LINCOLN, Neb. — The general rule under Nebraska coach Mike Riley is if you’re not going to contribute a significant amount to the team as a freshman, you’re going to redshirt.
Only four players in Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class didn’t redshirt last season.
Lamar Jackson played some big minutes at cornerback and nickel, Tre Bryant returned kicks and played at running back, Caleb Lightbourn was the starting punter and JoJo Domann was a key special teams guy.
We’ve already listed who we think can play right away from Nebraska’s 2017 class.
But here are the players who we think are right on the line between playing and not playing, and probably will redshirt.
Keyshawn Johnson Jr.
As much as we’ve harped that Nebraska needed a fourth receiver in the 2017 class, the Huskers really don’t need three freshman receivers on the field.
Tyjon Lindsey is Nebraska’s best chance for a true freshman receiver to get playing time. Jaevon McQuitty probably is right behind him.
But there are a lot of reasons to keep Keyshawn on the bench for a season. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver likely is behind Stanley Morgan Jr. and Bryan Reimers on the depth chart as the outside threat. With Morgan, Reimers, De’Mornay Pierson-El, JD Spielman, Lindsey and McQuitty all potential receivers, Nebraska is going to need to keep one in the bag for the future.
Keyshawn is a great recruiter, he’s got chemistry with freshman quarterback Tristan Gebbia (who won’t be on this list because he for sure is redshirting), thus creating an automatic connection in the future. It just makes sense to keep Keyshawn an extra year.
Matt Sichterman, Brenden Jaimes, Broc Bando, Chris Walker
The argument here is Nebraska should redshirt all of its incoming offensive linemen for the 2017 season.
Nebraska returns 10 offensive linemen from the 2016 team who played significant time last season, including consistent starters Tanner Farmer, Nick Gates, David Knevel and occasional starters and consistent backups Cole Conrad, Jerald Foster and Michael Decker. Redshirt freshmen and sophomores like Boe Wilson, John Raridon, Matt Farniok and Jalin Barnett also will battle for playing time.
There’s really no reason for any of Nebraska’s incoming offensive linemen not to redshirt.
Guy Thomas and Deiontae Watts
Though Thomas was recruited as a defensive end, he’s the perfect size to be a roaming outside linebacker in Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense, similar to Freedom Akinmoladun.
Nebraska doesn’t have a plethora of defensive ends on the roster, so Thomas could be utilized there, but with Thomas fitting in more at linebacker, a position where Nebraska does have depth, he’s really not needed.
Watts probably will be a nose tackle in the 3-4, behind Carlos and Khalil Davis — and likely Damion Daniels. So redshirting makes sense for Watts for the future of that position. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, if Watts can put on 15-to-20 pounds he could work his way into the rotation next season.
Andrew Ward and Willie Hampton
With Chris Weber, Luke Gifford, Dedrick Young, Marcus Newby, Mohammad Berry, Tyrin Ferguson, Quayshon Alexander and likely true freshman Avery Roberts all vying for two inside linebacker positions, there’s no need for Ward or Hampton to be in that mix.
With a good portion of the depth at linebacker coming from upperclassmen, these two freshmen could save a year with a redshirt.