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No More Sitting on the Sidelines When it Comes to the NFL Draft

April 30, 2019
 6

Noah Fant becoming the first Nebraskan to get drafted in the first round in over 30 years didn’t sit well. Not because of the fact Fant got drafted. That was inevitable. He’s an elite talent. It was more situational. In a normal year, one that happened at any point over the last … say … 56 years, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But this particular year it seemed like salt in the wound to plenty.

Between Fant and North Dakota State’s Easton Stick — an Omaha native — two Nebraskans were drafted last week. There were no Huskers drafted. People were understandably mad.

In the 72-ish hours since the end of the draft, the blame game has commenced. Who’s most at fault for ending the Huskers’ half-century-long string of consecutive years with a draft pick? It’s certainly not Devine Ozigbo or Stanley Morgan Jr. or Luke Gifford or any of the other Huskers hoping to hear their names called. They did everything that was asked of them. 

If they were penalized for the team’s overall failures each of the last two years, then shame on the NFL. I didn’t and still don’t believe there are 250 football players better than Nebraska’s 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher. 

It’s been a couple days and I’m still trying to put a finger on what happened. Why wasn’t at least one of those guys taken? Utah had a punter and a kicker drafted. The Vikings drafted a long snapper

I don’t really want to get into the blame game; that’s not the point of this. Nebraska has had six draft picks in the last four years, four of which came in 2016. Mike Riley has that on his ledger. But the recruiting hasn’t been bad. Which puts the focus on a glaring lack of player development over the last however many years you want to go back, but maybe that can best be attributed to the 31 different assistant coaches Nebraska has employed in the last five. When your teachers are constantly in the “what do I have” phase, there’s not a whole lot of growth happening.

One of the greatest things in sports is continuity. Organizational stability is a breeding ground for success and Nebraska’s football program has seen the exact opposite. 

This was penance. Most in Lincoln are hoping it’s the last of it. 

But rest assured, I think, because under Scott Frost, Nebraska looks like it could once again be a program that pumps out NFL talent. 

For one, Frost is casting the right net in recruiting. 

Over the last decade, the three states that have produced the most NFL Draft picks are Florida, Texas and California. Which should come as no surprise, those are the three biggest battlegrounds on the recruiting trail year after year. The previous staff did well to recruit big names from California, but how many have stayed or made an impact? 

This new (can they still be called new?) staff has made it a priority to go into the South often, particularly in Florida where they have strong ties at the high school level. Nebraska is also back to hitting Texas hard. From the offer data Hail Varsity has dating back to the 2018 class, 44 percent of the Huskers’ offers with this staff have gone to Florida, Texas and California. Most of those belong to the skill positions which, particularly on offense, have flourished in this scheme. 

Frost has a solid batting average so far on those kids, too. The biggest name that jumps to mind is his quarterback, California import Adrian Martinez. He could very well soon become Nebraska’s first first-rounder in a while. There’s a running back from Texas with tremendous football potential, too.

But geography isn’t the end all, be all in the draft. Wan’Dale Robinson looks like he could make it from Kentucky. Viking GM Rick Spielman passed on Morgan a ton throughout the later rounds while clearly being on the hunt for wideouts, but I’m not convinced he’d do the same if it’s JD Spielman’s name on the board still in the sixth or seventh next year. Nebraska feels it can pull linemen from the Midwest and turn them into stars; we’ll have to wait and see if that approach works, but Bryce Benhart and Turner Corcoran will be pretty good case studies. 

Which gets into the other part of the equation — style of play. Schematically, Nebraska is doing all the right things. 

Ten teams had an offensive player drafted in the first round in 2019. Those 10 schools had a combined offensive S&P+ ranking of 31.2 last year. That included three of the top five offenses. Big name programs with big-time offenses produce draft picks at a commensurate rate. With the right coach in place, there’s really no reason to think Nebraska couldn’t start doing what Oklahoma is doing on draft day if it gets things up and running.

Obviously, once we get into the later rounds on Day 3 forecasting draft picks becomes a crap shoot. Teams take chances. Guys get shots based more off fit than name recognition. But the whole goal here isn’t to be sitting on the sidelines until Saturday. 

Nebraska didn’t have any banners or statues up because it had gone so many consecutive years with a draft pick. It hurts that the streak is gone, and the “what’s wrong” think pieces that have come as a result don’t really help the optics, but I imagine the ones sitting in offices in South Stadium right now aren’t too worried about the draft.

In recent years the question with the draft has become “if.” I imagine it will be “how soon” again in the near future. 

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