Nebraska wrapped up signing day with 24 new recruits. You can meet the class of 2014 and check out their player cards here. The average national rank for the class is 35th.
So how do each of the players stack up? We’ve got quick breakdowns on all the newest Huskers
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Freedom Akinmoldun: He’s a ruthless blocker, which is likely what initially interested Nebraska. The Huskers need edge-setters at tight end, first and foremost. And if those blockers happen to create an over-the-middle presence in the pass game, well, that’s an added bonus. Here’s the thing, though: Akinmoladun would seem to project favorably on defense, too. Like, at D-end — which is a position of great importance to NU. Either way, his upside is high.
Drew Brown: Junior Mauro Bondi is a proven kickoff specialist, but he has yet to take hold of the place-kicking duties. This may be where Brown steps in. We’ll see. One thing to note about the incoming freshman: He invests time in the film room, Wasson said. Great kickers tend to analyze every single detail.
AJ Bush: Probably more upside than polish right now with Bush, a left-hander who said the fact that Nebraska already had a commitment from Zack Darlington didn’t bother him at all. Another young quarterback in the Husker stable who is going to have to work his way up the ladder.
Byerson Cockrell: Cockrell was part of a star-studded juco team with several FBS-level prospects, so his skill set either got lost in the shuffle, or he benefited from being around such good players. Nebraska will find out quickly. Cockrell will be expected to compete for a starting job at cornerback, presuming he makes the transition. The nickel or dime spots may be an option for Cockrell, too. If he has to move to safety, he could be effective as a backup to Corey Cooper or compete for playing time with LeRoy Alexander. Cockrell’s a big kid. Nearly as tall as Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Equally as long.
Zack Darlington: Presuming Darlington’s good to go, Nebraska gets a tough runner and savvy manager of the passing game. A skilled, sublime ballhandler, Darlington’s particularly good in the zone read and rolling out in the play-action passing game. He’s a natural leader with an infectious personality. And he knows the game as well as any high school quarterback could.
Tanner Farmer: Farmer’s a keeper, a strong, properly sized interior lineman with no preconceived notions about what he’s entitled to at Nebraska. He has quick feet, efficiency of movement, and he delivers a blow when he reaches his destination.
D.J. Foster: Foster could be a candidate to play early. “I’m going to do whatever they need me to do,” he said. “If that’s coming in and playing early, then that’s what it is and that’s definitely a blessing. But if it’s redshirting and getting that year under my belt, that’d be great, too.”
Nick Gates: Gates is a perfect right tackle for the Huskers’ offense, which in many ways mirrors what Gates’ high school team did. Sanchez is right; in highlight films, Gates does a little of everything, and he does it with an attitude. And though Gates isn’t the biggest tackle, his size could be an asset in the Huskers’ offense. Nebraska doesn’t need 330-pounders in its offense. It needs agility, speed and movement. Gates has that in spades.
Luke Gifford: Gifford’s timing might be right, as graduation will take veteran safeties Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson off the Husker roster after next season, and two of the other three defensive backs in this signing class are cornerbacks. Not as heavy as Nathan Gerry was coming in a year ago, but worth watching his size going forward to see if his best fit is linebacker or safety (Gerry landed at linebacker last August). Gifford will give himself a chance because of his intelligence and grasp of the game.
Monte Harrison: Harrison’s arguably the most dynamic athlete in Nebraska’s class. He’s ready to play college football right now. Problem is, MLB franchises think Harrison has a future in baseball as well. NU’s football and baseball coaches will make strong sells in an attempt to lure him to Lincoln. But as we all know, money talks, too.
Glenn Irons: Definitely a little wait-and-see with Irons as Nebraska brings in five receivers with this class. But Jones believes he has the ability to be a pleasant surprise, pointing to his knack for making clutch catches and being “one of the smartest receivers I’ve been around.” If the Huskers can make some hay with him in the return game, it could be worth the risk.
Chris Jones: Jones is long and lean. He’ll need weight and strength, but he’s an intriguing long-term prospect. Jones’ speed is yet to be determined, but his height and length are perfectly suited for what the Huskers like at corner. Between him and Trai Mosley, NU got prospects who could be a lot of fun to watch in a couple of years.
Joshua Kalu: Kalu could step on campus this summer and immediately begin taking reps at nickel. It seems like he’s tailor-made for that position. He’s quick enough to keep up with receivers (and physical enough to knock them off their routes). And he has the ability to fill running lanes and make plays at the point of attack. Can he handle the mental responsibilities? Getting to know the scheme is always the first step.
Joe Keels: Keels wants this. He’s stared at the end of his football career more than once. Keels is not the athlete Gregory is, and he won’t be asked to be that good of a pass rusher. He will be asked to push and collapse the pocket and turn back ballcarriers on running plays. A strong, boisterous personality, Keels is the kind of guy to warm to coach Bo Pelini. With Avery Moss leaving the team for at least one year, Keels will be asked to play a lot right away.
Sedrick King: How King develops will depend on what kind of player Nebraska’s coaches envision him becoming. He’ll likely put on weight. But how much? Can he gain enough pounds to become a lane-clogging, every-down defensive end? He would seem to project better as a change-up guy. Someone who could be used in that spinner role, disguising blitzes and rushing the passer in spots. He’ll likely need at least a year to settle in.
Trai Mosley: Mosley’s a tad bit undersized, but that hasn’t stopped defensive backs from finding playing time at Nebraska (namely Ciante Evans and Josh Mitchell). He seems to have enough agility to make up for that — his kick and punt returns in high school showcase some of that potential. Plus, Mosley plays with good instincts and plenty of physicality.
Peyton Newell: Newell has prepared for this moment for years, dedicating his career to his late mother, Melissa Newell. He’s strong at the point of contact. He possesses a quick first step, too. Newell so often got into the opponent’s backfield with ease that he didn’t always have to test his motor, but his drive to expose himself to as many programs as possible during several summer camp circuits shows he’s hungry. There’s not a lot of fat on Newell’s frame and he carries his weight well. Because of Nebraska’s interior defensive line depth, Newell has the luxury of a redshirt year if he needs it. But the Huskers coveted his commit for a reason: He’s a seasoned playmaker.
Demornay Pierson-El: Perhaps an underrated gem in this class? Not as big as current Husker receiver Jamal Turner, but offers some of the same potential tools in the slot. Pierson-El’s chances to help immediately will hinge on his summer development physically and how fast he can grasp the system in August. Could get a look as a kick/punt returner.
Larenzo Stewart: Speed is always appealing, it’s just up to the coaches to figure out ways to utilize it best. The Huskers typically require a wide range of skills from their running backs. Specialization hasn’t been the goal. But because of his smaller stature, Stewart would appear to be a player who’ll be at his best in space. Screens, jet sweeps, stretch option pitches. Even in the return game. But he’ll likely need a year to bulk up.
Mick Stoltenberg: Can Stoltenberg develop into a Ben Cotton-like tight end, where he’s big enough to be a downhill run blocker but still able to run well enough to help in the passing game? If not, he becomes another piece in a solid 2014 class of offensive linemen. Look for a redshirt year as NU gets a better feel for what it has with him.
Jariah Tolbert: Tolbert is an intriguing project, but truly that — a project. He ran a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at a New Orleans Nike Camp one year ago and had only a 29-inch vertical jump. He needs to get more explosive and separate from defensive backs better. A year in Nebraska’s weight room should help. On film, Tolbert shows toughness and decent hands. He catches the ball in traffic and became adept at catching the corner fade.
Jaevon Walton: The New Orleans Times-Picayune had the best description of Walton we’ve found: “A flying brick of destruction.” That’s this kid, a breathtaking playmaker with speed, instincts and passion. Yes, Walton was in the middle of what amounted to an all-star team, but his ability to find the ball, swarm there and pack the punch he does is rare. Forget the middling ratings. They’re tied to Walton’s lack of height and average lateral acceleration, which may be a factor in the NFL, but not in college. He’s a cross between current Husker Zaire Anderson and former NU linebacker Demorrio Williams. High praise. Watch Walton live up to it. He’s a dangerous pass rusher off the edge, compact enough to squeeze under the big frame of an offensive tackle. Despite depth at linebacker, he’s a candidate to see time as a true freshman.
Mikale Wilbon: The return of Ameer Abdullah and the presence of Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor will allow Nebraska to go slow with Wilbon. But he sees himself in the Abdullah mold with his all-around game and is excited about being a good fit for the Husker offense.
DeAndre Wills: Nebraska set out to re-stock its shelves at defensive end, so the depth chart in front of Wills and the other signees at that position isn’t too daunting. Wills just isn’t quite as far along as some of the others, so probably more project than anything right now.