The NFL teams picked sides this weekend. Any Nebraska fan expecting to hear a lot of former Husker names called likely came away pretty disappointed. In the end, only three Huskers were drafted. While there is some silver lining in this relatively weak showing for NU, the events of the weekend put a capstone on a 2007 NU season marked by underachievement.
Listening to Chris Berman bumble and Mel Kiper and Chris Mortensen bicker isn’t exactly a great viewing experience. For most fans, the ultimate relief is the chance to hear one of their favorite players get selected. NU fans got no such relief in the entire first day of the draft. On the second day of the draft, just three former Huskers were selected, Zack Bowman by the Bears in round 4, Carl Nicks by the Saints in round 5, and Bo Ruud to the Patriots in round 6. That’s it. That’s the list. All the other Huskers wanting a shot in the NFL would need to sign free agent contracts.
Congrats to the Deserving
There is some upside for NU from this weekend. (I had to say “upside” just once). I suspect most fans feel good for Zack Bowman getting a shot at the NFL. He’s a huge talent, who might have been a first-round pick if he had not hurt his knee (twice!) while in college. He displayed heart and leadership for NU, and I’m glad he gets a shot. Carl Nicks fell further in the draft than most expected. But, he landed in a very good situation. New Orleans is considered by many to be a team on the rise and they run a system very much like what NU did under Callahan. He should make that team. Finally, Bo Ruud brings the Ruud dynasty at NU to a close. He also landed on his feet, going to the Patriots – a team in need of youth at linebacker. The smart and multi-dimensional Ruud should have ample chance to catch on there.
Testing the Free Agent Waters
A number of Huskers with significant talent went undrafted this weekend, and will go the free agent route to the NFL if they can. It appears that Courtney Grixby and Steve Octavien have already signed on with franchises. We’ll see if Mo Purify, Sam Keller, Tierre Green and others get to ink deals soon. Many say that it is better to be a free agent than to be selected in the seventh round of the draft, because a player can leverage one team against the others. Though, personally, I’d rather know there was a team willing to invest in me and call my name in public. Either way, I wish these guys luck.
Capstone of Disappointment
For me, the 2008 NFL draft somehow puts a nice neat capstone on the misery of the 2007 campaign for NU. In my opinion, 2007 was all about squandered potential. To illustrate, let me drop in three names – Sam Keller, Mo Purify and Steve Octavien. At season’s start, what Husker fan thought none of these players would go unselected by NFL teams? On talent alone, all three of them had the goods. Heck, Purify and Octavien were invited to the combine, and something like 85% of combine invitees get selected.
When players underachieve, their teams often do so too. The resulting poor performance leads to losing seasons and lower draft status. I know there are tons and tons of examples of good NFL-caliber players on bad teams. But, in very broad strokes, you can see how good teams get more players drafted. It’s about maximizing the potential they have. Results on the field matter. Schools like USC and Virginia Tech (Both rock solid in 2007) had a lot of players taken. More under achieving schools like NU and Alabama (who had nobody selected) didn’t rule the draft. Even mighty Miami, long thought to be the hot bed of talent in America, didn’t have their usual run of players drafted. Though, the still kept their streak of first-round picks alive.
So, what’s the point? I think NU had ample talent to win more games in 2007. That talent was squandered, either by bad attitude or inadequate coaching, and it showed up big in the record book and at the draft. I can only be optimistic about the new coaching staff’s ability to take the talent they have on the roster and get the absolute most from it in 2008. Then, fans may be able to celebrate more wins, and NFL scouts will take more notice.