NFL Draft 2011: Which Nebraska Cornhusker Has the Most To Prove at the Combine?
The Big 12 will be represented by a dozen teams for the last time, at least for a while.
Which team is carrying the torch of the shrinking conference with the largest contingent in Indianapolis?
Here's a hint: They won’t be around to help fill any television slots next season.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are sending nine, count ‘em, nine participants to the combine to strut their stuff, show their skills and attempt to improve their draft stock.
Some of the prospects are obvious big-time picks.
Others have been working hard in the hopes of impressing enough scouts to have their name called during the NFL draft
Which Cornhuskers can essentially go through the motions and which need to break barriers?
9. Prince Amukamara
If there’s a top 10 draft pick in this year’s Nebraska crop, it’s Prince.
Look for him to excel at the defensive back drills as he can pivot on a dime and plays excellent coverage in both man-to-man and zone situations.
His acceleration and speed are well-documented.
When taking into account his above average awareness and vision, you’ve got a lock-down, must-have cornerback.
Amukamara’s going to show up and nail the drills like a corporate professional at a CEO job interview.
Picking up real estate ads from San Francisco and Dallas for the flight home may be a good idea.
8. Alex Henery
Where to begin with Nebraska’s all-time scoring leader?
Henery is one of the most accurate kickers in college football.
That's not conjecture, that's a fact.
- A 89.2 percent field goal completion rate (66-of-74
- A 77.4 percent rate of his career field goals from 40 yards or longer (24-of-31)
- A 97.7 percent of his career field goals from inside 40 yards (42-of-43)
All of those are NCAA records.
One would think such a career would garner a nomination for the Lou Groza Award recognizing college football's best kicker.
No such luck.
Karma's on Henery's side as he'll be the one laughing all the way to the bank.
The beauty of drafting him is that a team can essentially save a spot on their roster.
Who needs both a kicker and a punter when you have a true kicking specialist?
Henery not only jaunts onto the field to knock 50-yarders in with ease, he’s a guru of punting perfection.
It’s easy to hear Ron Popeil offering an NFL team satisfaction with this two-in-one kicking sensation or their money back.
(All numbers courtesy of Huskers.com)
7. Roy Helu, Jr.
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It’s no secret that Roy Helu, Jr. can turn on the jets.
Get No. 10 in space and with a little bit more yellow on his uniform, you'd swear The Flash played college football last season.
Helu, Jr. accounted for 1,245 yards rushing (6.6 YPC) and 11 TDs in 2010 for the Cornhuskers.
Look for him to excel at speed-specific drills and put up an especially impressive showing at off-tackle drills used to challenge a running back’s agility, vision and acceleration.
The main concern about the 6’0” 220-pound running back is durability.
A shoulder injury plagued him during his junior season causing frequent fumbles.
Helu, Jr. should have a fantastic combine.
If he can show scouts that he's tough enough at Nebraska's pro day, he will provide some much needed lightning to a franchise’s thunder.
6. Eric Hagg
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Hagg was given a unique opportunity in 2010 playing in Bo Pelini’s “Peso” defense.
He was utilized as a hybrid linebacker/safety.
What does this translate to in the NFL?
With Hagg last officially measured at 6’2” 210 pounds, he would be an absolute terror at one of the safety positions and could provide solid run support.
He led Nebraska in interceptions last season with five showing that he does have first-class vision.
Hagg has all of the necessary tools to perform at an above average rate in standard drills such as the three-cone, the shuttle run, the bench press, etc. along with similar tests that Amukamara will be put through.
If he has a solid combine, he may work himself into a late second-round or early third-round pick.
5. DeJon Gomes
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Gomes enters the combine as a true enforcer and will likely be aching to show it.
Scouts should look for that power to come out in strength drills.
Gomes recorded three interceptions last season and was one of four Cornhuskers to be able to claim a pick-six.
He ranked second in tackles behind Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Lavonte David with 99 (51 solo).
Gomes proved a force in Bo Pelini’s defense notching 4 TFL, 1 SCK, 7 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR and 2 FF along with his tackling prowess.
At 6’0” and 200 pounds, Gomes’ aggression might open more doors for him, and thus move him up a few draft boards.
4. Ricky Henry
He’s mean, he’s tough and he really doesn’t like you if you’re wearing an opposing uniform on game day.
Meet Ricky Henry, perhaps the most terrifying offensive lineman that Nebraska produced for the 2011 NFL draft.
Henry reminds many of former Cornhusker and current Miami Dolphin Richie Incognito.
While lighter than Incognito (6’3”, 305 pounds versus 6’4” 324 pounds), Henry more than holds his own at the guard position.
Henry’s run and pass-blocking abilities are already above-average.
There’s nothing holding him back from becoming a second day pick and potentially working his way into a team’s rotation.
A franchise needing a guard that plays like a man with his hair on fire would do well to select Henry.
He'll demonstrate why in Indianapolis.
3. Pierre Allen, Sr.
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Allen, Sr. truly came out of his shell in late 2009 and has been terrorizing quarterbacks ever since.
He has excellent measurables for an NFL defensive end at 6’5” and 265 pounds, but his technique is a key weakness.
Pierre needs to perfect his rip and swim techniques as bull-rushing the Big 12 baddies is a far cry from dominating NFL tackles.
It’s highly unlikely that a scout will be able to question his strength following the combine.
Expect Allen, Sr. to decimate the bench press and vertical jump tests.
His 40-yard dash, shuttle and three-cone drill times are all going to define where he lands in the draft.
2. Keith Williams
At 6’5” and 310 pounds, Williams needs to show NFL scouts one thing: Versatility.
Blocking for running backs like Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead make you look fantastic when it comes to run-blocking, but Williams struggled at times last season when it came to keeping his quarterbacks upright.
The best thing that Keith can hope for out of the combine is that a franchise will see him as a project that’s incredibly coachable and is worth investing some time and energy into.
Keith was pushed back far too often in 2010 by Big 12 defensive linemen. Huge strides in his power are going to have to be shown between the combine and Nebraska’s pro day on March 10.
Otherwise, his draft stock may plummet into undrafted free agency.
1. Niles Paul
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Before the 2010 season began, if you’d have asked nearly anyone who studied Nebraska football from the casual fan to national pundits about Paul’s future, there was a consensus, “This guy's a first round draft pick.”
Now, Niles Paul needs to have a monster combine to show that last season was a fluke and prove that all of the necessary tools for an NFL team to take a chance on him are apparent.
Last season, he hauled in just over 500 yards receiving, caught only one touchdown and couldn’t have dropped more balls if Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay was chucking leather into the receiver’s gloves.
It’s rumored that Paul is training like a man possessed and that’s a good thing.
He needs to have the kind of combine and pro day that has Mel Kiper and Todd McShay singing his praises for a week.
If things don't turn out so well, there is a bright side for Paul.
Al Davis is still at the helm of the Raiders.
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