Nebraska football fans love to see their heroes move on from Lincoln to the NFL. Even if Bill Callahan’s tenure left a bit of a sour taste in fans’ mouths about NFL connection, there can be no doubt that players like Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Alex Henery’s success in the league is a source of pride for the Children of the Corn.
Heck, it’s Nebraska that has the longest consecutive streak of putting players in the Super Bowl, a record dating back 20 years. And Nebraska alum Sam Koch is sporting a Super Bowl championship ring from the Ravens’ victory in Super Bowl XLVII last February.
So how will this year’s crop of Nebraska draft prospects do? Let’s take a look at the most likely candidates to hear their name called at Radio City Music Hall this weekend.
Of all Nebraska’s draft prospects, most NU fans will be keeping a close eye on what happens to Burkhead. One of the most popular players in school history, fans will be hoping for good things to happen for their adopted son from Plano, Texas.
At 5’10” and 214 pounds, Burkhead certainly has the size to be an NFL running back. And his remarkable shiftiness and elusiveness in tight spaces make him an intriguing prospect. But Burkhead lacks breakaway speed, clocking only a 4.73 40-yard dash at the combine (although he performed better at Nebraska’s pro day). The loss of almost his entire senior season to a knee injury doesn’t help Burkhead’s prospects, either.
DraftCountdown.com has Burkhead as its No. 20 running back prospect and projects him to be either a late-round pick or a priority free agent. But according to NFL analyst Gil Brandt (as told to Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald), Burkhead may end up as a draft-day steal due to his versatility, hard work and leadership qualities.
NFL.com’s seven-round mock draft has Burkhead as this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” the last pick of the draft, going to the Indianapolis Colts at pick no. 254.
PROJECTION: I’d be surprised if Burkhead wasn’t drafted, but it is unlikely to be before the sixth round.
At the start of 2012, Stafford looked to be Nebraska’s best NFL prospect. Stafford was coming off a solid 2011 campaign and had the style and attitude that looked to translate well to the next level.
Unfortunately, Stafford’s 2012 campaign was marked by inconsistency and big mistakes. And Stafford’s less-than-stellar combine performance (4.69 40-yard dash and 30.5” vertical, although he did have an impressive 21-rep bench press) has hurt his draft stock.
DraftCountdown.com has Stafford as its No. 21 safety prospect and projects him as a late-round pick or a priority free agent. The NFL.com’s seven-round mock draft has Stafford going late in the seventh round, at pick No. 241 to the Seattle Seahawks.
PROJECTION: It looks like Stafford is right on the line in terms of getting drafted. He may be a player that is better off not being drafted and being able to pick his spot as a priority free agent.
Nebraska continues its tradition as Kicker U with Brett Maher lining up his NFL prospects. Following in the footsteps of Alex Henery, Maher looks to tee up a spot on an NFL roster next season.
(OK, I promise, I’m done with kicking puns.)
Maher has a strong leg, proven accuracy and the flexibility to punt, placekick and handle kickoffs. He is DraftCountdown.com’s No. 3 kicker prospect, projected to be a late-round pick or a priority free agent. The NFL.com’s seven-round mock draft has Maher going undrafted.
PROJECTION: Given how disposable kickers are in the NFL, it seems unlikely that Maher will hear his name called this weekend. Look for him to be a priority free-agent signing.
Although Martin wasn’t an invite to the NFL combine, he posted impressive numbers (4.53 40-yard dash, 3.97 short shuttle and 6.63 cone drill) at Nebraska’s pro day. He was also Nebraska’s most explosive defensive player, making big plays in big games that should help him stand out for teams doing film study.
At 6’1” and 237 pounds, Martin has the size and build to be successful. DraftCountdown.com has Martin ranked as its No. 29 outside linebacker prospect, and projects him as a late-round pick or a priority free agent. The NFL.com’s seven-round mock draft has Martin going undrafted.
PROJECTION: Martin looks to be building a bit of momentum late in the draft process, after being shut out of the combine. Given a successful end to Martin’s regular season, and the aggressiveness and instincts he showed on the field, look for him to snag a seventh-round selection.
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