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CFF Series - Scoring Matt Rhule's Nebraska on the VolumePig meter
VP offers an assessment of the new look Nebraska offence, position by position for CFF.
In Nebraska, we value hard work, humility, and the importance of community.
- Warren Buffett, philanthropist
Last month, Nebraska native and prizefighter Terence Crawford defeated Texas native Errol Spence Jr. in spectacular fashion, unifying the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, and The Ring welterweight titles. A spectacular triumph for not only "Bud" Crawford, but for the great state of Nebraska. Unfortunately, Nebraska's victories over the Lone Star State have been few and far between in recent years, as the pipeline they once enjoyed to Texas high school football has dried up significantly since their move to the B1G.
While I'm sure the Nebraska brass does not regret the move from a pure financial standpoint, from a branding and football standpoint, the move has been nothing short of a disaster. All things considered (such as the types of moves we are seeing today in realignment), from a fit perspective—Nebraska football at least fits the B1G from a geographical and cultural context, so at least there's that (looking at you USC and UCLA).
Shifting demographics and increased competition for top Texas high school talent (an area that Nebraska had much success in during the 80s and 90s) have diminished Nebraska's ability to recruit large quantities of high-end high school players. This in turn has resulted in an increased emphasis placed on the transfer portal. While flattered that I might be to see three former Bulldogs head to Lincoln this offseason, I think most can agree that this is not a recipe for long-term success.
But it isn't just the move to the B1G that could be holding this program back. Nebraska is in an extremely tough spot geographically speaking, as none of its neighboring states provide large amounts of elite players either. And for the few elite athletes that do come through the high school ranks, competition for them is fierce with the emergence of programs like Kansas State, Iowa State, and Minnesota over the last decade.
One way to remedy said difficulties in recruiting top Texas high school players is to bring in a former Texas college coach—one who had a tremendous amount of success during his tenure. Rhule, having spent three seasons at Baylor, will be quite familiar with the Texas high school circuit, and one would assume he still retains many relationships in the state. But what we're really interested in is the CFF angle.
Whether the Cornhuskers go 0-12 or 12-0 doesn’t really matter—the question on our minds is: will there be any volume pigs of the rotund flavour on this roster? Well, today I am scoring each position group on the Volumen Porcus (Latin for Volume Pig) score. Why Latin—you ask… Let’s just say I watched Gladiator for the tenth time last night and got excited while writing this article.
Coaching & System
The Frost era unceremoniously came to an end midway through the 2022 season. It seemed only a matter of time for the golden boy's exile; the question really was when the Cornhusker brass would make their move. Perhaps even more unforgivable than the losing, Frost's tenure in Lincoln will be remembered as a time of lean years for CFF assets donning the red and white.
Enter new head coach Matt Rhule, who returns to the collegiate ranks via the NFL. Rhule was fired from the Carolina Panthers in the 2022 NFL season but does bring an impressive track record of turning fledgling programs around quickly (see Baylor, Temple, etc). The OC he brings in is a man by the name of Marcus Satterfield, who joins by way of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Satterfield served as the OC and QBs coach in 2021 and 2022. Prior to that, he served with Rhule on the Carolina Panthers' staff as the assistant offensive line coach in 2020.
In fact, Satterfield and Rhule have been together more often than not in the last decade—they served together on Baylor's staff (Satterfield was the TEs coach in 2019 and recruiting coordinator in 2018; Rhule was HC); they also worked together at Temple from 2013 to 2015 (Satterfield served as OC, Rhule as HC). In between those years, Satterfield spent two years as the head coach of the FCS program Tennessee Tech (2016-17).
With regard to the patterns of each coach, there are some notable stat lines from their tenures. At Carolina, RB D'Onta Foreman received 203 carries across 17 games in 2022; he accumulated 914 yards and five TDs with that volume.
WR DJ Moore was targeted 118 times over 17 games (just under 7 targets a game), of which he paid off 888 yards and seven TDs on 63 receptions. The year before (2021), two separate WRs received over 100 targets (Moore—163, the other—110). Moore crossed the 1000-yard mark, securing 93 receptions for 1157 yards and five TDs in 17 games (9.5 targets a game). The 2020 season was a committee in the backfield, but two WRs went over 1000 yards in 15 and 16 games, respectively. Robbie Chosen (formerly Robbie Anderson) was targeted 136 times (8.5 targets per game), DJ Moore—118 (7.86 targets per game). All told, the WR1 averaged 133 targets, 74 catches, 1079 yards, and 5.33 TDs per season. Granted, that was over 16/17 game seasons, so the average in FP terms is around 13.36 per game.
At the collegiate level, Rhule had the current NFL'er Denzel Mims at Baylor. Mims crossed 1000 yards in 2017 with 61 receptions for 1087 yards and eight TDs. His numbers wavered slightly in 2018 (55-794-8), as another WR—Jalen Hurd—caught 69 passes for 946 yards also. But Mims would return to clearing 1000 yards in 2019, catching 66 passes for 1020 yards and 12 TDs; that was an average of 18.46 FPG over the 13 games Baylor played that season. That's a pretty good average—enough to raise my eyebrows and inspire me to take a hard look at the current Cornhusker roster.
The running back position is less intriguing, as the patterns of the staff suggest it will likely be a committee this season. The most notable campaigns are Jahad Thomas' 2015 and 2016 seasons. Thomas rushed 276 times for 1262 yards and 17 TDs over 14 games in 2015 (19.71 carries per game) and split carries with another back in 2016.
Also, fun fact—Rhule and Satterfield actually had Robby ‘Chosen’ Anderson back at Temple in the mid 2010s. Anderson’s best statistical collegiate season was in 2015—where he caught 70 passes for 939 yards and seven TDs.
The QB play is also a bit of a question mark. There were not really any notable seasons during Rhule’s time with the Panthers—the best season being Teddy Bridgewater’s 2020 campaign, throwing over 3700 yards for a 15-11 TD-INT ratio, and adding 279 yards on the ground with five more scores. He attempted 492 passes over a 15 game stretch (~33 attempts per contest). His numbers would have averaged around 16.26 FPG in four-point passing TD formats. That’s not exactly awe-inspiring. But I like the dual threat usage (more on this later…).
I did not come across any notable TE campaigns during the last half-dozen seasons under Rhule, so we won’t spend time assessing the Cornhusker’s roster from that front.
Quarterback — Jeff Sims (6’4, 220)
Sims was originally a three-star prospect out of Jacksonville, FL when he committed to the ACC program Georgia Tech out of high school. During his time with the Yellow Jackets, his best statistical season came in 2021, where he averaged 21.7 FPG—passing for over 1100 yards and 12 TDs to 7 INTs, as well as rushing 70 times for 372 yards and four TDs in eight games.
Unfortunately, his latest season was his worst statistically; he only averaged 15 FPG last fall. Part of these poor numbers can be attributed to the poor program he played in, but he’ll also need to improve his completion percentage (he’s never finished a season with 60% or above completion). Most likely, he left for Nebraska in hopes of playing for a stronger program—one where he’ll have the chance to demonstrate his full potential more clearly. I’m all for it, and as I mentioned above, Rhule had Bridgewater in 2020 with the Panthers, who was also a dual-threat QB.
Rhule’s most notable QB play came during his time at Baylor. In 2019, Charlie Brewer threw over 3100 yards and 21 TDs to 7 INTs. He also rushed 147 times for 344 yards and 11 TDs in 14 games. Brewer’s numbers would have averaged around 21 FPG, but in one of those 14 games, he left due to injury in the first quarter with only 50 pass yards. Removing that game from the average, he hovered closer to 22.5 FPG.
My impression is that Sims should be able to hover around a low 20 FPG this season (assuming he’s the starter), perhaps even in the mid-20s if things shake out right. While that overall season-average may not be anything to write home about, I suspect he will have some massive single-game performances, making him a value in best ball formats, and even in deep standard scoring re-draft leagues where you can spot play him against weak defences.
Volumen Porcus score: I give it a solid 5/10.
Running Back — Anthony Grant (5’11, 200)
I must admit I nearly puked looking at Grant’s profile when I saw where he’s from—Buford, GA. After KJ Bolden’s commitment to the Noles earlier this week, I’ve got to say I am feeling some type of way about this cursed high school in the peach state. Although, in Grant’s case, I doubt he was heavily recruited (if at all) by the instate Dawgs.
Grant’s background is an interesting one—originally beginning his collegiate football career (Like our friend Mr. Bolden) in Tallahassee, FL. His time there was unsuccessful, and he would later transfer to the JuCo level—Garden City C.C. (one of the stronger JuCo programs traditionally). Actually, as a side note — for those who are unaware — Kansas is actually one of the top states for JuCo football, likely only trailing behind Mississippi at #1.
After completing a brief stint at GCCC, Grant transferred to Nebraska. In his first season with the Huskers, Grant averaged 12.8 FPG (1-ppr)—rushing 218 times for 915 yards and six TDs, plus receiving 18 passes on 26 targets for 104 yards. While these numbers were under the previous staff, I’d assert that I would expect a similar line of usage under Rhule. I don’t see Grant receiving over 250 carries, but I think over 200-230 is still within range. Grant’s receiving ability makes him an intriguing target, Rhule had Christian McCaffrey with the Panthers—however, CMaC was often injured during those years, preventing us from fully seeing how Rhule would use a player like this.
Unfortunately for us, the kiss of death did make its way to the news cycle this offseason, here is the text from a beat-report on the staff’s approach to the running back room for this upcoming season:
Feature running back for Nebraska? Barring the emergence of a generational talent, the Huskers are planning to take a committee approach this season.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said Thursday the staff knows the top quality it’s seeking in a top-end rusher — dependability. As a runner, in pass protection, in health and everything else a back is asked to do.
“I think it’s going to take more than just one,” Satterfield said. “It’s going to take two or three, especially in this league and the way these guys play defense. It’s going to be a long year for a running back as much as we’re going to run it.”
Is a group approach the preference for Nebraska?
“The preference is to have Bo Jackson,” Satterfield said, referencing the former Auburn All-American and two-sport pro superstar in the 1980s and ‘90s. “But there isn’t a lot of Bo Jacksons that are out there. We have a room full of really talented guys that do a lot of different things. We don’t want to be one of those teams that have five running backs that get two carries a game. We want some guys that have a role in the offense but it’s going to take more than just one this year for us to be successful.”
Among the contenders, Rahmir Johnson and Gabe Ervin both spoke Thursday and will be in the mix with the likes of Anthony Grant, Emmett Johnson and others. Ervin said he wants “to be the guy” but understands that a wave of fresh legs that include himself and his teammates could be awfully effective as the Big Ten grind sets in.
Nebraska last season leaned heavily on Anthony Grant (218 carries for 915 yards and six touchdowns), who was the first Husker back to top 200 totes since Ameer Abdullah in 2014. The offense has largely taken a group approach in the last decade and hasn’t had a running back drafted in that time with Abdullah the last of a parade of pro rushers that included Rex Burkhead, Roy Helu and Brandon Jackson.
A few key takeaways for me: 1) there is not going to be a bellcow here, but there could be a bellcow-light (sort of what Grant was last year) and 2) are we even sure it will be Grant who is RB1 on the depth chart? Grant did miss time earlier this offseason due to disciplinary reasons, and I noticed the word ‘dependable’ somewhere in the quotes above, so that’s a concern I have. Gabe Ervin has high aspirations for himself—as he should, and I’d expect both he and Johnson to be heavily involved too.
For the reasons listed above, I won’t be owning any shares of Nebraska’s running backs this season.
Volumen Porcus score: I give it a disappointing 3/10.
Many intriguing names at pass-catcher, but no alpha (yet)
With headlines reading like this: Nebraska 'hybrid' Janiran Bonner settled in and saw his spring stock soar, and like this: How's your spring been? Probably not as good as Janiran Bonner's, I suppose I must provide some coverage on Nebraska’s swiss-army knife Janiran Bonner, who originally joined the program as a wide receiver. The background on Bonner provided by 247 Sports is here:
Recruited to Nebraska as a wide receiver, the redshirt freshman from the Cedar Grove program in Georgia had never played tight end before. Not part of most fan and media discussions just two months ago, he moved to hybrid tight end and grabbed hold of momentum along the way. Now it's about keeping it going.
Move him inside, move him outside. Work the formation so he's now suddenly a fullback? Heck yes. That was Bonner getting some carries from Nebraska's hearted position, including the first play of the scrimmage, which had added importance since that football was handed over to Frank Solich after a 7-yard gain.
I imagine it’s at this moment that the reader is checking Bonner’s eligibility on Fantrax. Unfortunately, he is still listed as a WR. But he is officially thought of as a TE for the Huskers, so maybe he will be granted that eligibility in the near future—Fantrax does often update eligibilities right before the season in August.
Another unfortunate note, is that a lot the hype from those two articles is fuelled by Bonner’s blocking work, rather than his rushing and receiving ability. But this is an encouraging sign:
“Janiran can play every position out there for us right now,” Rhule said. “I think he has a real chance, depending on how he continues to develop.”
The more likely contributors this season are Sr. Marcus Washington (6’2, 190), r-So. Zavier Betts (6’2, 200) and former UVA slot receiver Billy Kemp (5’9, 180). Kemp also has RB eligibility on Fantrax.
Washington transferred to Nebraska in the 2022 offseason from Texas. He’s had a fairly unremarkable career so far, with his best season coming in 2022—7 FPG. He is entering his fifth year of CFB, and should be right in the thick of things as it relates to securing the boundary WR1 role. We saw what Rhule did with DJ Moore in his last three seasons; while DJ is slightly smaller (5’11, 215), he was a boundary receiver for the Panthers also. Betts is another who is likely at the top of the depth chart.
According to Satterfield, he also isn’t ruling out the possibility for an impact freshman to make his mark (hello Malachi Coleman?):
As for the first impression he's gained of those incoming freshmen? Only one word comes to mind for Satterfield.
“A lot, a lot of speed; it’s pretty impressive," he said. "They don’t know what to do yet, obviously, but when they’re just out there running routes one-on-one, they have a lot of speed.”
Given the playing time up for grabs at wide receiver, it's possible the Huskers could turn to one of those freshmen for immediate playing time. Over the course of his career, Satterfield said he's only had "a handful" of freshmen wideouts who were ready to see the field in September.
However, he's not ruling out a freshmen wide receiver making an impact sooner rather than later.
“You will see in the later parts of the season where a kid develops and gets into a position where he can contribute in some phases of the game. Obviously, it’s not unheard of; there’s freshmen all over the place that come in and play early," Satterfield said. “If those guys can learn what to do and play and match the physical elements that they need, then we’ll put them in. We don’t care how old they are as long as they produce.”
To me that means that it is unlikely that there will be a freshman starting to open the season. Perhaps one comes along in late October or November. That means none of those freshman are worth drafting.
As for the veterans, Betts was a big-time prospect in the class of 2020. He is a former top-120 recruit on the 247 composite ranking. He hasn’t yet realized that potential, but some (probably a lot) of that blame is due to previous staff. Rhule and coach ‘Sat have shown they can feature WRs if they have a good one. Ditto for Washington, who is a former top-150 recruit who had offers from the likes of Ohio State and Alabama.
So overall, while the new system is intriguing, I don’t feel good enough about any particular name to draft one, but this will be a program I watch closely as the season kicks off—specifically, at the WR position.
Volumen Porcus score: I give it a pesky 6.5/10 due to potential.
Overall, this is not an overwhelmingly inspiring offence for CFF, but if you’re a CFF player you probably already had that impression. The WR position is the one that intrigues me the most, followed by QB. It’s hard to advocate any of the Huskers’ players currently, however, due to the uncertainty at each position. Sims seems to be the only one that we can be fairly certain about starting.
I’m curious what you think…
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