Early Signing for Jucos Locks in Two for NU
While there's still a lot of work to be done for the 2014 recruiting class, two players signed letters of intent Wednesday and will enroll at Nebraska in the spring. Defensive back Byerson Cockrell was part of a junior college national title team and at 6'2" and 190 lbs. can match up with big receivers. Cockrell will have three seasons to play two. Defensive end Joe Keels was sought after by the likes of Alabama, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Keels has three seasons to play three and could jump in immediately as a bookend to complement Randy Gregory. At 6'4" and 275 lbs., he's got the size to contribute immediately.
Two players is just the tip of the iceberg for a class that could approach the maximum size of 25. But usually participation in Spring practice is a prerequisite to being a major contributor. Their early arrival will make them contenders to contribute immediately. Keels in particular can't redshirt. If healthy, there's no reason not to get him on the field immediately.
With Jason Ankrah graduating to leave an open defensive end spot and 4 seniors (both corners, a safety, and a nickel) departing from atop the depth chart in the secondary, the opportunity to emerge as starters is certainly possible.
Nebraska's batting average with junior college talent under Bo Pelini has been very good. Ricky Henry was a standout lineman. Dejon Gomes was a ball-hawking defensive back and Daimion Stafford became a starter. Brandon Kinnie emerged as a starting wideout. Jermarcus Hardrick won a starting tackle spot. Lavonte David was a defensive MVP for NU. The aforementioned Gregory broke out immediately as a playmaking end. Most of the others that qualified academically climbed to near the top of the depth chart.
What junior college players give up in eligibility they seem to make up for in the ability to contribute. As a group, they've more often proved scholarship worthy than the high school talent brought in. It's much easier to evaluate players against a higher level of competition and after the additional physical development that comes at the ages of 18, 19, or 20. That's not to say the team should exclusively recruit the jucos, but it also means the coaches shouldn't have to apologize for it either.