Rex Burkhead’s senior season for Nebraska hardly fulfilled expectations. After putting the Husker offense squarely on his back in his junior season, Burkhead expected even greater things to come in 2012.
After scampering 57 yards for a touchdown seconds into Nebraska’s season opener against Southern Miss, it appeared “Superman” was poised to do just that. But injuries struck, and they struck often, making Burkhead a rare contributor instead of the work-horse back that the Huskers had previously enjoyed.
So what is next for Rex Burkhead after an injury-riddled senior year? Let’s look at the key factors that make Burkhead a steal for any team in the 2013 NFL draft.
Rex Burkhead is not going to be switching to wideout anytime soon. But do not limit his skill set to the normal fixtures of the running back position.
Frequently during his career in Lincoln, the Huskers looked to Burkhead to provide a spark out of the backfield. On either check-downs or designed screen passes, the Nebraska offense often looked for creative ways to get the ball in the playmakers’ hands. And he did not disappoint, most notably burning Ohio State in 2011 on a catch he was able to turn up field in the midst of the Huskers’ giant comeback victory.
Perhaps Burkhead’s greatest attribute is his ability to challenge defenses inside and outside the tackles. While many bowling-ball running backs (LenDale White, Jorvorskie Lane, etc.) and sprinter running backs (Reggie Bush, Warrick Dunn, etc.) have experienced limited success at the NFL level, the most productive backs have that rare combination. They are the backs that can simultaneously run over defensive backs and make linebackers miss.
Rex Burkhead has shown time and time again the ability to do just that, most recently against Iowa in the Heroes Game. In the same crucial, clock-draining drive, Burkhead carried half the Hawkeye defense on his back to provide the Husker offense with vital breathing room on their own goal line. A few plays later, he broke the ankles of a poor defender who had the unfortunate task of trying to bring Superman down in the open field.
Burkhead has found his way into the hearts of Nebraska fans on and off the field. His performances on the field have produced memorable moments for Husker nation and made him a household name across the state. But it is his character when the pads are off that has made him such an endeared member of the Nebraska community.
While community service obviously does not mean anything directly for NFL scouts looking for production, it says a lot about the way in which Burkhead would approach an NFL opportunity. Teams should look at the great work he has done off the field as evidence for the selfless and generous player Burkhead will make within a team.
Seemingly on a daily basis, NFL players prove that they are not your average members of their communities. Starting in high school, fame and popularity of quality football players can quickly turn Average Joes into big-city divas. However, that baggage will not come with Rex Burkhead.
Particularly in his junior and senior seasons, Rex Burkhead was The Man. He was the crowd favorite and face of the team. And if old enough, he probably would have had a good shot in most political races this fall without even campaigning. Yet despite this notoriety, Burkhead was never found mouthing off to the media or making himself the center of attention. He just kept on his regular path, like he has always done, a truly rare thing for such a beloved star athlete.
With the exception of superstar running backs like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, NFL teams frequently turn to two-running back systems to bear the workload of their running attacks. This can frequently force incoming college prospects to transition into a rushing game-by-committee style of offense.
However, Rex Burkhead has more experience than most with sharing the ball. For much of his career at Nebraska, he shared carries with Roy Helu, Jr., who is already playing professionally. And even upon his return from injuries in 2012, Burkhead again did not have exclusive rights to the carries. Simply, he knows how to be a team player and accept his role in the offense.
All of these previous points show Burkhead’s value in the NFL draft. Yet it is his anonymity that makes him a steal.
There are a number of high-profile running backs that have NFL scouts drooling. Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all seem to have bright NFL futures ahead of them. And it is no secret.
But outside of Nebraska, Rex Burkhead does not enjoy nearly the level of renown he receives inside the state. It is rather absurd to suggest that NFL scouts would overlook a player like Burkhead or not know everything there is to know about him. But it is the likelihood that he falls to a later spot in the draft class due to his lack of national reputation that makes Burkhead a steal in the 2013 NFL draft.