A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Even after the combine, it's hard to know how some players did. Some certainly improved their stock, but how much. And did anyone hurt themselves? Well, we're going to take a look at the Huskers, and you might be surprised who projects to have potentially the best career, based on what we have seen and heard thus far.

Prince Amukamara came into the combine as without a doubt the top Husker in the NFL Draft. He was scouted as one of the most physical corners, while still being able to accelerate, play in run sport and do everything.

Following the combine that hasn't changed.

The contest, if you want to call it that, was between him and LSU's Patrick Peterson, who was being touted as easily the best corner in the draft this year. It would seem that has only been cemented from his performance at the combine, as he ran the 40 in 4.34, almost a full tenth better than Amukamara. But he tested well everywhere else, as well as performing as expected in the drills. One has to remember that Peterson is about half an inch taller than Amukamara along with weighing approximately 13 pounds more. Yet, he seemed to have a fluidity to his movement that belied that extra size.

The only downside to Prince, it would seem, was the fact that due to his size, and if you saw him you would have thought he was a linebacker, he's more rigid in turning his hips off his back pedal. NFL.com senior draft analyst, Mike Mayock, said that what he saw from Prince he expected. He knew he wasn't the most fluid of players in regard to his flexibility in the hips. But he also knew the kind of closing speed Amukamara had, which was illustrated in his own 40 time, officially a 4.43.

That one drawback still didn't give Mayock any pause in projecting him as solidly, the number two corner in the upcoming draft.

But what about the other guys?

Roy Helu Jr. absolutely wowed with his performances, recording top numbers among all running backs in the 20-yard shuttle as well as the 60-yard shuttle. He also did the best in the 40 of all the former Huskers, running a 4.42. He was second among all running backs in the 3-cone drill, as well.

But he's still not making anyone's list of just the top five running backs in the draft.

If you remember back to Lydon Murtha, who performed brilliantly at the combine a few years ago, the numbers he put up were amazing. I believe his forty at that particular time, was the best by an offensive lineman in the last 10 years.

The problem was football, and the line of questioning in those oh-so valuable interviews had more to do with them wondering if Murtha had a passion for this game. Could he play angry. Was he just an athlete playing football versus a football player who was athletic?

Helu seems to be getting the same treatment.

The scouting report on him is that he doesn't break tackles very well, that he runs high and that he doesn't show much tenacity at the point of impact. Basically putting it, he's an athlete playing football rather than being a running back who is a great athlete.

His impressive measurables are going to get him drafted, there's no doubt about that. And some of his production from the last two seasons, not the least of which was his record-setting performance against Missouri, will also give him some street cred, so to speak. And even when Pro Day arrives this month, those questions could still linger. Who will take a chance on him, and how much of a chance do they think that will be?

If there were no questions about just his prowess at the game of football, Helu would project late first-day more than likely. You have to be a super star type in order to go first day, because the value of a running back in the increasingly pass heavy league that is the NFL, has gone down.

That could move Helu to day two, perhaps the fourth round. But his value has certainly gone up from the athletic side of things. We'll have to see how many running backs that will vault him ahead of come the day of the Draft.

Niles Paul certainly impressed in some areas when it came to the combine. And some of those areas might surprise, as he seemed to get some pretty steady and positive marks in the drills. Sure, he tested well, though, I am sure he's disappointed by that 4.51 he ran in the forty. He topped all former Huskers in the bench press as he put up 225 lbs. 24 times. Only North Carolina's Greg Little bested Paul in that category among the wideouts participating at the Indianapolis event. But if there was one measurable that really hurt him, and for wide receivers you could see how it's a "big" deal"

His hands

Helu was probably all smiles after the combine as his numbers were among and at times, at the top of the best of the running backs down in Indy.

At 8 7/8 inches, Paul's hands were the smallest of every receiver his height or more, outside of Hillsdale College's Andre Holmes. Only five participants in the combine had hands measuring in under nine inches, including West Virginia's Jock Sanders, whose hands were the same size as Paul's. But Sanders is 5 foot, 6 inches tall.

Another issue some scouts seem to have with Paul is that he's not going to scare any cornerbacks, because while he can create separation with his body, he doesn't create space with his athleticism. And there seems to be a consensus that he was a very limited route runner. But to that he did quite well in the combine drills, which may have quelled some of those previous thoughts.

Where Paul has a lot of value is as an athlete, perhaps a situational wide receiver out of the slot, but definitely someone you could use in the return game, maybe even in coverage. That's great, but not many utility guys get taken on day one of the draft, which means you can probably expect that Paul will move to day two and perhaps as far down as the fifth or sixth round before he goes off the board.

Neither Keith Williams nor Ricky Henry really did themselves any favors during the combine. Williams tested OK, Neither ranked among the top 10 of offensive linemen in any of the measurable drills. Williams did a bit better in the individual stuff than Henry. Mayock remarked of Henry that he wasn't an athlete. He was one of those "try hard" kind of guys.

That usually doesn't bode well for you as a draft pick.

Williams might get drafted, but unless he can really turn it around at the Huskers' Pro Day, that is probably up in the air. As for Henry, it would seem that if he is going to get picked up it will be in free agency, and it's unsure how it will go for him after that. Henry plays with the mentality that I think most people wish all offensive linemen played with. But he comes up short in just about every quantifiable area in regard to athleticism.

One guy who is still to me, the automatic of this group of Huskers, is, of course, Alex Henery.

And I have to admit, that the one thing consistent I have seen on his scouting reports, which pertains specifically to his kicking, is that they seem to notice how Alex becomes less accurate from over 50 yard away.

There's a headline.

Can you tell me one kicker who is as accurate from over 50 as he is under 50?

Maybe they mean that for professional kickers, their issue is just getting it there. If they are going to miss a 57 yarder, it will be due to the fact that he doesn't have the leg to get it there, versus being less accurate.

I don't know about you, but if I am going to draft a kicker, I want to know he has the leg first and foremost. Can he get it there. And then I look at how often he gets it there from long range. And then look at situations where he was THE guy for that team. Two times Henery kicked four field goals in a game. One of those was in the Big 12 Championship against Texas when he was the only one scoring. And then there is the 57-yarder he hit to win against Colorado.

No, he won't be punting. And yes, he'll have to work on kicking off and his hang time from kickoffs at the professional level. But there's nothing I see or have heard that leads me to believe that of all the Huskers taken in this draft, he is the one, who by the nature of his position, could be in line for the longest career in the pros.

Hagg could have the most potential of all the former Huskers in this year's draft.

However, there might be another

Eric Hagg has never had to argue with anyone in trying to convince you he's versatile. He's proven that over his Husker career. In Nebraska's defensive package last year, he was a safety in the nickel package, a linebacker in the "Peso" and he even returned a punt 90-plus yards for a TD. He led the team in interceptions, and in the open field this guy seems to be able to tackle just about anyone. In straight coverage situations he seems to have some issues, but a defensive back with good hands is a hard thing to find in the NFL nowadays.

But what really cemented it for me as far as his potential in the NFL, and perhaps I am giving someone too much credit here, Mayock said that Hagg was among the best safeties at the combine when it came to showing how he backpedaled, stayed down and changed directions. Now, I am going to add that to what I know about Hagg himself, in that he has a lot of energy, is one of those consummate guys when it comes to working tirelessly to make himself better, and I think the has the frame to put on more weight to that 6 foot, 1 inch frame.

Now, with that being said, I don't know where that puts him in the draft in regard to where he gets picked. He's a second day guy, to me. I would say that's certain. But he has so much versatility and so much upside even now,  he's one of those guys who I think you could play just about anywhere, including special teams in the return game, on the coverage team, as a safety in a 4-3 or dime safety.

Dejon Gomes seemed to help himself a bit from the combine. It would seem that he's being figured in as either a box safety, which basically means they would be a situational guy, working a lot in run support with their coverage duties restricted to tight ends. Gomes has proven to be able to make plays on the man, but he was pretty stiff in the drills. You might even see him move to linebacker, which he has played in his career. That might suit him best. I'd say that makes him draft worthy to be sure, but it's going to be in the late rounds, potentially sixth or seventh.

Pierre Allen came off a pretty forgettable experience at the Senior Bowl. Scouts didn't take it easy on him during practices, as they said he was dominated pretty much the entire time. He couldn't get off blocks, was getting overwhelmed by bigger tackles, etc. That seemed to be the gist of the reports on him. He wasn't able to participate in the combine either, as he reportedly had a calf injury which kept him out of the drills. This basically means that if he has any hope at all of getting drafted, which I am skeptical about that even being possible at this point, his Pro Day better be one for the ages.

When it comes to those not at the combine who may have some shot at getting a look in free agency, I think Michael McNeill could rank at the top, based on a solid Pro Day. D. J. Jones might make that, but it's doubtful anyone would look at him to play tackle as he has for the Huskers. He would almost certainly be an inside guy. Anthony West will almost certainly have to test out of his mind if he's going to get a look by a team following the draft.

 


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