2011 NFL Draft: Ranking Nebraska's Pro Prospects

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJanuary 10, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Ranking Nebraska's Pro Prospects

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    Since 2003, Nebraska has been in something of a drought when it comes to sending players to the NFL. 

    But this year's senior class looks to be one of the best in recent memory, and the Huskers should be represented very well in the 2011 NFL Draft.

    Nebraska currently has 12 senior prospects that have a good shot at getting signed on to a team, whether it be through the draft or via free agency.

    In this slideshow, I rank those prospects.

    Before you read, it is important to remember that these rankings are not simply who will be drafted highest, but a combination of their pre-draft hype and how well I think they will perform in the NFL.

    Think my rankings are off?  I welcome criticism.

    On with the assessment.

12. Rickey Thenarse

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    At the bottom of this list is the senior safety who, let's be frank, never really reached his full potential in college.

    Thenarse has always been known as a bone-crunching hitter and has been phenomenal on special teams, but he never really stuck as a starting safety.

    He has never been very good in coverage, and after a couple games of bad tackling this past season, he was supplanted by former walk-on Austin Cassidy.

    However, Thenarse still has potential, and he very well may get a free agent contract and play special teams for someone.

    Don't expect him to get drafted, though.

11. Keith Williams

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    The slightly lesser of Nebraska's two guards in my mind.

    Williams has the third most consecutive starts on the team, at 32.  He's been a solid, fairly consistent blocker when healthy.

    While Williams will also most likely not get drafted, he could end up being a very good guard in the NFL.

    At 6'5", 310 pounds, he has the size to pull it off.

10. Ricky Henry

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    The guard opposite Keith Williams, Henry has come on strong in his last two seasons and is Nebraska's best blocker in my opinion, especially against the run.

    Henry is the same size as Williams, but has a personality that rivals a Tasmanian devil.

    He has been solid, and occasionally dominant, against the run, but still has some work to do as a pass blocker.

    His run blocking ability combined with his fierce personality will make him a good fit on a run-heavy football team.

    Henry has the best chance of being drafted of any Nebraska offensive lineman, but will likely also be a free agent.

9. Adi Kunalic

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    While Kunalic is one of the best kick-off specialists I've ever seen, there's frankly not much else he can do.

    He could be a long distance field goal kicker for some team, but chances are he will get a free agent deal to be a kick-off specialist.

    He'll be a darn good one too.

    Remember the seven consecutive touchbacks he had against Missouri?  Any team that has to kick to Joshua Cribbs two games per season would love to have Kunalic booting them out of the end zone.

8. Mike McNeill

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    Nebraska's grossly under-utilized tight end-turned-receiver might get drafted in the seventh round.


    It's more likely he'll end up being a free agent.

    It doesn't matter.

    It's been a shame that Shawn Watson has never figured out how to get McNeill involved in the game, but don't write him off in the NFL.

    McNeill has a ton of talent, and although he is small for a tight end, he is athletic enough to play receiver.  Coaches will love his 6'4", 235 pound frame, deceptive athleticism and great hands.

    He could end up being a pleasant surprise for anyone who decides to take a gamble on him.

7. Pierre Allen

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    While Allen may not have as good an NFL career as McNeill, he will probably get drafted in the later rounds.

    Allen has always been a solid defensive end and has flashed greatness at times.

    But he never turned out to be a dominant performer like some thought he would.  He has good size and plays run defense well, but his pass rush will never be compared to Dwight Freeney.

    Still, he could end up being a starter somewhere after a few years of getting acclimated to the NFL (and maybe a break or two here and there).

    He might be a late-round steal for the Detroit Lions, as he seemed to play better when Ndamukong Suh was on the field at the same time.

6. Niles Paul

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    While Paul may get drafted as early as the third or fourth round, he probably has the highest bust potential of any of Nebraska's prospects.

    NFL teams will love his combination of size and speed, but his tendency to make mistakes on the field will not help his draft status.

    He could really help himself out with a good combine workout, but I'm not sure he has what it takes to be a top receiver in the NFL.

    Chances are he will be a career back-up/deep threat.

5. Roy Helu Jr.

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    Roy WHO?

    That seems to be the reaction among non-Husker football followers when told who broke Nebraska's school record for rushing yards in a single game, with 307 against Missouri.

    But many Husker fans were hardly surprised by this.  Roy Helu Jr. has flashed enormous potential throughout his career at Nebraska.

    He has surpassed 1,100 yards for the second straight season and has always had an eye-popping yards per carry.

    Clearly, however, Helu is much more potent when he is able to share the load, which allows him to stay healthy and fresh.

    When that's the case, Helu's slashing style and good vision allows him to find holes quickly and bust through for big gains.

    This season, he has been the team's greatest home run hitter (besides Taylor Martinez in the first half of the year).

    While Helu will probably never be a featured back in the NFL, he will likely be happily scooped up by someone looking for a change-of-pace back. 

    With NFL teams beginning to feature multiple backs, Helu may eventually get a lot of work as a "we-back", for lack of a better term.

    He will probably be a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick.

4. Eric Hagg

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    While most people may have Hagg rated higher, I have him at four because at times this year he has been picked on.

    However, he has also made a lot of great plays and has been good at being in the right place at the right time.

    Hagg has good athleticism and exceptional versatility.  His ability to play cornerback, safety, or nickel back will serve him well in a league where teams frequently switch players' positions to fill voids left by injuries.

    Hagg will probably be pretty high on a lot of teams' draft boards, and he'll likely be a third-round pick. 

    But his team leading five interceptions won't go ignored, and he has an outside shot at going in the second round.

3. Dejon Gomes

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    While many of you probably think Gomes shouldn't be ahead of Hagg, I am convinced Gomes has a better shot at being successful in the NFL.

    While Gomes was relegated to playing in the box as a result of Pelini's unique Peso defense, his playmaking ability as a defensive back has earned him the nickname "Houdini" from the Nebraska State Paper's Sam McKewon.

    Gomes finished the year with 99 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.  Those are pretty good numbers.

    Although he will probably be a fourth-round draft pick at best, Gomes may surprise the NFL.  I think he has the tools to be a starting NFL safety in the mold of Ed Reed. 

    Not too shabby, eh?

2. Alex Henery

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    There aren't many kickers that end up being one of a team's top prospects, but Alex Henery is one huge exception.

    The most accurate kicker in NCAA history, Henery is money inside the 50.

    Okay, he's money outside the 50 too.

    Everyone knows Henery got severely snubbed by not winning the Groza, let alone not even being a finalist.

    But what's done is done, and now the only question is whether or not Henery will eventually go down as the greatest kicker in all of football.

    My bet is yes.  I've never seen a kicker nail a 53 yard field goal that could've made it from 67.

    As a point of reference, the longest field goal ever made in the NFL was 63, by Denver Broncos legend Jason Elam (and the Saints' Tom Dempsey-ED.).

    On top of his otherworldly placekicking skills, he is a serviceable punter as well.

    The only reason Henery is not first on this list is because he isn't going to be a first-round draft pick.  But you can be sure he will be drafted.

1. Prince Amukamara

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    While this would be a no-brainer for most, I seriously thought about putting Alex Henery at No. 1.

    I've just never seen a kicker as dominant and consistent as Henery, a guy who will be very difficult to ice with a timeout on top of everything else.

    But Amukamara is just as viable an option for first.  While he "struggled" at times this season (apparently letting a quarterback complete a pass is struggling if your name is Prince Amukamara or Alfonzo Dennard), his fantastic size and lockdown ability will translate beautifully to the NFL.

    Although he failed to record a pick (he dropped a few potential ones), he struck fear in opposing quarterbacks' hearts, as he was rarely thrown at, and he was able to record a team-leading 13 pass break-ups despite the scarce activity on his side.

    As Nebraska's feature NFL Draft prospect, he will likely be a top ten pick.  Most draft gurus have Amukamara in their top 5 prospects, along with players like Patrick Peterson, Da'Quan Bowers, and A.J. Green.

    That's pretty good company.

    Bo Pelini knows how to develop defensive players, and Amukamara is this year's best example of that.