Loose hips, above-the-rim ball skills and fitting a scheme.
Those are just a few of the ways Kyle Crabbs, Director of Scouting at The Draft Network, described the four Huskers who will be competing at 2022 NFL combine, which starts Tuesday and runs through Monday, March 7. Austin Allen, JoJo Domann, Cam Jurgens and Cam Taylor-Britt will be at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to show NFL coaches and officials what they can do.
Crabbs scouts the Big Ten for The Draft Network, so he knows about Nebraska’s program, which went 3-9 in 2021 with all nine losses coming by one score, the first time that’s happened in college football history. There’s no question, Crabbs said, the Huskers clearly had the talent to win much more than it did.
“You certainly feel like things are moving in the right direction,” Crabbs said. “They were really close in a lot of games, and it was frustrating to watch as somebody who scouts the Big Ten, I’m watching their teams every weekend and it’s like, this team could have eight or nine wins this year if they had the ability to close out these football games.”
What is Crabbs looking for when breaking down the tape of defensive backs, specifically corners like Taylor-Britt? Coverage instincts, as well as route identification and anticipation, are key to look at.
“How you play the ball, and ball skills in general when you’re trying to make plays and convert turnovers, but also when you’re playing guys at the catch point and how you position yourself to play the hands of the receivers,” Crabbs said. “And then the competitive toughness, all those little things as far as how good they are in press, and when you’re in run support, how well do you get off blocks on the perimeter and how you step down and make a tackle at the line of scrimmage.”
For someone like Taylor-Britt, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, having experience as a special teams contributor will help him at the next level. Crabbs was quick to point out what he liked most about the Montgomery, Alabama, native.
“He’s super competitive, I think that’s the number one thing for him,” Crabbs said. “I know he’s played special teams for Nebraska too, so those defensive backs that can add value outside of being an outside corner, or potentially playing safety, which I know some people think Cam may have to do at the next level, but his competitive toughness is excellent.”
Instincts were another area of Taylor-Britt’s game Crabbs likes. Taylor-Britt led Nebraska’s defense with 11 pass breakups last season. In his four years in Lincoln, Taylor-Bitt totaled 27 PBUs, six interceptions and four forced fumbles to go along with 140 tackles.
“When his eyes were in the backfield playing zone coverage, being able to react when he was playing deep third coverage or bail technique. I thought there were some really high-level instinctual plays for him,” Crabbs said. “I just think functional athleticism is something that could make him a scheme-specific player at corner. I think the combine will be big with him in that capacity to showcase not straight-line speed necessarily, but as far as when he’s changing direction and agility. That’s the thing with Cam I’m really looking for in Indy.”
Domann is another Blackshirt who will pique the interest of NFL defensive coordinators. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds by Nebraska, Domann excelled as the nickel linebacker in Erik Chinander’s defense. The Colorado native was sturdy enough to make an impact in run support while also possessing the coverage skills needed to cover receivers. Last season he finished third on the team in tackles with 72 and second in tackles for a loss with nine.
“He’s tailor-made for today’s NFL in my opinion,” Crabbs said. “I know he’s not a bigger guy, he played safety when he first got to Lincoln. But those coverage instincts really pop for him. But with the way you see linebackers in today’s league, guys who can play zone coverage and play out on the hash and play over top slot receivers, they add a lot of value. I look at JoJo, he can sure fulfill that kind of role for a team.”
Crabbs sees similarities between Domann and Cleveland Browns’ linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Owusu-Koramoah, a Notre Dame product who was a second-round pick, is listed at 6-2, 221 pounds and had a stellar first year in the NFL with 70 tackles with 1.5 sacks.
While Crabbs doesn’t think Domann will be a second-round pick, Owusu-Koramoah may have laid a path for other smaller, quicker linebackers to get on the field in sub-packages against pass-happy offenses.
“He (Owusu-Koramoah) was kind of the same thing—he was undersized in the 220s, played out on the hash a bunch, but really good range, really loose hips, great instincts and fearless to play above his weight class. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s not afraid of contact and to stick his nose in the fire,” Crabbs said. “When you look at JoJo, he’s a mid-round prospect probably, but I’ve got a three on him, and with today’s trend in the league, he could get a very clear opportunity to play as an outside ‘backer in an even front system.”
Crabbs said when he’s breaking down prospects, he takes into account the quality of the opponent as well. That’s a plus for Domann, who showed the exact versatility NFL defenses are looking for in his final game as a Husker against Ohio State.
Playing on an injured hand that ultimately kept him from playing in the final two games against Wisconsin and Iowa, Domann racked up nine tackles, one sack and one interception—he nearly picked off another, too—against the Buckeyes.
“Ohio State was probably the game of his life,” Crabbs said. “It was unbelievable watching him in that football game.”
Allen’s final year as a Husker was his best. The Aurora, Nebraska, native was the Big Ten Tight End of the Year while setting school records for single-game receiving yards and both single-season receptions and receiving yards.
Crabbs liked that Allen, listed at 6-9 and 255 pounds, was fifth in the Big Ten in yards per catch with 15.84. The next closest tight end in the conference was Iowa’s Sam LaPorta at 12.64. However, this year’s draft class is full of good tight ends. Colorado State’s Trey McBride, Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer, Washington’s Cade Otton and Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely will be the top picks at the position.
“It’s a really deep tight end group, so that’s one thing that I think for Austin, his size is really going to grab some attention,” Crabbs said. “And if he can follow it up with some athletic testing that’s above average for his height and stature, from a height-weight-speed perspective, I really feel that’s something that can help him separate himself from a really crowded group of rounds three-through-five tight end group, because it’s loaded this year.”
Crabbs looks for different traits for different tight ends. It’s a position that has seen multiple archetypes pop up in modern football. Tight ends who are able to be flexed out and play in the slot have become popular—think the 6-4, 246-pound Kyle Pitts of the Atlanta Falcons, who caught 68 passes for 1,026 yards in his rookie season. Then there’s the more traditional tight ends who aren’t as good at receiving, but are better blockers.
“I think Austin, at 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9 or whatever he’s going to check in at, you’re looking at a traditional Y, a hand-in-the-dirt kind of guy who plays in-line,” Crabbs said. “For those guys to make a successful transition to the pro game, I think they need to be really good in two areas. I think they need to be good in blocking, and I think they need to be good in the red zone. You’re not expecting that guy to be a mismatch and run away from guys, but that size and that catch radius, when you get down in that red zone and things really get congested, the windows are smaller, and to have that above-the-rim opportunity and the ball skills to take advantage of that is critical.
“But if you’re a tight end and you’re a traditional tight end, and you’re not effective at blocking, you’re just not going to see the field early on.”
Jurgens was a mainstay on the Husker offensive line for the past three seasons. The Beatrice, Nebraska, native came to Lincoln as a four-star tight end but converted to center, where he eventually made 31 starts, including 18 straight.
“He’s an exciting player for the athletic profile that he brings,” Crabbs said. “You compare and contrast him to Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa) and you see some similarities as players. I think Linderbaum obviously is well deserved for his accolades and for the hype he’s garnered as a potential top-20 pick, but Jurgens is going to be a scheme-specific player, and I think that’s also the case for Linderbaum.”
Jurgens could translate well to a Kyle Shanahan-style offense that uses wide and outside zone schemes that look to string out defensive linemen down the line of scrimmage with running backs making cuts off the holes that open. It was a common occurrence to see the 6-3, 290-pound Jurgens pulling and using his athletic ability during his time at Nebraska, especially last season when the Husker o-line had weaknesses on the edges at tackle.
“I feel like that’s an obvious fit for Jurgens,” Crabbs said. “I would be worried about him playing in one-on-ones in a division that has a lot of 330-pound nose tackles. He definitely has the profile of a wide-zone center.”
NFL personnel will get a sense of what kind of center Jurgens wants to be when he’s measured and weighed at the combine.
“Are you going to want to show up at 280-290 and test really well, or do you want to show up at 300-305 and test above average,” Crabbs said. “We’ll know pretty quickly when he gets to the weigh-ins and the weigh-in results come out, what that strategy was and that’s going to set my expectations for his testing.”
Though receiver Samori Touré was not invited to the NFL combine, he impressed at the East-West Shrine Bowl where he caught five passes for 32 yards and two touchdowns. In his lone season in Lincoln after transferring in from FCS Montana, Touré had five 100-yard receiving games, a Nebraska school record.
There could be enough interest in the 6-3, 190-pounder that he’d get a foot in the door with a team.
“I think he’s somebody who has a reasonable chance to get on as somebody’s wide receiver five on their active roster based off special teams,” Crabbs said of Touré. “He’s not a sexy player as far as what he profiles as, but I think he has the right makeup to stick on somebody’s roster as a late-round guy or potentially be a UDFA (undrafted free agent).”
Another former Nebraska receiver, Stanley Morgan Jr., took that route to the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though he has only five catches in three seasons with the Bengals, Morgan has kept his roster spot because he’s a key member of the special teams units.