2010 Senior Bowl: Two Huskers Set To Rise Draft Status

Josh KleinCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2010

It's got to be hard to play on the same defense as the No. 1 prospect in the NFL draft.  Especially your senior year.

All year you contribute to the ultimate team sport in a major way at two of the most important positions on the field, and all year you keep being overlooked in favor of a freak of an athlete up front that might just be the best to play the game in recent history: Ndamukong Suh.

We've all heard the name, the man, the myth, the legend.

Suh has been ballooned into Zeus-like figure in Nebraska lore. He has replaced titans such as Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter, Rich Glover, and Trev Alberts as the ultimate Husker god.

His name, however difficult to pronounce, has been uttered in every household that follows college football and on every ESPN broadcast for the past six months or so. Suh has become a legend of epic proportions.

So much so that he doesn't even need to attend one of the most prestigious pre-draft scrimmages in college football: The Senior Bowl.

Instead, two teammates, two men that played well at their respective positions—in fact they played great at their positions—have a chance to emerge from out of the giant shadow that was cast by "Big Mister Suh."

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Just as everyone has most assuredly heard the name Ndamukong Suh, even more people haven't heard of Larry Asante and Phillip Dillard. That is other than Landry Jones, the Oklahoma quarterback that got harassed by the two of them all game long.

As a result of being looked over in film study because of the sheer presence of Suh, they have limited draft stock, but with one more game comes another chance to impress some scouts that won't be immediately struck by the presence of the imposing defensive tackle. Instead Asante and Dillard will have their chances to shine.

Both players also have the unfortunate luck to be preceded by two of the best players in the nation at their respective positions.

Eric Berry of Tennessee and Brandon Spikes of Florida not only had the opportunity to play in the defensive-SEC, but also had the fortunate bonus of having stellar previous seasons that entered them as sure-fire early favorites to go into the draft early even had they not come back for their senior seasons.

First, let's start with Asante.

His draft stock has gone up considerably this season. With his best season being his senior year, Asante proved that he was a hard-hitting safety with something to prove. 

The 6-foot-1 safety out of Alexandria, Va. entered 2009 with a chip on his shoulder. He was blamed for many-a-busted coverage the previous year and came back ready to prove that he was anything but a bust.

And prove it he did with a career-high in interceptions and his second best season as a tackler. The sure-fire cover safety hounded good Big 12 receivers all year long and made it a nightmare for quarterbacks to throw deep.

Asante has all the measurables. He stands two inches taller than Berry and weighs 12 more pounds than the Tennessee standout. He recorded only six less tackles than Berry and had just as many interceptions, plus he had one for a touchdown—something that Berry hadn't done all season long.

Asante is projected to be a third or fourth round pick by www.nfldraftscout.com, but could easily go in the second round or earlier if some coaches would pay attention to the young man's ability.

Asante accepted a trip to the Senior Bowl, but for some reason rejected one to the similar (but less reputable) East-West Shrine Bowl. This will be Asante's one chance to show NFL scouts that he can play with the best of them in the game and a chance to improve his draft status from mid-rounder to upper-echelon.

If Asante can effectively cover the likes of Riley Cooper and Shay Hodge as well as come up for some hard-hitting run support against the likes of speedster Dexter McCluster and Ben Tate, he could prove that he deserves to be among the nation's elite as a safety.

After the Senior Bowl, don't be surprised if Asante sky-rockets up draft boards come March and April.

Then comes Dillard.

Dillard has had somewhat of a checkered past with the Cornhuskers. Some of the younger teammates tease him about his age.

Dillard has been with the Husker program since August 2005 and had not lived up to his billing his whole career.

With two injury-plagued seasons and a coaching change, some fans began to wonder if Dillard would ever amount to the hard-hitting middle linebacker that fans had come to expect after looking at his high school film.

Starting the 2009 season, Dillard didn't even see the field for the first two games.

Then suddenly without explanation he was given a second (or third) chance and was thrust into the starting lineup against the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg, Va.

Dillard made the most of it and kept his starting job all season long. He only looked better as the season went on.

Husker fans were left wondering what might have been as Dillard matured into one of the best middle-linebackers in the Big 12 almost overnight.

However, his miraculous transformation was only noticed by fans and coaches, not scouts.

Dillard had the best year of his career and recorded 76 tackles in ten games as a starter in 2009. He even recorded an interception this season, the only one of his career.

If Dillard had started the first two games of the season, his statistics would have projected like this: 7.6 tackles in two games which would bring his total tackles to 91. Something to think about as an NFL scout.

Dillard enters the 2010 Senior Bowl as one of the most underrated players in this season's draft. 

The pre-draft scouting site www.nfldraftscout.com projects him as a fifth to seventh-round draft pick. In my opinion the man would be a steal in these later rounds.

When compared to Spikes of Florida, who is projected as a first- to second-round draft pick, Dillard's season statistics are heads and shoulders above the Gator Nation standout.

Spikes recorded only 52 tackles in his senior season, while Dillard recorded 76 (could have been many more—see above). 

Dillard recorded just as many sacks as Spikes and only pales in comparison with the interception numbers. Dillard had one, and Spikes had two both returned for touchdowns.

Dillard will have a chance to sport his abilities in this year's Senior Bowl though. He will be battling Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon for the starting spot or at least shared time.

Expect to see Dillard to play the same way he has all season for the Huskers: disciplined, with speed and impeccable technique. 

Dillard was surprised and giddy with excitement to receive the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl, and he doesn't seem like the type of man that would screw that up.

If anyone on the defensive side of the ball is a sleeper in the draft or free agency this year it's Dillard, but with his play in the Senior Bowl and a shot at the combine look for the talented backer to make an impression on scouts without the shadow of Suh taking over the spotlight.

Both of these players are extremely well coached and talented. They both have the ability to play at the next level, and in my opinion WILL play at the next level. 

It's not matter of if but when, and if I were an NFL scout I would want to make that when as soon as possible for both of these talented players.