Hot Reads: The Talent Discussion is Back
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: The Talent Discussion is Back

February 16, 2017

Just when you think “the talent discussion” might at least be on a temporary hiatus, some news happens and here we are again. Maybe the error was in thinking that “the talent discussion” was ever on the back burner, even if it felt that way.

No matter. Here we are again. Nebraska had just two players — tight end Cethan Carter and safety Nathan Gerry — invited to the NFL Combine. That tied for second-fewest in the Big Ten with Indiana, Northwestern and Penn State. Rutgers and Purdue aren’t sending anyone to the combine. Iowa and Wisconsin, as you may have heard by now, had four and six invites respectively, which might explain everything unless it explains nothing.

There’s no perfect way to measure talent despite the fact that almost everyone agrees that it’s important to some degree. The standard way to do this is through recruiting rankings. That will give you an idea of how much talent a team should have at its disposal and if a team consistently has more — see: Ohio State — fans can generally expect positive outcomes.

But what if you were try and measure talent at the end of players’ college careers rather than at the start? NFL Combine invites could be a way to do that. Here’s what that looks like for Big Ten schools since Nebraska joined the conference for the 2011 season (per Next to that you’ll see where those schools’ average national recruiting class rank over that span ranked in the Big Ten.

As you can see, there’s not a 1:1 correlation between recruiting rankings and combine invites. I don’t think anybody would’ve realistically expected there to be one given what we see on the field every Saturday. Some teams are consistently better than their recruiting results would indicate. That’s when “the talent discussion” becomes the “the development discussion,” and we have that one quite a bit in Nebraska, too.

I’m not sure combine invites is the perfect way to measure that, either. One, there are great college players who, for one reason or another, just aren’t going to be pro prospects, but they’re still guys who might help a college team win. Two, it may be offering a look at development, but it may also be an indication of evaluation, eye for talent, strength and conditioning or any of a number of variables. Three, there could be a chicken-or-egg question you could ask about wins and NFL talent, though I suspect that the NFL is so comprehensive, and ruthless, frankly, in its search for talent that I would be surprised if that was much of a factor.

Still, which of the measures above — recruiting or combine invites — better explains what we’re seeing on the field? Based on recruiting rankings, Nebraska shouldn’t be 4-8 against Iowa and Wisconsin since joining the Big Ten and 1-5 against those schools the last three seasons.

Based on how many of the top pro prospects have been on those teams, it makes a little more sense. Nebraska is only a spot behind Wisconsin, which is only two players behind Iowa, but the jump from that group of teams that have around 30 invitees to where Nebraska (19) is at all of the sudden looks pretty severe.

On that note…

Another Take on Talent

Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star asked Nebraska’s executive director of player personnel Billy Devaney for his thoughts on the Huskers’ talent level this past season.

Devaney called the Ohio State game an “eye opener” in terms of talent discrepancy. Did he see the same gap in any of the Huskers’ other three losses in 2016?

“You know what, there really wasn’t,” he said. “Wisconsin, obviously, was a pretty balanced team, but it was a good matchup. The Iowa game, that was bullsh–. There was no way in the world that should have happened.

“Even Tennessee, yeah, they were athletic. But I thought there were other places that we should’ve competed better, where we matched up well. Ohio State was the only game where I thought we were in trouble, where the talent gap was noticeable.”

Don’t think many Husker fans will disagree with Devaney’s take on Iowa, but at some point the digs against the Hawkeyes begin to ring a little hollow, don’t they?

The Grab Bag

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