By Chris Labenz
Under Bo Pelini’s tutelage, 13 Huskers have been selected in the annual NFL draft. In 2009, Cody Glenn (5th Round), Matt Slauson (6th Round), and Lydon Murtha (7th round) were taken.
2010’s class saw Ndamukong Suh (1st Round), Phillip Dillard (4th Round) and Larry Asante (5th Round) fly off the board. The 2011 edition included Prince Amukamara (1st Round) highlighting a group of seven Huskers that were drafted between the first and seventh rounds.
With the 2012 NFL Draft on the horizon, let’s examine where some of last season’s Huskers may end up.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB–
Coming into the 2011 season, experts had Dennard as a first round lock because of his tremendous performances in 2010 as No. 15 often took on the opponent’s best receiver. Would you have thrown at Prince Amukamara on the other side?
The Husker corner battled injuries early in 2011 and did not perform well in his most recent showcases. He was torched by South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey in the Capital One Bowl before the two scuffled which lead to ejections, and was essentially a non-factor in the Senior Bowl festivities.
Due to Dennard’s height (generously listed at 5’10″, but likely closer to 5’8”), NFL scouts are concerned about his ability to cover bigger receivers, even with his tremendous leaping ability.
He also looked slow compared to Jeffrey who is by no means a speed demon at wide receiver. Despite these concerns, Dennard possesses great physicality and confidence which are vitally important traits for NFL defensive backs.
NFL Draft Projection
Most mock drafts have Dennard falling to the second round, and Tampa Bay appears to have serious interest in him because of Aqib Talib’s off-the-field issues. The Jaguars may grab the Husker standout two picks later if he’s available.
If Dennard can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.45 range along with showcasing his elite vertical jump and quickness at the NFL Combine and Nebraska’s Pro Day, he may be able to slide back into the late first round as a San Francisco 49er.
Lavonte David, LB/SS –
David was the most important player on Nebraska’s team last season, and single-handedly kept the Blackshirts from being embarrassed on several occasions. Without No. 4, Nebraska loses to Ohio State and potentially enters a downward spiral including six or seven losses.
He was a force across the field during his two seasons as a Husker, displaying an ability to both make plays from sideline to sideline and cover tight ends or running backs 20-plus yards downfield.
Scouts are impressed with David’s sure-tackling ability, quickness to the ball and speed, but his most valuable skill may be his instincts. Over the All-American’s career, it often appeared he knew what the offense was going to do before the ball was snapped.
The knock on David is his size. Can he take on the week-to-week rigors of the NFL at only 220 pounds? Most scouts believe so and if not, they feel David could play the strong safety position because of his pure athletic ability.
NFL Draft Projection
If David were 20 pounds heavier, he’d be a lock for the first round. However, most projections have him falling into the third or fourth round of the draft, with the Titans and Eagles expressing the most interest. He’ll be a great value pick for whoever grabs him.
Jared Crick, DT/DE –
Crick entered last season as one of the top defensive tackles in college football, with most experts projecting him as a first round selection in 2012. Even without Ndamukong Suh by his side, Crick put up impressive statistics during his junior season and was named an All-Big 12 player.However, No. 94 battled various nagging injuries during the 2011 campaign and was unable to live up to his preseason All-American status.
Before his injuries, the Husker star was still a solid performer, but because of constant double teams, he struggled to penetrate the backfield and looked gassed by the second half of games. Despite this, scouts believe Crick can return to form and be a contributor as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
He has the size and is quick enough to handle the role of a pass-rushing defensive tackle, but teams who employ a 3-4 would love to have Crick’s athleticism on the outside, where he can maintain the edge, but still get to the quarterback.
NFL Draft Projection
Experts are all over the board on where Crick will get drafted. Some have him listed in the second round while others think he’ll fall to the fifth or sixth. If he’s able to put up solid strength and agility numbers at the NFL Combine and Nebraska’s Pro Day, he’ll likely stay in the top three rounds as NFL teams place a premium on versatile defensive linemen.
The Patriots and Ravens appeared to have strong interest before last season and as both teams need help on the defensive line, the former anchor of Nebraska’s defense could be of great value to them.
Other Huskers Likely to be Drafted –
Marcel Jones, OT – Jones had a solid career at NU, but was bit by the injury bug throughout which led to inconsistent play. However, he has the size (6’6″, 315) to play at the next level and a team may grab the Arizona native in the sixth round.
Jemarcus Hardrick, OL – “Yoshi” was a solid contributor for Nebraska over the last two seasons and showed the ability to dominate in run support. While Hardrick played a majority of his snaps for the Cornhuskers at the left tackle spot, his lack of elite quickness against edge rushers means he likely projects at either right tackle or guard in the NFL.
He possesses good size (6’7″, 320) and above-average athletic ability, but it will be crucial for No. 50 to trim down for the Nebraska’s Pro Day, as fatigue appeared to set in at times during the 2011 season.