We predicted Pierson-El would play his true freshman season, but nobody predicted the actual results.
The freshman only recorded 23 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver, but made his impact on special teams, proving to be one of the best punt returners in the country.
Pierson-El had 34 returns, for 596 yards (17.5 average) and three scores. It could have easily been five to six touchdowns. His play on special teams earned him second-team All-American honors by the USA Today and Football Writers Association.
After being named to the B1G Players to Watch list in the fall, Pierson-El suffered a foot injury in camp that kept him out of the Huskers’ first four contests. After his return, the Nebraska coaching staff made it a point to ease him back in the wide receiver rotation reps wise and on special teams.
After a few games, Pierson-El had knocked off the rust and looked to be coming into his own.
Another setback – bigger than the first. A broken leg and severe knee injury, a freak injury during a touchdown celebration at Purdue.
In just five games last season, Pierson-El had 12 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
The argument can be made the wide receiver position is the deepest on the team, with or without Pierson-El. His rehab cost him spring football, but the junior has been seen in workout videos posted by Huskers.com.
“We are going to monitor his health through the summer,” said Nebraska head coach Mike Riley during an interview with KETV. “The last time I heard, he was making good progress, expected progress…If that happens throughout the summer, all those things we know he can do will hopefully come alive during fall camp.”
After ranking No. 42 in punt return yards last season, Nebraska would welcome Pierson-El back in the role, even if he was only 90 percent of the returner he was in before. It’s unrealistic to think Pierson-El will be 100 percent the player he was prior this season. His injury will take time to fully come back, even if cleared to play.
It has been suggested the former Virginia prep could redshirt this fall to ensure a healthy comeback. It’s an option considering the depth at the position, but seems doubtful if he is already conditioning and on the correct medical pace.
If he does play in 2016, his campaign will likely start slow. Don't be worried. Nebraska can afford to limit his touches and let him establish some confidence. If Pierson-El can be feeling good by the time November rolls around, when the Huskers play Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota and Iowa, he could be a nice weapon. That should be the goal.
How he ended up in Lincoln:
A three-star prospect, Pierson-El hit the Huskers’ Big Red Weekend in June of 2013, hoping to learn how they saw him in their offense. The electric athlete got the answer he was looking for – he left a verbal.
The ultimate athlete, Pierson-El played quarterback for his high school team in 2013, throwing for 876 yards and seven touchdowns, while rushing for 1,007 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Pierson earned Class AAA all-state honors as a kick returner from the Virginia High School Coaches Association.