of hamstring issues. Redshirt freshman Jaevon McQuitty has suffered two difficult injuries over the span of a year. He had shoulder surgery in December of 2016 and then suffered a knee injury during fall camp this past August.
The roster needed an injection of speed. It needed more guys who fit the profile Frost wants in his offense. Well, mission accomplished. Frost and his staff were able to add several high-caliber prospects and have doubled the size of the room with this class.
The first offensive commit that Scott Frost received as coach of Nebraska was from Jaron Woodyard, who was a teammate of Greg Bell’s at Arizona Western C.C. Both received offers within 24 hours of Frost’s hire. Woodyard, who visited Central Florida in September, intended on committing to the Knights after the season despite offers from Power Five schools such as West Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Arizona State and Texas Tech. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Woodyard is rated a four-star recruit by ESPN, who lists him as the No. 2 juco receiver and No. 11 junior college prospect in the country. He reportedly has a 4.41-second time in the 40-yard dash and in high school ran a 10.68 in the 100 meters and a 21.50 in the 200. Coaches had hoped Woodyard would be able to enroll in January and participate in spring practice, but he was unable to make that work. He is expected to arrive in time for summer with three years to play two seasons.
Woodyard wasn’t the only juco receiver that Frost signed. The staff also added Mike Williams (5-10, 175) out of East Mississippi C.C. Williams began his career at Georgia Southern in 2016 – where he appeared in 11 games, before heading to EMCC for his sophomore season in 2017. Williams flew under-the-radar a bit because he didn’t join the Lions program until the summer – which meant nobody was able to see him over the spring recruiting period. This past season, Williams tallied 669 receiving yards, playing a key part in helping East Mississippi win the NJCAA national championship against, ironically enough, Woodyard and Bell’s Arizona Western squad. His 30 catches ranked fourth on the team, but he averaged a team-best 22.3 yards per reception and caught seven touchdowns. Williams had more yards and touchdowns than his teammate Kirk Merritt, who was a consensus four-star and a highly sought after receiver in the 2015 class. Nebraska moved quickly after Ryan Held found him. The Huskers offered on January 7 and by the 10th he was on campus enrolling. He was getting late interest from Tennessee, UCLA and Texas Tech but the Huskers closed the deal too quick for those schools to gain any traction. Williams has big-play ability and this summer reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 second. He has three years to play two and will participate in spring practice.
Miles Jones brings even more speed to Nebraska’s wide receiver class. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Jones is a dynamic athlete who shows excellent burst, short area quickness and outstanding top-end speed. His vision, change of direction and overall elusiveness make him dangerous with the ball in his hands. He will help the Huskers in a multitude of ways. Jones will play wide receiver and running back, motioning in and out of the backfield, and also could factor in the Huskers’ return game. Frost plans to use Jones much the same way he did former Oregon standout De’Anthony Thomas and Otis Anderson, who was a versatile freshman this past season for UCF. As a senior, Jones accounted for 695 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 61 attempts (11.6 per carry) and also added 29 catches for 401 yards and two touchdowns. He was also dangerous in the return game, with 15 kickoff returns for 458 yards (30.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, along with 17 punt returns for 276 yards (16.2 avg.). Jones will be lethal on smoke hitches and go routes and also be effective on square-ins and digs. He was the offensive focal point at Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage, a powerhouse program that went 14-0 this past season, checking in at No. 4 in the nation in MaxPreps’ final Xcellent 25 rankings. In fact, Jones hasn’t lost a game in his last two years of football having gone 28-0 over that time with two Florida Class 5A titles. Rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals, Jones is also a track star who is a state champion on his high school’s track team. He had been committed to Vanderbilt for nearly 10 months, but flipped his commitment while on his official visit to Lincoln during the weekend of January 12.
Nebraska has been looking for size and length at the receiver position for several years – and several coaching staffs. They finally hit on one with the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Justin McGriff, who was one of the top performers at The Opening Regional in Orlando last February. He was one of the first UCF commitments the staff offered after taking over at Nebraska. There is some thought McGriff could add some weight during his career in Lincoln and eventually transition to tight end. With a lack of depth returning to Nebraska’s receiver room, there is a chance McGriff can play his way into the rotation and skip a redshirt. The fact he enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball helps his chances.
The Huskers also added Rivals four-star recruit Dominick Watt. He was named a top performer at numerous 7-v-7 tournaments this past spring. Watt was also named one of the top performers at The Opening Regional in Miami last February. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Watt compares favorably to current Husker Stanley Morgan. Like Morgan, Watt is a strong, physical presence who shows excellent hands, is an outstanding blocker and is tough to tackle. Watt won’t blow you away with his top-end speed, but he does run well. He is adept at catching the ball in traffic and making tough grabs. Sound familiar? Named first-team all-county as a senior, Watt has the sort of size, hands and overall rounded game that could see him make an impact early in his career. Watt had several offers, including Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Oregon, Tennessee, Louisville, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. He announced his commitment publicly at exactly midnight on his birthday (Jan. 19), but informed Husker coaches Scott Frost, Jovan Dewitt and Troy Walters of his intentions prior during a two hour in-home visit that evening. Watt still had not visited the Lincoln campus, but did so with his mother the following weekend.
Nebraska completed its recruiting class with a final commitment on signing day from Andre Hunt. This was a case of Frost wanting to add talent wherever it came from. Hunt had been committed to USC since June, but decommitted a few days before the early signing period in December. The staff offered the 6-foot, 175-pound Hunt on Christmas Eve and Troy Walters made several trips to see him. Hunt was one of the top receivers in California. As a senior, he made 67 catches for 1,185 yards and 18 touchdowns and was named to the Division 5 All-CIF team. Hunt was a standout on the camp circuit this past spring and summer. He stood out at the Under Armour All-America Camp in Los Angeles and The Opening Regional in Los Angeles last March and at The Opening Regional in Oakland this past May. He brings a lot of speed and the ability to take the top off of a defense.
Along with the needed influx of wide receiver talent, the staff also began to add to an already full tight ends room. Nebraska has five scholarship tight ends returning from last season – all of whom are sophomores or freshmen in classification. The rub, though, is that they are largely untested and were recruited for a more traditional pro-style offense. The position will be utilized in a different way in the new offense.
One of the centerpieces of this class is Beatrice athlete Cameron Jurgens. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Jurgens was named to the Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska and Lincoln Journal Star Super-State first team as a junior and senior after being named a second-team Super-State selection as a sophomore. An outstanding all-around athlete, Jurgens won the all-class gold medal in the shot put and discus at both the 2016 and 2017 Nebraska state track and field championships. It’s believed the consensus four-star recruit will start his career at tight end, but Jurgens has the versatility to move to defense if coaches choose to go that route. Jurgens earned his Husker offer on June 6, 2015 at the end of his freshman year. He outshined several highly rated upperclassmen at a Friday Nights Light Camp to get that offer. He committed two months later (August 6) and was committed for 867 days before signing on December 20. Jurgens committed so long ago, that Mike Riley had yet to coach a game for Nebraska and Scott Frost was still the offensive coordinator at Oregon. Jurgens is rated as high as No. 123 in the country by 247Sports, but I still feel he is largely underrated by the recruiting services. He had been committed for so long and wasn’t a fixture on the camp circuit like so many of his peers. He visited LSU the same weekend Mike Riley was fired and considered flipping to the Tigers. His lifetime passion and love for the University of Nebraska won out and after being the first recruit visited by Scott Frost and Barrett Ruud, he decided to stick with the hometown Huskers.
One of the first UCF commitments the staff reached back to after taking the Nebraska job was Katerian Legrone. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Legrone visited the weekend of December 15 and then committed and signed during the early signing period. Legrone fits more of the profile that Frost will likely target moving forward. Legrone can play split out at the Y-Receiver spot or in-line as a tight end in Frost’s offense. His versatility is exactly what this staff likes in the position. Grade: B+
Offensive Line (2): The new staff was able to hold on to Will Farniok, who joins his older brother, Matt, a redshirt sophomore tackle for the Huskers. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Farniok was a longtime target of the previous staff, having first camped in Lincoln at a Friday Night Lights event in June of 2015. Farniok was offered in October of 2015 and was a frequent visitor to campus over the next two years. He committed to Mike Riley a week before last April’s Spring Game. The previous staff planned to plug him in at center, and that seems to be the plan with Frost now as well. Farniok is ranked as the No. 9 center recruit in the 2018 class by ESPN and chose the Huskers over schools such as Iowa, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Iowa State and Virginia. Farniok earned a spot on the South Dakota Coaches Association all-state team as a center in each of his final three seasons. He brings a nastiness you want to see from an offensive lineman. He held his own and looked good this past year while participating in events like the Nike Opening Combine, the US Army All-America Combine and the Rivals Camp Series. Farniok enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. He should easily be able to get to the 290 to 300 pound range once Zach Duval gets his hands on him.
The staff wanted to make sure they added a tackle to this class. They were able to circle the wagons on Willie Canty III, a kid they had been recruiting to Central Florida. In fact, Frost and his staff were the first to offer Canty a scholarship back in April. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Canty is also a basketball standout and it shows with his footwork and ability to pull and stunt. Canty is still relatively raw and will need a few years to develop, but he could be a nice tackle prospect for this staff in a few years. He chose the Huskers over Louisville on signing day. Grade: C-
Defensive Line (2): One of the biggest sleepers in this class could be Tate Wildeman, which is saying something since he is rated as a four-star recruit by both 247Sports and Rivals. It was a family connection that first drew Wildeman to Nebraska. His dad played college football at Iowa with former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Wildeman visited Lincoln during the weekend of the spring game. He was offered by Diaco on the Friday he arrived and committed on Sunday before he left. Wildeman was just starting to get notoriety on the recruiting trail and ended up being a big recruiting win for the Huskers. He plays with leverage and is strong at the point of attack in addition to being a good pass rusher. He shows good instincts and a high motor off the edge, flying off the snap to quickly gain separation on opposing offensive tackles and finishing plays in the backfield. Regarded as the No. 2 recruit in the state of Colorado by both Rivals and the 247Sports Composite rankings, Wildeman would seem to be an ideal fit as a 3-4 defensive end. He can play the 5-technique or the 4-technique, head up on the tackle.
After Riley was fired, Wildeman took official visits to Washington State and Colorado State while waiting to see what would happen in Lincoln. He also received a late push from Notre Dame. He was excited about the hire of Scott Frost and, ironically, the family connection to the staff lives on as the elder Wildeman actually coached new Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander at Iowa. Wildeman could easily add 30 pounds and not lose any athleticism from the outside. I wouldn’t be surprised if he grabs a starting spot after a redshirt season and becomes a multiyear starter.
The current roster does not have a lot of ideal fits for several of the positions in the new 3-4. The previous staff helped out a lot by identifying Wildeman, but Frost wanted at least one more schematic fit at defensive end in this class. Nebraska found a sleeper to pair with Wildeman. Casey Rogers was originally set to play lacrosse at Syracuse – widely considered the best lacrosse school in the country, where his dad is an assistant coach. In 2017, as a senior at Westhill High in Syracuse (N.Y.), Rogers was named a US Lacrosse High School All-American. But Rogers decided to try and earn a shot at playing college football. He turned down a scholarship offer from Western Michigan at the end of the 2017 recruiting cycle to head to prep school in Connecticut. He spent this past season playing at Avon Old Farms. Last summer, he camped at schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Colorado, Boston College, West Virginia, Syracuse and Connecticut. He stood out at several stops and was impressive enough to get invited to take official visits to Alabama and Ohio State.
Rogers received his first scholarship offer on December 4 and by the time Nebraska offered on the 27th, he held Power five offers from Cal, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Indiana, Oregon State, Virginia, Vanderbilt and Rutgers. The Husker staff hosted the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Rogers on his official visit January 12, the first weekend after the dead period was over. Roughly 16 hours after Rogers boarded a plane to head back to Avon Old Farms, Scott Frost, Erik Chinander and Mike Dawson were in Connecticut visiting him at his prep school at 9am. The coaches spent all morning with Rogers, then flew to Syracuse to spend the afternoon with his parents. Rogers committed to the Huskers the following day. He is relatively new to the sport of football, having focused exclusively on the sport for a short amount of time. He will need a few years to develop, but he has the frame and athleticism to be a productive player in a few years. Grade: C
Linebacker (3): One of the biggest recruiting wins of this cycle involved a position that wasn’t a huge need in this class. Will Honas was offered by Nebraska on December 2 – the day Scott Frost was officially hired away from Central Florida. The Huskers were playing major catch up with Honas, who had already taken visits to Arkansas, Iowa and Kansas State and was narrowing his choice between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. Thanks in large part to inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, Nebraska made immediate headway with the standout from Butler Community College in Kansas. Ruud and Erik Chinander went to Butler soon after offering Honas and it was that initial conversation that helped lock the Huskers in for an official visit just days before the juco defender was set to sign. The staff then had to sweat out a late push from Wisconsin. In the end, the star linebacker signed on the second day of the early signing period. Nebraska won out over Big Ten West foes Iowa, Wisconsin and former Big 12 rival Kansas State.
Honas could be in line for an immediate starting position despite the numbers returning in the middle for Nebraska. His film shows a prototypical Big 10 linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Honas excels flowing sideline-to-sideline, filling lanes with impressive thump and is a sure tackler. He is also adept in pass coverage. In short, he displays the characteristics at the position this team has lacked for several years. This past season, Honas totaled 96 tackles in 11 games, including three sacks and a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He was regarded as a four-star prospect by ESPN and ranked as the top junior college inside linebacker by both ESPN and 247Sports.
Much like defensive end, another position on this roster that needs a makeover to fit the 3-4 is outside linebacker. David Alston was an early target of the previous staff, having offered him in the beginning of April. He ended up visiting and touring the campus in mid-May. Former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco recruited Alston specifically to play his CAT outside linebacker position. That position required the ability to cover people in space, but also rush the passer as a down or stand-up defensive end in certain packages. That skill set will translate nice in the new defense as well. Alston will play the BUCK position in Chinander’s defense. Alston is a good athlete, having earned a 98.91 SPARQ score at The Opening Chicago last spring, where he was one of the standouts at the event. He also shined at the Under Armour Chicago camp last April as well. At 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds, Alston has a great frame to work with. He has the ability to fill out and add more good weight moving forward without losing any speed or athleticism. On film, he shows good lateral quickness and the ability to read and diagnose plays quickly. Alston took his official visit September 16 for the Northern Illinois game and committed October 6 over finalists Wisconsin and Utah, just when the heat on Riley was really starting to pick up. Alston is the No. 1 player in Minnesota according to Rivals, ESPN and the 247Sports Composite rankings. As a senior, Alston was named to the Minneapolis Star Tribune all-metro first team and was a finalist for Twin Cities Pioneer Press Metro Player of the Year.
Nebraska had five players commit to them publicly on signing day. None were more important than Caleb Tannor. The Huskers desperately needed to add an explosive pass rusher in this class, and Tannor provides that element. The staff did a great job of showing him how he could excel and see the field early in this defense. Outside of redshirt freshman Guy Thomas, there aren’t any linebackers on the current roster who fit the mold like the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Tannor. The staff wants him to play the SAM position, a role occupied by Shaquem Griffin at UCF. “Caleb is going to be one of our SAM linebackers, Barrett Ruud explained. “It’s a huge get for us, because our SAM position is kind of a jack of all trades. You have to be able to play on the line of scrimmage, set the edge. You’ve got to go play in space. He’s got to be able to cover wide receivers man-to-man at times. They have to do a lot of things. He’s as versatile a linebacker as we’ve seen out there.”
Tannor had a final three of Nebraska, Florida and Auburn. Florida State, Miami and Texas A&M also made late pushes. Committed to Georgia from July until November, Tannor received additional offers from Alabama, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State and Tennessee, among many others. A consensus four-star recruit, Tannor was named a first-team all-state selection in Class 5A, Georgia’s largest classification, by both the Georgia Sports Writers Association and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Tannor is a potential game-changing pass rusher. He has excellent speed and change of direction. His film shows a skillset that fits what the SAM position will be asked to do. Tannor could be a multiyear starter, perhaps immediately. Grade: B+
Defensive Back (5): There was always going to be a big emphasis on the secondary in this class. The previous staff’s priority for 2018 was adding to the defensive backfield – in particular, at cornerback. Unfortunately, the Huskers lost some top-level cornerback candidates and commits while Riley and the 2017 season were swirling down the drain. At one time, Nebraska had commitments from a five-star and two consensus four-star corners, but those guys bailed when it was clear Riley was on his way out. Scott Frost came in and realized the secondary needed immediate attention. Ideally, Frost would like to have 14-16 defensive backs on scholarship. Nebraska had nine when he arrived, and two won’t be healthy for spring football. With roughly nine weeks to work with, Frost and his staff did an outstanding job of piecing together this five man group.
The first commitment of the Frost era at Nebraska came from safety CJ Smith, who is the younger brother of Central Florida star receiver Tre’Quan Smith. CJ was actually offered by the previous staff as a sophomore, but was re-offered the day after Frost was officially hired and the same day he was introduced as the head coach. That day, Husker outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt visited Smith at his home and locked him in for an official visit. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Smith was in Lincoln that Friday and committed to the staff on Sunday, prior to leaving. Considered a four-star prospect by Rivals and ESPN, who ranks him as the No. 272 recruit in the country, Smith had been committed to Florida from March to July. He eventually took visits to South Carolina (Sept. 23), Ole Miss (Oct. 21), Oklahoma (Oct. 28) and UCF (Nov. 10), where he forged a strong relationship with Frost and his staff. He also held additional offers from schools like Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Tennessee.
Smith is a terrific athlete and a two-way standout on a team that was runner-up in the Florida 3A state championship game. He’s a big safety prospect with great length. He could play either free or strong safety and also played some nickel at times for his high school. He has great speed and covers a lot of ground. It helps him make a lot of plays on the football while it’s in the air. He has very good ball skills and football instincts. Smith was named a 2017 MaxPreps small school preseason second-team All-American prior to his senior season after he earned Florida Class 3A all-state honors as a junior. He was also named one of the top 11 players in Palm Beach County prior to both his junior and senior seasons. As a junior, Smith was named to Palm Beach Post’s All-Area team as a second-team wide receiver. He has the sort of range you like to see out of a safety, and also the ability to get downhill to fill his fits in run support.
As much as Smith looks like a great fit at free safety, Nebraska also added what appears to be an ideal strong safety. Cam’ron Jones had been committed to UCLA since April, but backed off that pledge in early December, about two weeks after Jim Mora Jr. was fired as the head coach. Three days later, on December 7, Nebraska offered Jones a scholarship. Running backs coach Ryan Held, who recruits the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the Huskers, formed a strong relationship with the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jones immediately. On December 11, Held was accompanied by Scott Frost and Erik Chinander as the trio visited Jones at his Mansfield High School. Jones and the coaches hit it off and an official visit was scheduled for that upcoming weekend. By all accounts, Jones was blown away during his visit and considered signing with the Huskers during the early signing period. He ended up accompanying his good friend and high school teammate, Corbin Frederick, on his own dime, for a visit during the weekend of January 12 – the first weekend following the dead period. Frederick eventually committed to Nebraska as a preferred walk-on. Jones also took a visit to Ole Miss (Jan. 19), but eventually committed to Nebraska over the Rebels during a live announcement on NBC’s Inside High School Sports on January 27. Other finalists were Baylor, Utah and Texas Tech – a school he was initially committed to from September to December of 2016.
Jones is a consensus four-star recruit ranked as high as No. 220 in the country by Rivals. He was named a second-team Class 6A all-state selection by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Previously, Jones played for Euless Trinity High School, where he was a first-team all-district selection as a junior. Jones is a track athlete during the spring and runs a 4.56 laser-timed 4o-yard dash. He has good size for the position and his film shows he’d be a great fit for an in the box style safety who will attack the run. He diagnosis plays quickly and his downhill speed in run support is as good as you’ll see in this class. As good as Jones is in run support, he is far from a liability in pass coverage. In fact, he shows good lateral ability, fluid hips and a smooth back peddle in coverage. He is a quick-twitch athlete who displays great range in the back end of the defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cam’ron Jones and CJ Smith start multiple seasons alongside each other.
Nebraska dipped into the juco ranks to add an important piece to their secondary class. The staff worked the recruitment of Deontai Williams off the national radar. He was a late-addition to the December 15 visit weekend, arriving on Saturday. His commitment the following day was the first public acknowledgement of his courtship with the Huskers. Williams’s versatility should come in handy to a position group that is short on numbers at several spots. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Williams can play every position in the secondary. He will probably be given a hard look at corner, but his best position is probably at nickelback. He is a good representation of what this staff covets out of it’s skill position players. They love versatile players who can play all over the field, depending on the formation.
Williams was rated the #231 recruit in the 2015 class by ESPN. He committed to Georgia and then Florida, but failed to academically qualify and inked a letter of intent with Ohio. He never made it to Ohio either, and ended up at Jones County C.C. in Mississippi. This past June he was re-offered by Florida and committed. A coaching change in Gainesville caused him to decommit in early December. Williams redshirted at Jones County in 2016 after playing in the season opener when an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. This past year, Williams had 26 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles in 10 games. He is again regarded as a four-star prospect by ESPN, and is ranked as the nation’s No. 2 junior college safety by the 247Sports Composite rankings. He will have three years to play three seasons.
The Huskers were also able to address the cornerback position. Frost and his staff had been recruiting Braxton Clark for a while, first offering him a scholarship last spring. His Dr. Phillips High School was 25 miles from campus and he had attended summer 7-on-7 camps at UCF. Clark had a good relationship with the staff, but was looking for a bigger program. Clark picked up a Nebraska offer in December before the early signing period and at the time was committed to Virginia Tech. The Husker offer peaked Clark’s interest, which caused him not to sign early with the Hokies. Virginia Tech signed other defensive backs in the early period and Clark decommitted. The 6-3, 180-pound Clark took an official visit to Nebraska on January 12 and enjoyed himself. Nine days later Scott Frost made it clear just how important he was to the staff on an in-home visit. Accompanying Frost was Erik Chinander, Troy Walters, Travis Fisher, Sean Beckton, Greg Austin, Barrett Ruud and Jovan Dewitt. Clark committed to the staff during the visit.
Clark’s high school went 13-2 and won the Class 8A state championship. Most kids with his size play safety in high school and are forced to learn how to play corner in college – much like current Husker Lamar Jackson, who is showing how difficult that can be. Clark played corner in the largest classification in the state of Florida. He’s used to playing a variety of coverages out on an island against top-notch talent. He has prototypical size and has good upside, but he would benefit from a redshirt year. If he doesn’t stick at corner, he will certainly have a place at safety.
The staff was able to hold off a late push from Auburn and secure the commitment of Cam Taylor, one of the best athletes in the state of Alabama for the 2018 class. Taylor spent most of his prep career at quarterback. He was told initially by the coaching staff that he could play offense or defense for the Huskers. As the class came together, though, they settled on placing him at cornerback. The 6-foot, 190-pound Taylor was recruited by some teams as a safety, running back and receiver, but Nebraska thinks he can develop into a shutdown corner. He played defensive back numerous times over the past few years at camps. He looked particularly good there at The Opening Charlotte this past May.
Taylor is rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and was named an athlete on the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 6A All State First Team. Like Clark, Taylor would benefit from a redshirt year so he can begin to transition to defense full-time and start to learn the nuances of the position from Travis Fisher. With the depth concerns on the roster, will either of them be afforded the chance to sit and develop for a year? Taylor has the size, strength and athletic ability to be a very good cornerback, eventually. I would not be surprised if he ends up being a staple in the secondary. Grade: B+
Specialist (1): Nebraska graduates 4-year starter Drew Brown, so it was a good move to bring someone in who can take over the placekicking duties. The previous staff identified Barret Pickering early in the process, offering him a scholarship during his visit for the spring game. He committed a few weeks later on May 2nd and never wavered after the coaching change. Named to Max Preps Junior All-American team, Pickering is rated the #5 kicker in the 2018 class according to Kohl’s Kicking Academy, the preeminent authority of high school kicking talent. “Pickering is a smooth field goal kicker who hits clean rotation and has great command of his ball flight,” Kohl’s noted. “His KO’s were very solid this spring and summer as well. He is someone who consistently can kick off over 70 yards with around four seconds of hang-time. With a tailwind he can easily go 75-80 yards on an “A” ball. His elite coordination make him a legitimate candidate to start early in college. Pickering is a punter for his HS team and can provide depth in college punting. Pickering is a rare talent, his ability to make kicks and overall FG range is outstanding!” Pickering will enroll in January and participate in spring practice, where he will try to beat out redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Frahm. Grade: B+
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all-football website N2FL.com. From 2002-2014, he served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on talent evaluation, which included NCAA recruiting and the NFL Draft. He has analyzed and covered the NCAA and NFL for 25-years. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.