For the second time in as many seasons, Nebraska will enter into spring ball with an open quarterback competition following Tanner Lee’s decision to declare for the NFL Draft.
So what does that mean for the Huskers moving forward? What does that mean for Lee’s future? I’ve got some takeaways from a decision that seemed to be pretty expected.
Good timing from Lee
Lee could have put this decision off, he could have come back for another season in Lincoln or even left as a graduate transfer for someplace else, but why wait? Lee entered the year with NFL stock and even though it might have taken a hit given the way the season played out, there are still those within draft circles that appreciate what the seasoned signal caller brings to the table.
In his announcement, Lee said this was the best move for himself and his family and it’s hard to argue that point. There isn’t much else to gain by sticking around in Lincoln or taking a grad transfer to another school. At almost 23 years old, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be for the league.
Might not mean what you think it means
While I think Lee’s decision to move on to the next level is smart for him on a personal level, I don’t necessarily think it means the Huskers told him he wouldn’t have a chance next season. Yes, it’s true Lee isn’t the best fit for Frost’s offense but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have gotten serious consideration as next season’s starter. The combination of experience and arm talent Lee possesses doesn’t get tossed aside often.
Bring on the youth
With that being said, Lee’s departure ensures that when Nebraska takes the field on Sep. 1 against Akron, its starting quarterback will be making his first career start at the college level.
The Huskers will bring three scholarship quarterbacks into spring ball – incoming freshman Adrian Martinez will be enrolling in January – and among them, there will be 30 pass attempts worth of experience.
Martinez, a dual-threat quarterback and the gem of Frost’s first recruiting class at Nebraska, and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia figure to compete for the starting spot as both have a leg up in terms of “fit,” but don’t rule out sophomore Patrick O’Brien.
I wrote after the early signing period that it’s not a given the true freshman Martinez will be handed the keys to the Nebraska offense right away, and a look at Frost’s recent history suggest experience holds some weight. But, regardless of who the man under (or 5 yards behind) center will be, they’ll be learning the ropes on the fly.
This feels like a good time to point out that Nebraska shouldn’t be expected to win anything significant in Year 1 under Frost.
At Central Florida, the Knights went 6-7 in his first year at the helm. Now add in the fact that the Huskers play a bruising 2018 slate that includes road games against Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. And yes, that means that whoever earns the starting job at quarterback will be making his first road start in the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
There will be some serious growing pains.
Lee has the goods
Back to Lee, he’s absolutely good enough to get drafted into the NFL, especially in a quarterback class that is pretty top heavy.
Before the season began, national writers from all over showered Lee with praise. He has the size you look for – 6-foot-4, 220 pounds – and can make virtually any throw. Playing behind a bad offensive line and a historically down running game doesn’t change that.
Let's not forget Lee's game-winning drive against Purdue on Oct. 28 (or the fact that he threw for a career-high 431 yards) or his second half performance against Penn State in the rain to make a blowout game much more respectable.
Lee also brings a leadership quality that every team hopes for in their quarterback. All season long, Lee took criticism. He was even booed at one point. Never once did he shy away from any of it. Lee faced the media after every game, even when it looked like it was getting harder and harder, and spoke every Monday. He never pointed fingers or tried to deflect blame. That’s important.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.