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Nebraska Football: Ranking the Huskers' 2013 NFL Draft Prospects

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJuly 6, 2012

Nebraska Football: Ranking the Huskers' 2013 NFL Draft Prospects

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    It's never too early to look ahead to next year's NFL Draft. As we gear up for the 2012 college football season, we'll rank Nebraska's top 15 draft prospects.

    The Cornhuskers should have a deep and talented roster this year, and these 15 seniors will be counted on to help turn that talent into a championship. Such success could also elevate their draft stock.

    Find out which players have the potential to be major role players and, subsequently, high draft picks.

15. Sean Fisher, OLB

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    Sean Fisher is a 6'6", 235 pound outside linebacker who has always had the size and speed to excel, but has been held back by injuries.

    Fisher didn't log too many statistics as a junior, but he was a decent starter at strongside linebacker who had his share of nice plays, including an impressive stop of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller during the Huskers' comeback win (which ended up being the play on which Miller got injured). His height makes it difficult for him to get a low center of gravity when making a tackle, but he makes up for it with good athleticism.

    With a player like Zaire Anderson or Alonzo Whaley potentially fighting for his spot, Fisher will have to fight to even retain his starting position this season, but there's a chance an NFL team will be interested in signing him as a free agent and see if they can develop his skills.

     

    Projected draft range: FA

14. Joe Carter, DE

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    Joe Carter played sparingly in his first year out of junior college, but he has a good chance of making a significant jump in his second year.

    The 6'5", 250 pounder has a very solid frame, and although he played sparingly as a backup last season, he has a great opportunity to become a regular part of the rotation and maybe even a starter opposite Cameron Meredith.

    Depending on whether or not that happens, Carter could be a good free agent acquisition for a team in need of defensive end help.

     

    Projected draft range: FA

13. Brett Maher, K/P

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    Just a year after the most accurate kicker in college football history left Nebraska for the NFL, the Huskers somehow replaced him with another one destined for the NFL.

    The kicker and punter positions—both vacated by Alex Henery—were areas of concern coming into the 2011 season, but successor Brett Maher put those worries to bed by averaging 44.5 yards per punt and drilling 19 of 23 field goals, with three of his four misses coming beyond 50 yards.

    Since kickers rarely get drafted, Maher's draft stock is pretty much irrelevant unless he has a Henery-esque season. But if he has a fantastic senior season, it isn't outside the realm of possibility that his skill as both a kicker and a punter would get him drafted in one of the final rounds.

     

    Projected draft range: FA

12. Courtney Osborne, S

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    Courtney Osborne is another Husker who has a lot of talent and potential, but has never been able to fully develop into a consistent starter. Osborne packs a punch and has had some promising moments, but he mysteriously disappeared last season.

    Osborne will likely get another crack at starting this year, but judging solely on last season, PJ Smith will beat him out to start alongside Daimion Stafford.

    In that event, it would be difficult for the 6'3", 200 pounder to get NFL attention, but if he is able to play a significant role even as a backup, he could easily be recognized as a player with a high ceiling and be offered a free agent contract following the draft.

     

    Projected draft range: FA

11. Seung Hoon Choi, OG

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    Seung Hoon Choi was one of last season's pleasant surprises, emerging as a consistent and productive starter opposite another surprise starter in Spencer Long.

    At 6'2" and 290 pounds, Choi isn't the biggest guard in the world, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem as if he were a tackle. Ideal size or not, Choi will start and likely excel once again opposite Long to give the Huskers one of the nation's better offensive guard duos.

    Choi will fly under the radar and his size will keep him out of the earlier rounds, but he could end up being a steal for someone willing to take a chance on him in the later part of the draft.

     

    Projected draft range: 7-FA

     

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10. Alonzo Whaley, OLB

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    Alonzo Whaley is one of Nebraska's more physically talented players. He has great size and muscle mass to go along with good speed and athleticism from the linebacker position. In short, he is a good candidate to replace Lavonte David at weakside linebacker.

    Unfortunately, Whaley has yet to put it all together and become a reliable starter at linebacker. But if there was ever a year for him to do that, this would be the year.

    If the 6'1", 235 pounder earns a starting spot and plays well, his draft stock could soar into relevance.

     

    Projected draft range: 7-FA

9. Eric Martin, DE

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    Eric Martin is one of Nebraska's most physical defenders, but he has never quite found a spot to settle into during his career.

    With that said, Martin might be a very intriguing prospect for NFL teams—particularly those who run 3-4 defenses.

    Martin's 6'2", 260 pound frame is a little small for a traditional 4-3 defensive end, and a little big for a traditional 4-3 linebacker. However, his size suggests he could be a perfect fit for 3-4 outside linebacker.

    Coincidentally, Martin happens to be one of the more tenacious, albeit inconsistent, pass rushers on the team. His combination of size, speed and physicality might make him a great candidate to terrorize quarterbacks from the rush linebacker spot.

    It's unlikely that Martin will start as a senior, but expect Nebraska coaches to find creative ways to get him on the field regularly. If he breaks out and tallies an impressive sack total, his stock should improve immensely.

    Martin also happens to be a ferocious special teams player, which is an underrated skill. Expect those collective talents to intrigue NFL teams.

     

    Projected draft range: 6-FA

8. PJ Smith, S

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    Although I originally had Courtney Osborne starting over PJ Smith in my early 2012 depth chart projections, I've since done a flip-flop for the simple reason that Smith didn't disappear quite like Osborne did last season.

    It wouldn't surprise me to see either one starting, but I find Smith to be a more natural fit at free safety beside Daimion Stafford, whose run-stopping skills and hard-hitting mentality project him as more of a strong safety.

    Smith's athleticism and ball skills give him the potential to be an All-Conference performer at safety if he can put it all together in his senior season, and I think there's a good chance he'll take advantage of the opening across from Stafford.

    The 6'2", 210 pounder totaled 33 tackles and an interception despite battling Stafford and the now-departed Austin Cassidy for playing time. Expect him to fill in admirably as a starter and have his best season yet in 2012.

     

    Projected draft range: 6-FA

     

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7. Kyler Reed, TE

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    Kyler Reed, a tweener tight end-wideout who is one of the most talented players on Nebraska's roster, will be working to have a big senior season after a disappointing junior year.

    Reed broke out as a sophomore with an impressive eight touchdown catches from freshman Taylor Martinez. He made a living burning linebackers on seam routes and averaged an impressive 18 yards per catch. Beyond his downfield abilities, he seemed to be rounding out into a fantastic all around pass-catching tight end.

    Reed's big play abilities were underutilized last season because Tim Beck was breaking in his new offense, but Reed also had one or two uncharacteristic drops. If he can successfully rebound and become a major part of what should be an improved offense, he'll get major looks from NFL scouts and could end up being a major steal.

    Chances are the 6'3", 230 pounder's athleticism will translate to receiver in the NFL, and if he can make that transition, he has a bright future ahead of him.

     

    Projected draft range: 6-7

6. Cameron Meredith, DE

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    Cameron Meredith will enter his third year as a starter at defensive end and will be one of Nebraska's veteran leaders.

    Meredith looked like he might break out in a big way at the beginning of last season, and although he did end up having a solid season, he was more inconsistent than the Huskers needed him to be.

    Still, he tallied a respectable 56 tackles and five sacks and should build on those numbers this year. It would really help if someone distinguished themselves as a clear starter on the other side to take some pressure off, but the defensive line should be improved either way and Meredith will take advantage.

    Meredith is a tad small for a traditional 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but if he gains some size or turns some heads with a more consistent pass rush, he should get a lot of attention.

     

    Projected draft range: 5-7

5. Ben Cotton, TE

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    Some may be surprised to see Ben Cotton this high on the list, but despite his lack of eye-catching stats over the course of his career, he is one of Nebraska's most pro-ready players.

    The 6'6", 255 pounder has ideal size for an NFL tight end and is one of Nebraska's best blockers regardless of position. And although his 14 catches for 189 yards as a junior don't seem to be anything to write home about, what shouldn't be overlooked is the fact that he had just one game all year without logging a reception.

    Cotton has proved to be a consistent, reliable safety valve for Taylor Martinez and has the ability to be significantly more involved in the offense. In fact, the only reason he hasn't been is the handful of other talented targets the Huskers have had to work with.

    Keen NFL GMs will recognize Cotton's potential to be a diamond in the rough.

     

    Projected draft range: 5-7

4. Will Compton, MLB

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    Will Compton had a redemptive junior season after struggling with injuries during his first two years.

    He notched 82 tackles and emerged as Nebraska's top tackler aside from Lavonte David. He even flashed some signs of brilliance with a couple of double-digit games.

    Compton will likely be the leader of the Blackshirts and should help this unit perform more consistently than last season. Don't be surprised to see Compton's tackle totals jump above 100.

    Though the 6'2", 230 pounder doesn't have ideal size for an NFL middle linebacker, the last undersized Husker 'backer to be drafted seems to be working out quite well for his team so far.

    Projected draft range: 4-5

3. Daimion Stafford, S

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    Daimion Stafford was a highly-touted JUCO player who was expected to come in and compete for a starting job right away in 2011, and he didn't disappoint.

    Stafford exploded onto the scene in Lincoln when he flew in and delivered a crushing blow to a Tennessee-Chattanooga ball-carrier inside the red-zone. He followed that up with an impressive 20 tackles in successive victories against Fresno State and Washington.

    Stafford had his struggles just like the rest of the 2011 defense, but he emerged as the team's third-leading tackler with 72, behind only Lavonte David and Will Compton. He was also a consistent pass defender, notching nine deflections.

    The most exciting about Stafford is the fact that he'll have a whole year in Bo Pelini's system this coming season, which should mean the sky's the limit for the 6'1", 210 pounder.

    Admittedly, Stafford has the potential to be Nebraska's best Blackshirt next season. If he is, don't be surprised to see him drafted on Day 2.

     

    Projected draft range: 3-5

2. Baker Steinkuhler, DT

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    Baker Steinkuhler is one of the more frustrating Husker players on the team—not because he isn't a good player, but because his potential is so high that most fans are expecting him to play at a truly elite level sooner or later.

    If ever there was a time to elevate his game to such a level, this would be the year to do it.

    Whether Steinkuhler gets to that level or not, he will very likely be one of the team's highest draft picks based on size, athletic ability and potential alone. The 6'6", 290 pounder has the size to play 4-3 defensive tackle (his current position) and the physical ability to play 3-4 defensive end (the same position Jared Crick will be utilized at with the Houston Texans).

    If the behemoth can finally live up to his lofty billing, he could easily sneak into the first round. Either way, the flashes he showed towards the end of last year lead me to believe he will have his best season yet.

     

    Projected draft range: 2-4

1. Rex Burkhead, RB

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    Destined to be a perennially underrated player, running back Rex Burkhead won't be overlooked by the NFL as much as he has been by the college football world.

    Burkhead proved last year that he is a true No. 1 running back, and one of the best in the nation to boot. He was named a First Team All-Big Ten back along with stat hound Montee Ball, a reward for his impressive 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns on 284 carries. He also chipped in 177 yards and two touchdowns through the air and was a consistently solid pass protector.

    Possibly the most impressive part of his season was that he was able to log those impressive stats without a consistently dangerous passing game to open up space for him.

    Burkhead is a tough, gritty runner between the tackles and rarely fumbles the ball. He won't wow anyone with his straight line speed, but he is a deceptively quick player who flashes some brilliant open field moves to go along with an uncanny ability to shed tackles and keep his balance in traffic. As the focal point of what should be an improved offense, he has a legitimate shot at being an All-American selection this upcoming season.

    Despite all of that, Burkhead isn't even appearing on many preseason top 10 lists.

    Regardless of how much recognition he gets across the nation, he should be a coveted player in the draft so long as his senior season goes as well as planned.

     

    Projected draft range: 2-3

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