Nebraska Football Recruiting: Breaking Down the 2012 Class
Now that the football season is over, we can finally get back to wishing it was football season again.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers finished the 2011 season with a 9-4 record in their first year in the Big Ten while playing a rough schedule with a rookie offensive coordinator and a slew of freshmen and sophomores making heavy contributions offensively.
When those things are considered, the nine wins look pretty good. Unfortunately, it was the four bad losses that has Nebraska fans unsettled. Two blowouts, an upset and a breakdown in a game that the good guys were controlling for much of the time will do that to a fanbase.
In all honesty, the offseason is a welcome time right now. The Husker staff and team must get regrouped and start fresh, and they got a good jump on that with a 2012 recruiting class that could be a lot better than it looks at first glance.
Here's a breakdown of the class and how it could impact the Cornhuskers going forward.
Quarterbacks: Tommy Armstrong, Cibolo (Steele), Texas
The Huskers ended up with just one quarterback prospect in this class, missing out on a major option in New Jersey native Devin Fuller. Fuller was somehow swayed by UCLA, which had robbed another major recruit from Nebraska, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, a couple of years back.
However, Armstrong is an excellent consolation prize and might be one of the most underrated prospects in the class.
Who will be the best player from this class?
The 6'2", 210-pounder possesses a rocket arm and solid accuracy, completing just under 60 percent of his passes despite throwing the ball downfield frequently. He threw 29 touchdown passes and tossed just two picks all season and showed fantastic running ability to boot, adding 1,281 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
Those statistics were even more impressive when you consider he competed at the top level, 5A, in one of the best football states in the nation.
Here's to hoping Armstrong's career doesn't turn out like Cody Green's, but Armstrong already looks more college-ready than Green ever did.
Armstrong has said he doesn't plan on redshirting, but unless he beats everyone out for the starting position, he should be redshirted so he isn't a junior by the time he gets significant playing time.
Running Backs: Imani Cross, Gainesville (North Hall), Ga.
The Huskers were not in dire need for even one running back commit after picking up three in the 2011 class, but Cross ended up being signed anyway.
Cross is a little bit of an unknown, but his 6'1", 220-pound frame is reminiscent of thumper Quentin Castille. If he turns out to be that type of player, it will have been a well-used scholarship.
The Huskers do need a big back to lighten Rex Burkhead's load, but unless Mike Marrow doesn't pan out at that spot, Cross should be redshirted.
Receivers: Jordan Westerkamp, Lombard (Montini), Ill.
The Huskers were able to secure just one receiver commitment in this class, but it was a big one.
Westerkamp is arguably Nebraska's best receiver commitment since Niles Paul. Paul didn't turn out as well as hoped, but Westerkamp should be a different story.
The 6'2", 195-pounder shattered Illinois state records with 4,618 yards and 68 touchdowns over his four-year career. Considering the time it usually takes for high school football players to develop, those kind of numbers are unheard of.
Westerkamp looks like a legitimate No. 1 receiver on tape. He runs fantastic routes, has soft hands and catches the ball away from his body. He also has solid athleticism with enough speed to outrun most guys to the end zone and enough of a vertical to win jump-ball situations.
At first glance, he looks like a faster, more athletic version of Nate Swift (who had deceptive athleticism himself). Considering Swift ranks in the top two in career catches and receiving yards in Nebraska history, that's a pretty good sign.
Unless Westerkamp doesn't learn the offense quickly enough, he should be a heavy contributor from day one.
Tight Ends: Sam Cotton, Lincoln (Southeast), Neb.
Tight end was one position of need for the Huskers that didn't end up getting addressed particularly well. Prospects such as Christo Kourtzidis and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick got away, leaving Nebraska with just one commitment.
With that being said, the one commitment should turn out to be a pretty solid one.
Another of a long line of Cottons to head to Nebraska, Sam definitely has the bloodlines, and his 6'4", 240-pound frame suggests he has the size, too. His brother Ben has been an outstanding blocker and reliable (albeit seldom-targeted) receiver at the same position, and if little brother can develop into the same type of player, the position will be very well off.
Linemen: Paul Thurston, Arvada (Arvada West), Colo.; Corey Whitaker, Murrieta (Vista Murrieta), Calif.
Nebraska's No. 1 recruiting priority, 5-star offensive tackle Andrus Peat, opted for Stanford on signing day. Though the loss of Peat stings, Thurston and Whitaker look to be two pretty good additions to a young and improving offensive line.
Thurston was one of the Huskers' earliest commitments and was a big get. Thurston routinely drives his man off the ball and doesn't quit until the whistle blows. He also has good feet and looked surprisingly good at pulling on tape.
Whitaker is another unknown that was a late addition and had never really shown up on the radar before his commitment, but on film he looks athletic and seems to have a mean streak.
I would expect both of these players to redshirt, but if injuries become a concern and depth starts to thin, don't be surprised of one or both get some early looks for playing time.
Defensive Tackles: Vincent Valentine, Edwardsville (Edwardsville), Ill.; Aaron Curry, Keller (Fossil Ridge), Texas
Defensive tackle was a fairly big need for the Huskers in this class, and they didn't get a commitment at the position until signing day.
When they did, though, two key signatures were faxed in. Valentine and Curry both look like they need to reshape their bodies and hone their technique, but a redshirt year for both of them, barring the injury bug, will be great for both of them.
Once they are ready to get on the field, they should both be solid at plugging up rushing lanes and freeing up linebackers to make plays.
Defensive Ends: Greg McMullen, Akron (Hoban), Ohio; Avery Moss, Tempe (Corona Del Sol), Ariz.
The Huskers pursued 5-star North Carolina defensive end Jonathan Bullard for awhile and looked to be a dark horse in a tight race, and although Nebraska ultimately missed out, it was encouraging to see the Huskers get some serious consideration from such a high-profile player on the other side of the country.
The Huskers still came away with two quality commitments in McMullen and Moss.
McMullen had a fantastic statistical season, racking up 78 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his senior year. The 6'5", 255-pounder has a college-ready body whose frame can be packed with muscle. A year in James Dobson's strength and conditioning program could mold McMullen into a physically dominant player.
Moss, who played on the same team as current Husker Todd Peat, Jr. and Stanford commit Andrus Peat, showed good speed and aggressiveness off the edge while displaying great athleticism overall for a defensive end. His 6'4", 245-pound frame should be able to take on some muscle without losing any speed. Moss has high upside and could be a special player with some good coaching.
I would expect both of these players to redshirt at a fairly deep position, but we might see McMullen take a few snaps if he's ready.
Linebackers: Zaire Anderson, Riverside (Riverside C.C.), Calif.; Michael Rose, Kansas City (Rockhurst), Mo.; Jared Afalava, South Jordan (Bingham), Utah; Thomas Brown, Gardena (Junipero Serra), Calif.
For the single biggest need in the 2012 class, Nebraska coaches got busy recruiting at linebacker and were able to pull in four commitments.
Likely the most important commit for the short term, Anderson is a JUCO prospect that intends to come in and immediately fill the massive void left by record-holder Lavonte David.
Anderson is currently about the same size as David, but he will likely put on some weight before next season. The 6'1", 220-pounder recorded 95 tackles and seven sacks last season, and if he is even half as good as David, the Huskers should be okay at that spot. If Bo Pelini's outstanding track record with JUCO prospects continues, Anderson will be another major contributor.
Rose was the first commitment for the 2012 class and also one of the most emphatic about becoming a Husker, at least publicly. Rose took it upon himself to reach out to a handful of other Husker targets and try to recruit them himself. Rose had a great senior season that was capped off by a reportedly eye-popping performance at the Under Armour All-America Game. This kid looks special, and if any of the three true freshmen linebackers play next season, I would guess it will be Rose.
Afalava, a 6'3", 215-pounder, and Brown, a 6'2", 212-pounder, both need to put on some weight and will likely redshirt. Both seem to have potential, though, and a year in the system could set them up to surprise some people.
Defensive Backs: Mohammed Seisay, Thatcher (Eastern Arizona J.C.), Arizona
Seisay might be the most important addition to this year's recruiting class because of the loss of stud cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard clearly wasn't himself this whole year, most likely as a result of injury, but his presence was always felt nonetheless.
Andrew Green really came along last season and 2011 commit Charles Jackson may finally qualify to enroll this year, a la Braylon Heard, but the spot is still thin and Seisay will be expected to come in and start right away.
The 6'2", 200-pounder has great size to match up with taller, stronger Big Ten receivers and looks equally good in pass protection and run support on film. He has good speed and shows the ability to be a ball hawk as well. Upon seeing him in person, my first impression was he looks even bigger than he is listed.
Mo Seisay should earn a starting position early on.
Athletes: Alonzo Moore, Winnfield (Winnfield Senior), La.; LeRoy Alexander, Toledo (Whitmer), Ohio
Both Moore and Alexander were late additions to the 2012 class.
Alexander was another player who was never really on the radar until his commitment, and though I don't even know what position he will begin at, he certainly looks the part. At 6'2", 190 pounds with a 4.42 second 40-yard dash, he rushed for 665 yards and eight touchdowns on 60 carries while recording 43 tackles and two picks.
Moore, a 6'2", 170-pounder, is a pretty highly rated athlete according to Rivals.com and will start at cornerback. His commitment was a relief in the wake of Devin Fuller's commitment to UCLA.
Nebraska's 2012 class is small and missed out on some high-profile prospects, but for as small as this group was, it seems to be full of solid potential and speckled with some stars-in-the-making.
Nebraska will continue to rebuild under Bo Pelini next year, and the 2012 haul should be another step in the right direction and a springboard heading into the offseason as the coaches begin recruiting for 2013.
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