When the NFL Combine begins on Thursday, nine Huskers will be on hand to be evaluated by scouts in the hopes of continuing their football careers (once the NFL resolves their labor issues with the players) professionally. While those nine invitees lead all other Big XII teams, it's unlikely that a Husker will be the first player selected in the NFL draft. That honor likely will go to Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert is projected by many to go early in the first round as the first quarterback to go. That might come as a surprise to Husker fans who recall Gabbert's performances against Nebraska. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network forgives Gabbert for those games, instead blaming Missouri's offensive line for failing to give Gabbert a chance. Meanwhile, the National Football Post's Wes Bunting sees warning signs in how Gabbert reacted to pressure, as we saw in this year's game in Lincoln.
Leading the Huskers at the combine is cornerback Prince Amukamara. While Amukamara was a first-team all-American last season, it did leave scouts with a few questions. Amukamara didn't intercept a pass last season, causing scouts to question whether the credit belongs to Nebraska's defensive line, or the fact that quarterbacks simply chose not to challenge Amukamara. Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon's long reception on a flea-flicker also raised questions about Amukamara's speed, as the NFL hasn't had an opportunity to clock him personally. Amukamara's pre-combine training has focused on the 5-10-5 drill to show his agility, focusing especially on his lateral movement. Some NFL experts suggest that Amukamara might better fit in the NFL at safety, especially with the physicality that Pelini teaches, as some people question whether Prince's technique will draw more flags at the NFL level. No matter what position he finally plays, it's almost assured that Amukmara will be a first round pick. The SB Nation pre-combine mock draft has him going to the Dallas Cowboys #9 overall, as he fills a need no matter where he ends up.
Pierre Allen is projected to be a mid-round pick pick as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Scouts like his speed and size, as well as his instincts. The NFL would like to see him work on his pass rushing skills and improve his ability to shed tacklers and get to the quarterback.
Niles Paul is also projected to be a mid-round pick. Paul is an enigma that has alternatively delighted and disgusted fans depending on what just happened. A year ago, some NFL experts speculated that he had the potential to work his way into first round consideration, but an inconsistent 2010 didn't help him. Paul has the physical tools to make it in the league, but his mental lapses will be held against him. Nobody questions his toughness, as he showed at the Senior Bowl with his blocking. He'll need to work on his precision with route running as well as his consistency, as dropped passes have been his Achilles throughout his career.
Roy Helu impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl, and could move up from the late rounds with an impressive performance at the combine. Scouts were surprised by his pass blocking skills; that's something that had to be developed, as it definitely was a weakness early in his Nebraska career. The scouts love his ability to follow his blocks and accelerate, but they'd like to see him improve his power running.
Dejon Gomes burst his way into the Husker lineup as key contributor in dime coverage. At 200 pounds, he sometimes was overmatched defending the run, but he's tenacious down low. Some consider his speed adequate, and that's an opportunity to improve his perception at the combine. He's looked at as a late round selection at this point.
Eric Hagg should get some consideration as a safety in this year's draft after his role as a nickel back the last two seasons at Nebraska. He's viewed as a late round pick at this point. Scouts love his size and speed, but question his play in the running game. I've even seem some questioning his hitting, which I'm not sure I agree with.
Keith Williams is viewed as a potential seventh round selection as a guard. Size is what the NFL is looking for, and they like his run blocking. He'll need to show improvement and potential in pass blocking, especially with lateral quickness. Scouts and Husker fans alike will agree that he takes too many holding penalties.
Ricky Henry needs to show improved lower body strength at the combine. His tenacity will probably be viewed as an asset, though he'll likely need to improve his size so he doesn't get beaten as much. Unlike Williams, he's viewed as a better pass blocker. Right now, he's projected to go undrafted and get a shot as a free agent.
Alex Henery endeared himself to Husker fans with his consistency kicking, both on field goals and punting. His versatility will intrigue the league, though he's viewed as more of an emergency punter. Scouts love his accuracy from within 50 yards, so he'll definitely get a chance, especially from teams that play in bad weather. He could be one of those rare kickers that get drafted, likely in the seventh round.
I'm not sure if all of these NFL Combine invitees are a testament to Bill Callahan's recruiting or Bo Pelini's development. Likely it's a little bit of both; I think it's clear that many of these Huskers wouldn't be in the same position if Callahan was still coaching in Lincoln, but credit is due where credit is due to Callahan for bringing these players to Lincoln.
This post is sponsored by the NFL Network. Be sure to watch the NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - Mar 1 on the NFL Network.