Pernell: 2019 Recruiting Class Position Spotlight: Linebacker

Categories: Football Recruiting
Nick Henrich is the most sought-after Nebraska prep player since Baker Steinkuhler in 2008. He garnered more scholarship offers (21) than any in-state recruit in the modern recruiting era, and was the first in-state prospect to earn an invitation to play in the All-American Bowl since Josh Banderas in 2013. Watching his film, you can see why it’s no surprise he was arguably the top overall player on the team’s board for this recruiting class. When Frost got to Lincoln last December, he and Barrett Ruud made Henrich a priority. Even while they frantically put together their 2018 class, Ruud made regular visits to Omaha Burke. He visited the school every week last January and established a great relationship.

The previous staff had initially offered Henrich on June 2, 2017, but they made little progress recruiting the linebacker. By the time Frost got to town, the Huskers were well behind several teams in his recruitment. Among his offers were LSU, Florida, Oregon, Penn State, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, but Henrich had narrowed his focus to Midwest schools Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Iowa and Minnesota. Henrich spent the spring taking visits to his aforementioned finalists. All the while, Ruud and Frost chipped away and closed the gap. By the time Henrich was on campus June 18 for an unofficial visit, the Huskers had turned the tide and taken the lead in his recruitment. He committed to the hometown Huskers over Wisconsin a month later on July 21. It was a testament to Ruud’s recruiting. He really connected with Henrich and sold the linebacker on the program’s future and his opportunity to be an integral part of it. “No disrespect to the old Nebraska staff at all, but I really don’t think I would have gone there if they were still there,” Henrich said following his commitment.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is a consensus four-star prospect who is ranked No. 92 nationally by 247 Sports, No. 127 by Rivals and No. 294 by ESPN. Rivals ranked him as the No. 7 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, while 247 Sports listed him as the nation’s No. 6 inside linebacker prospect. Henrich was named Nebraska Defensive Player of the Year by USA Today and earned first-team All-Nebraska honors from the Omaha World-Herald and Super State accolades from the Lincoln Journal Star for the second straight year. In 21 total games as a junior and senior, Henrich compiled 215 tackles (10.2 per game), 51 for loss and 15 sacks. He capped his senior year by being named Nebraska’s Gatorade Player of the Year and one of 15 national semifinalists for the high school Butkus Award.

Henrich is a very aggressive and instinctive player who has a great nose for the ball. He has a very high football IQ and a great feel for the game. It’s impressive the way he shoots gaps and attacks the ball. Despite still being relatively thin for a middle linebacker, Henrich plays with physicality and is adept at shedding and fighting through blocks. He shows great effort and hustle on film, often chasing down plays from the backside. He’s also dangerous coming off the edge as a blitzer. Henrich is athletic and versatile enough to play inside or outside. Once he fills out his frame, he’s going to be a physical freak.

The plan is for Henrich to start out on the inside and coaches are hoping he can come in and push for immediate playing time. He enrolled in January and will be able to participate in spring ball. One thing to monitor is the PCL injury he suffered to his knee in mid-October that cost him the last four games of his senior season. Henrich came back to play in the state championship, but reinjured himself. Luckily there was no major structural damage to the knee, so surgery wasn’t required.

Another guy the staff hopes can come in and contribute immediately is Jackson Hannah. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has been a highly recruited player in the SEC footprint since the end of his freshman campaign, when teams like LSU (August, 2016) and Alabama (December, 2016) offered and began courting him. The marriage between he and Nebraska came about rather quickly. The Huskers offered Hannah on May 17 and because of a strong relationship built between he and Ruud, the linebacker decided to do his due diligence and visit Lincoln. He admittingly wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the Husker program when he and his father visited June 2. But he did. Hannah pointed to a conversation with Frost during the visit that sold him on Nebraska. “My dad talks about signs from God a lot, trying to pick those out, Hannah told The Omaha World Herald after committing. “Everything Coach Frost was saying to me just hit me hard. I could see the look in his eyes that he was going to bring Nebraska back on top. I really wanted to be a part of that.”

Hannah had taken dozens of trips to numerous schools the past three years, but said he felt something during that visit he hadn’t anywhere else. He nearly committed during his trip, but wanted to talk with the rest of his family first. It didn’t take long, he committed to Frost on June 6, becoming the first Husker recruit from Tennessee since Barry Turner in 2005. Along with Alabama and LSU, Hannah held around 20 offers including Florida, Oregon, South Carolina, Louisville, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Wisconsin and North Carolina among others. He chose Nebraska over finalists LSU, Arkansas, Virginia and California.

The Huskers plan to play Hannah on the inside, but he could easily project outside was well. He played defensive end as a freshman and sophomore, and thrived as an outside linebacker during his junior year. Hannah made the switch to the inside this past season and proved versatile enough to ultimately play any linebacker spot in college. He has the speed to play and cover in space, and has been an effective blitzer at the high school level. He has a quick first step and impressive burst, whether it’s coming off the edge or filling a gap on a run fit. Hannah is a hard-hitter who plays a physical, downhill style that will translate nicely in the Big Ten. He has strong hands and is adept at shedding and disengaging from blockers, likely a byproduct of his time at defensive end. The thing that sticks out on film his how much of a sideline-to-sideline player he is. He is a high-effort kid with a high football IQ who makes plays all over the field.

Rated as a four-star recruit and the No. 18 inside linebacker in the nation by Rivals, Hannah helped lead Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville to three trips to the Division II-AAA state championship game. He’s a multisport athlete who considered playing college lacrosse. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to enroll early – Montgomery Bell Academy doesn’t allow its students to do so. Even so, don’t be surprised if Hannah is seeing the field in some capacity this fall.

Garrett Nelson was the first commitment to Nebraska’s recruiting class in the summer of 2017. He was offered by the previous staff on June 16 of that year following a standout performance in the Huskers Big Man camp as well as Friday Night Lights later on that same day. Former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was particularly impressed by Nelson’s performance and felt he was a strong fit as a boundary outside linebacker. Diaco personally extended the offer shortly after the camp ended. Nelson and his family made a return trip the following week for another Friday Night Lights and Big Red Weekend, where Nelson committed on June 24. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Nelson continued his impressive camp outings this past summer in front of the new staff. He came to the Huskers’ Big Man camp, and worked out as a defensive end, then returned for the final Friday Night Lights camp where he worked out as an outside linebacker. He excelled in both settings and despite playing defensive end for Scottsbluff, he looked comfortable playing in space and in coverage.

This past season, Nelson led Scottsbluff to a 12-1 record and a runner-up finish in the Class B state playoffs. He was named first-team All-Nebraska by USA Today as well as an Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska selection and a member of the Lincoln Journal Star Super-State team the past two seasons. Nelson was ranked as the No. 3 player in Nebraska by Rivals and among the top 40 defensive ends in the country. He was also named one of 15 semifinalists for the high school Butkus Award. Also an accomplished wrestler, Nelson captured the Class B heavyweight wrestling title as a junior, and was a state qualifier at 220 pounds in 2017.

Nelson has the sort of motor and athleticism to be a difference-maker. He could project to multiple positions at Nebraska, depending on how his body develops. Coaches will give him his first look at linebacker, where he could project both inside and outside. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if he grew and matured into a weak-side defensive end down the road. Nelson has drawn favorable comparisons to current Husker Ben Stille and those seem valid. Nelson has admitted to looking up to Stille, a fellow in-state scholarship recruit from 2016. Like Stille, Nelson seems like the sort of kid who will do anything asked of him for this program. He’ll work his tail off and hold his teammates accountable to do the same. Nelson enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. Don’t be surprised if he skips a redshirt season and is a fixture on special teams.

Garrett Snodgrass is a versatile athlete who has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and linebacker during his time at York High School, one of the state’s top Class B programs over the past several seasons. As a senior, Snodgrass was named first-team All-Nebraska by USA Today and was a first-team All-Nebraska pick as a linebacker by the Omaha World-Herald and a member of the Lincoln Journal Star’s Super State team. He was also one of three Husker signees among 15 national prospects named as a semifinalist for the high school Butkus Award. After being the main catalyst of York’s Class B state championship team last year as a junior, Snodgrass was named the honorary captain of the World-Herald’s Class B offensive all-state team and a member of the paper’s All-Nebraska offense. The Lincoln Journal Star named him to its Super State team as an all-purpose player. Snodgrass also earned honorable-mention all-state honors as a sophomore.

After collecting earlier offers from Kansas State and Iowa State, Snodgrass received his Husker offer from former coach Mike Riley on November 21, 2017, the day after the Duke’s won the Class B title over Omaha Skutt. He committed three days later on Black Friday ahead of the Iowa game, a day before Riley was fired. For most of the past year it was unknown what position he would initially play in Lincoln. Mike Riley’s staff liked him as an H-back but Frost’s staff prefers him on the defensive side. At Nebraska’s Friday Night Lights camp this past June, Snodgrass worked out with Barrett Ruud and the inside linebackers. That seems to be where he’ll begin his career in Lincoln.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder played multiple sports at York and is an underrated athlete. Snodgrass posted an impressive 104.82 SPARQ score at The Nike Opening regional in Dallas this past April. At the event, he ran a 4.80 in the 40-yard dash, posted 4.25 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and recorded a 30.4-inch vertical jump. Snodgrass was an honorable-mention all-state basketball player as a sophomore and junior and was a state qualifier in the discus in 2018. He was listed among the top 55 ‘athlete’ prospects in the nation by both Rivals and 247 Sports.

There are several spots on this defense that need revamping to better fit the new 3-4 system. Coaches have mentioned the need to upgrade the overall size, length, and athleticism on the defensive side of the football since they arrived last year. Nebraska needs to continue to add players at outside linebacker who have the frame and skillset needed in order for Erik Chinander’s defense to take hold. Jamin Graham is a nice piece to add to that room. He really fits the physical profile they’re looking for at the position. Graham is 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, with an 85-inch wingspan and has run in the 4.6’s. Scott Frost offered the defensive end out of Attalla (AL) Etowah High School on March 4 after also targeting him while at Central Florida. Graham is another guy whose recruitment played out primarily out of the public eye. He didn’t get on the radar of fans until November, but the staff had been recruiting him hard for months.

Nebraska made Graham a priority when the contact period began in late-November. Scott Frost, Erik Chinander and Jovan DeWitt flew down to visit him in-home on November 28, which set the stage for his official visit a few days later. Graham had planned on visiting Southern Miss the following weekend, but decided he had seen enough. He committed during his official visit December 2 before heading home. Recruited as a tight end by some teams, Graham will start his career at outside linebacker but is also capable of playing defensive end, depending on how much he grows over the course of his college career.

He’s a rangy athlete with a nice frame and the sort of explosiveness and athleticism that could see him develop into an outstanding pass rusher. Watching his film, you see a guy who uses his length to reach and disrupt plays in the backfield. With his tremendous wingspan, Graham was able to gum up passing lanes and deflect a lot of balls. He also caused a lot of turnovers, which is something this defense thrives on and could use more of.

As a senior, Graham helped Etowah High School to a 12-1 record and a trip to the Alabama Class 5A state quarterfinals. He finished his senior season with 85 tackles, 37 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. He also forced three fumbles and had two fumble recoveries, both of which resulted in touchdowns (73,0). Graham was a multisport athlete who was also a standout basketball player for Etowah. He helped the Blue Devils to the program’s first regional title as a junior and was named The Gadsen Times’ 2018 All-Etowah County Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Graham was ranked among the nation’s top 50 defensive ends in the 247 Sports Composite rankings and chose the Huskers over offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Louisville, Minnesota and Virginia, among others. 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 jgpernell@comcast.net.