LINCOLN, Neb. — Let’s fast forward to the summer of 2018.
Nebraska’s two longest-tenured cornerbacks, Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones, will have used up their eligibility. The Huskers will welcome at least three top-rated cornerbacks to campus as true freshmen. One top-rated corner from the 2017 class will have had one year in the program already.
A year from now, Nebraska’s past and future will be battling for starting cornerback spots.
Lamar Jackson will be a junior and likely the leader for one starting spot after a season playing cornerback in 2017. Eric Lee, also a junior, will be in the mix with Jackson.
That leaves redshirt sophomores DiCaprio Bootle and Tony Butler battling with redshirt freshman Elijah Blades — or sophomore Blades, if he plays in 2017 — and true freshmen Brendan Radley-Hiles, Mario Goodrich and Chase Williams for the second starting cornerback position.
Jackson, Lee, Bootle and Butler represent the transition from former coach Bo Pelini to Mike Riley. The four were recruited while Nebraska was in flux. And they were there, in uniform, as fans and coaches griped that Nebraska’s talent level in 2016 was nowhere near that of Ohio State or Tennessee.
And because of those gripes, Nebraska loaded up on the recruiting trail and brought in the likes of Blades, Radley-Hiles, Goodrich and Williams, all 4-star recruits who chose Nebraska over some of the top programs in the country.
They all have the potential to play the day they step on campus. Which will put the cornerback battle in a supremely interesting spot.
Realistically, Blades and Radley-Hiles have the best shot at playing right away among the incoming players. Blades will have been on campus for a year, either redshirting or playing sparingly, so he’ll have the confidence of coaches and the experience to compete. And Radley-Hiles is a talent too good to not put on the field. He’ll play as a freshman, either at cornerback or as a return man.
But what will be interesting is the narrative that will begin if those two win serious playing time over Bootle, Butler or even Lee.
With the hype surrounding the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes, particularly those players recruited by cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, perception and reality will collide during those cornerback battles in 2018.
Because if Blades and Radley-Hiles do play significant minutes in 2018, will fans be more patient with them not being elite corners immediately since they’re young? Will the gripe be Nebraska is leaning on young talent too much, or will it be viewed as a good thing it is leaning on young talent?
Or what if Lee, Bootle and Butler beat out the freshmen? Will the gripe then be Nebraska’s not using the talent it recruited?
Nebraska fans want success now. And one reason why the hype surrounding recruiting is so immense in 2017 is because the 2015 and 2016 seasons were so lackluster. Fans are looking to the 2017 and 2018 classes for hope after the disappointment from previous seasons.
But the reality is we might not see the fruits of the recruiting labors of the 2017 and 2018 classes until the summer of 2018. And the first place to look at how that is all going down will be the cornerback spot.