LINCOLN, Neb. — This is a crucial recruiting class for Nebraska’s football future.
This 2017 class is coach Mike Riley’s first true class. It will show what Riley and his staff have in mind for the direction of the program.
That also means the most important recruits in this class are even more important than usual. The players in this class could help form Riley’s Nebraska, which we haven’t fully seen yet in his first two years.
With that said, here are the most important recruits in Nebraska’s 2017 class, both in the short-term and long-term.
Short-term: Keyshawn Johnson Jr.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver isn’t a 5-star bombshell, but Johnson did turn heads with his commitment to Nebraska and made the California-Nebraska connection incredibly strong.
Johnson is a 3-star receiver from Calabasas, Calif., and the son of former NFL All-Pro Keyshawn Johnson. He’s the No. 46 wide receiver in the 2017 class and chose Nebraska over USC, Ohio State, Alabama, UCLA, Texas and Oklahoma.
His commitment began a momentum swing in California. He’s been an active recruiter on social media and has made jumping on the Nebraska bandwagon trendy for West Coast recruits.
That’s one thing Nebraska has lacked in the last few years. Being in the Midwest and having to deal with the cold and being a traditional program, it’s hard to compete with California winters or Oregon’s uniforms.
But Johnson’s commitment helped put Nebraska on the map, and in turn, a lot of California recruits are now seriously considering Nebraska, including the No. 2 wide receiver in the 2017 class, Joseph Lewis.
Johnson’s commitment didn’t change everything, but it did say something about Nebraska’s recruiting.
Plus, he’s a very good receiver, with nearly 700 yards receiving, 8 touchdowns and an 18.2-yards-per-catch average.
Long-term: Tristan Gebbia
As we mapped out Tuesday, Gebbia will be a key in Riley’s pro-style system in a few years.
Gebbia is a 4-star quarterback from Calabasas High School and threw for more than 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in high school. He’s the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class, and chose Nebraska over Ole Miss, Alabama, Washington and Arizona State.
While Johnson was a big-name recruit who brings hype, Gebbia is a big-name recruit who brings a mountain of possibilities for the future of Nebraska’s offense.
Gebbia, along with current freshman Patrick O’Brien, will be the type of quarterback Nebraska hasn’t seen in decades. Both are throw-first, accurate passers who will fit right in to Riley’s pro-style offense.
Gebbia will likely redshirt and learn the Riley offense for a year, then compete for the starting position in 2019 with then-junior Patrick O’Brien. If O’Brien beats out Gebbia, Nebraska will at the very least have a capable backup. By 2020, Gebbia would be ready for his time and comfortable with the offense Riley and O’Brien (and maybe even before that, Tanner Lee) helped build.
What’s important about Gebbia’s commitment is Riley will start to implement the offense he envisions, and Gebbia will be next in line.
The impact he’ll have on Nebraska’s offense down the line can’t be quantified, but the potential is absolutely there.