The 2013 NFL Draft takes center stage Thursday night, but Husker fans should probably not bother tuning in until deep into the weekend.
Of the Cornhuskers’ three most promising NFL prospects, running back Rex Burkhead, safety Daimion Stafford and punter/place kicker Brett Maher, it is difficult to say who, if anyone, will hear his name first.
And The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Christopherson does well to highlight this uncertainty as he projects all three to be called by the end of the seventh and final round. But one can rest assured, there are as many opinions on these three players as there are possibilities.
However, if the general lack of buzz surrounding Rex Burkhead is any indication, he could be headed down a road all too familiar to former Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Comparing these two is admittedly a stretch at first glance. One plays offense, the other defense.
One finished his career by rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 Capital One Bowl, the other ended his with an ejection from the 2012 Capital One Bowl (although getting Alshon Jeffery ejected alongside him was arguably a brilliant play).
And one man last made the news for his role in the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ relationship with Jack Hoffman, which culminated in the seven-year-old’s inspiring touchdown run in the spring game. Meanwhile, the other made headlines following his sentencing for assaulting a Lincoln police officer in April 2012.
Yet despite their differences, Burkhead will likely follow in Dennard’s footsteps as he enters the National Football League.
After fighting off injuries to begin his senior campaign, Dennard put together an impressive resume which included shutting down Iowa’s Marvin McNutt (2011 Big Ten Receiver of the Year) and Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham (2011 All-Big Ten Second Team).
However, largely due to his off-field behavior prior to the draft, Dennard’s stock plummeted and he was eventually taken in the final round by the New England Patriots. Although it is very early to assess the quality of 2012’s draft picks, Dennard’s rookie year contributions for the Patriots suggest he was one of the biggest steals of the draft.
And Burkhead seems aligned for something similar. Of course, for Burkhead it was not a legal problem that plagued his pre-draft stock, but rather his never-ceasing injuries that sidelined him for the majority of his senior season.
Despite these durability issues that will no doubt be on the mind of any prospective team, someone is sure to take a chance on Burkhead. His performance when healthy rivaled anybody else in college football, his personality and character is perfect for building a team around and his measurables from the NFL combine showed that he has recovered from the injury and regained his elite level of athleticism.
So whoever ends up choosing Burkhead or even if he somehow falls into the free-agency pool, he is sure to be a pleasant surprise. Because like Dennard, national perception is making Burkhead an afterthought, but those close to the program, or even just the conference, know the value that lies in this unheralded late-round pick.