The top 10 Nebraska football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. S Nate Gerry, Sr.
After leading the team with five picks as a sophomore, Gerry turned into the leading tackler coming up with 79 stops to go along with four picks in an all-star junior season. A great hitter in the open field, he made 88 tackles two seasons ago and continued to be a machine against the run, coming up with 14 stops in the win over Michigan State as the highlight of another huge statistical year. Very fast, he was a South Dakota state champion-level sprinter, bringing the wheels in a 6-2, 210-pound frame to do it all for the defensive backfield.
2. WR Jordan Westerkamp, Sr.
The team’s leading receiver, and a Second Team All-Big Ten performer, Westerkamp is a baller catching 65 passes for 918 yards and seven scores, averaging over 14 yards per try, while returning a few punts averaging over ten yards per try. Dominant in back-to-back games against Purdue and Michigan State, he caught 19 passes for 266 yards and two scores as Tommy Armstrong’s go-to guy. A shifty 6-0 and 200 pounds, Westerkamp has been a great all-around target for the last two years working as a deep threat when needed, and working as a midrange route-runner who keeps the chains moving at other times. He can do it all.
3. QB Tommy Armstrong, Sr.
Very good at times, average at others, he has to be better than just okay in his senior year. The 6-1, 220-pound veteran has the right leadership, the right personality, and the right makeup to be exactly what an offense needs to make big things happen. While he’s not a pure passer, he made the attack go completing 55% of his throws for 3,030 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he gave up 16 picks. With 36 interceptions in three seasons, that’s his big problem.
More of an all-around playmaker under the new coaching staff, he ran less but still came up with 400 yards and seven touchdowns. While he’s built to take off and pound away at times, with the great receiving corps around him he needs to wing it around after throwing for 270 yards or more seven times. As long as he can get into a groove, keep the offense moving, and not make a slew of big mistakes, he’ll be doing his job.
4. WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, Jr.
Never quite in one piece last year, the 5-9, 185-pounder is an electric player when he gets the ball in his hands on the move – he just didn’t have enough of those moments last year. He only caught 12 passes for 111 yards and a score in his six games of work, and he got a few tries as a punt returner, but he didn’t light it up like he did as a freshman when he averaged 17.5 yards per punt return with three scores, and caught 23 passes for 321 yards and four scores. Ultra-fast, he should be back to normal now that he’s past his knee injury.
5. WR Brandon Reilly, Sr.
A reliable deep threat, the 6-2, 200-pound veteran is a local native from Lincoln, starting half the season catching 40 passes for 754 yards and four scores averaging close to 19 yards per grab. Consistent throughout the season, he had his biggest game against Southern Miss with three catches for 112 yards – he was good for around three catches a game throughout the year. A physical receiver, he was tough enough to be used as a runner from time to time, too.
6. TE Cethan Carter, Sr.
A decent all-around tight end, Carter tied for fourth on the team with 24 catches for 329 yards and two scores, averaging 13.7 yards per try. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he’s got excellent size and did a nice job of being a matchup problem, coming up with a 55-yard play against Illinois and stretching the field from time to time. He’s also an effective downfield blocker.
7. PK Drew Brown, Jr.
The all-star kicker was a godsend at times for an offense that stalled way too often, nailing 21-of-27 field goals and showing off just enough range to hit a 50-yarder against Southern Miss. While there were a few makeable misfires, he connected on 12-of-14 attempts from 40-to-49 yards out and got on a terrific run over the second half of the season connecting on his last 11 attempts.
8. CB Joshua Kalu, Jr.
The team’s second-leading tackler, despite playing corner, Kalu came up with a tough season picking off three passes and taking one for a score, while coming up with 75 tackles, 51 of them in the open field. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he’s got great size, the smarts to earn Academic All-Big Ten honors, and he can pop – he might have a future as a safety.
9. RB Terrell Newby, Sr.
While there isn’t a wow-factor about Newby’s game, and Devine Ozigbo should turn into a bigger factor as the season goes on, but the leading returning rusher will be asked to take the ground game to another level. The 5-11, 200-pounder out of Los Angeles doesn’t have lightning speed, he’s quick enough to pound out over five yards per carry, leading the way with 765 yards and six touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 159 yards and a score. He had a few big games early – with 198 yards and two touchdowns against South Alabama – but he only ran the ball 18 times over the final four games.
In Honor of Sam Foltz
The senior punter tragically passed away in a car accident this summer after attending a kicking camp. A First-Team All-Big Ten punter last season, Foltz bombed away averaging over 44 yards per kick and putting 15 inside the 20. He was consistent, and did a fantastic job of airing it out and getting the D out of jams time and again. He was one of the nation’s best punters – and was one of Nebraska’s top returning players – but to a man from head coach Mike Riley on down, he’s being remembered as a better guy and teammate.