Nebraska football fans are familiar with the roller-coaster ride of recruiting news prior to National Signing Day. Until a prospect’s name is on that letter of intent, there is no guarantee he is coming to your school.
Just ask Terrell Clinkscales. Last Friday, he was the linchpin of Nebraska’s 2014 recruiting class and penciled in as a starter at defensive tackle. By Monday, he was another of Bill Snyder’s JUCO wonders at Kansas State, and Nebraska had a huge hole blown in its recruiting board.
But there is at least a little bit of certainty in the mad, mad, mad world of recruiting. Junior college transfers can sign early letters of intent and lock themselves into their school of choice before National Signing Day. Here’s a closer look at the three players Nebraska knows will be coming to Lincoln for next season.
(All measurables and star rankings from 247Sports.com)
Joe Keels (DE/OLB, 6’4”, 275 pounds, 4-star, 93 composite rating)
One could make an argument that the decommitment of Darius Slade earlier in the week was a bigger blow to Nebraska than the loss of Clinkscales, based on the position. Given that Nebraska looks to have lost Avery Moss and Jared Afalava from its roster, the position of defensive end (or outside linebacker in a 3-4 setup) becomes more and more important.
As a result, having Keels in the program is a huge relief for Nebraska. With standout Randy Gregory penciled in as a starter on one side of the line, Keels should be right in the mix with Greg McMullen to anchor the other. After those three, Nebraska will be looking to unproven commodities like A.J. Natter, Walker Ashburn and Donovan Vestal to provide depth at defensive end.
Without Keels, those question marks would be much closer to the starting lineup. So having Keels gives Nebraska a tremendous amount of comfort going into 2014.
Byerson Cockrell (S, 6’2”, 185 pounds, 3-star, 86 composite rating)
Nebraska’s secondary will be in a state of flux in 2014 after losing two defensive leaders in Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. Safety may not be as much a position of need as cornerback for Nebraska next year, but given the demands on the position placed by head coach Bo Pelini’s schemes, having quality competition at safety will always be a critical need.
Corey Cooper appears locked in for at least one starting safety position. Harvey Jackson, Charles Jackson, LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry will likely be in competition for the other starting safety role, as well as to be in the rotation for playing time. Cockrell will fit nicely into that mix and should add both depth and talent right away to Nebraska’s secondary.
So, which early-enrollee will make the biggest difference for Nebraska in 2014?
Zack Darlington (QB, 6’2”, 207 pounds, 3-star, 89 composite ranking)
In 2014, Nebraska is blessed with two strong candidates for starting quarterback in Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton. But as we saw last year, quarterback depth can erode quickly. As it stands now, Nebraska would be one injury away from a real depth crisis at the most important position on the team.
So the fact that quarterback prospect Zack Darlington has already enrolled in classes in Lincoln is a big deal. True, he has not signed a letter of intent, meaning he technically could decommit. But Darlington is already a big risk to include as a scholarship player given his history of concussions, which calls into question his ability to play football at all in the future.
Darlington’s most recent injury was suffered after he committed to Nebraska, and Pelini has already stated that he will honor Darlington’s scholarship regardless of his injury status. Those facts, coupled with Darlington’s enrollment in Lincoln, mean he is as close to a sure thing for signing day as Nebraska could get.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.