Some Nebraska football fans seem concerned about the amount of love junior Tanner Lee is getting.
“What about all of his interceptions at Tulane?”
“This is his first big spotlight.”
“Yeah, he looked good in the Spring Game, but…”
Calm yourselves, Husker Nation. You can enjoy the decadent notion that the Big Red has a pro-style quarterback that knows what he’s doing without a care.
Let me take you back to 2006 when the Nebraska offense was led by one Zac Taylor. While Bill Callahan’s West Coast Offense wasn’t what Mike Riley shows on the field these days, it was multi-faced and similar in some ways.
It had an accurate quarterback in Taylor with his 57 percent completion rate, 3,197 yards passing and 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions. It had a couple of running backs that took a more traditional role with the occasional reception in Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky. It also featured a power back in Cody Glenn.
Finally, the wide receiver corps had a solid starting four in Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn, Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. If tight end Matt Herian hadn’t lost a step following a leg injury, he may have thrived in a role similar to what Riley commands from his players at the same position.
Fast forward to 2008 when Bo Pelini took over after Callahan was canned. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson guided an offense that was led by Joe Ganz, Taylor’s previous backup. Ganz proved even more impressive than his predecessor completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,568 yards with 25 touchdowns to 11 picks.
While running back Roy Helu, Jr. separated from the pack a bit, Lucky spelled him plenty and Quentin Castille picked up the bruiser role.
Swift and Peterson picked up veteran roles while Menalik Holt added a competent third option and sophomore tight end Mike McNeill stepped into the spotlight with 442 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
What do these comparisons have to do with modern-day Nebraska football?
You have Lee who is blessed with much better mechanics than either Taylor or Ganz. The twin tailback role looks to be filled by Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon, though with more of a 2006-ish role of receivers that will handle a handoff more often than not.
While Tyjon Lindsey will have every option to snag a spot come fall, Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El offer two main targets. Keyan Williams looks like a solid option at slot receiver while there is a cluster of wideouts whose positions in the pecking order look to shake out this summer and into fall camp.
A better quarterback with better surrounding talent equated to better results. Keep in mind that while the Husker offensive line is very green, it’s rife with talent. Lee hasn’t worked with a line that can give him the sort of time he needs to go through his progressions and make the right calls during his college career yet.
Still don’t believe me? Would you trust Archie Manning? No doubt you’re familiar with the Manning family, so if you’re not aware, you won’t be shocked to learn that the Manning Passing Academy camp exists.
Nebraska Executive Director of Player Personnel Billy Devaney chatted with the patriarch of the gun-slinger family tree when Devaney was with the Falcons. Former No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jared Goff was good enough to get an invitation to the Passing Academy, but so was Lee. In fact, according to the elder Manning, Lee put Goff to shame. His words, not mine.
Yes, expectations are high, but they should be. Riley wants the bar to be raised back to Ye Olde Nebraska Football Specifications.
Here’s one last piece of evidence and then you can decide for yourself if the sky is still falling with No. 13 under center.
There’s another Los Angeles Ram worth noting when it comes to Riley and Danny Langsdorf: Sean Mannion. Drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft He started under Riley at Oregon State from 2011-2014. He also holds the Pac-12 record for passing yards in a career.
Better than Matt Barkley, better than Goff, better than Carson Palmer or Marcus Mariota. Even Washington State’s Connor Halliday didn’t touch him. It should also be noted that his average career completion percentage was 65 percent. To put that in perspective, Tommy Armstrong completed 53 percent of his career passes.
That’s a bit of a jump.
There’s no suggesting that Lee will be a carbon copy of Mannion, but he’s drawing comparisons. There are also more than a few whispers around Lincoln that if Lee has a solid 2017 season, he’ll have a strong enough case to be one-and-done, bolting to the NFL.
Set your expectations as you wish, but keep in mind that when it comes to whether or not you should go all in on Lee, he’s an option that looks like a quality pro-style quarterback and satisfies the experts as one, too.