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Pro Big Red 5: Combine Starts Today

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Five former players contend for a spot in that other league

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Good morning Cornhuskers!

Today is the start of the NFL Combine, which means awkward weigh-ins broadcast on TV, player interviews by teams, “can you pass the Wonderlic” blog pieces, and my favorite, in-depth analysis of linemen running the 10 yard dash!

Let’s review which of your Nebraska Cornhuskers are at the Combine this season, and in shameless theft from Land Grant Holy Land, what are the Professional Scouts Who Worry About Weird Things* say about these men!

* Wait for the inevitable mothership piece on NFL scouts and their concern about cooking skills or Scrabble word choice

DREW BROWN, K [PK02]

Northern Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

STRENGTHS

Mechanics are quiet and consistent. Kicked with good accuracy over last two seasons. Got good rise on the ball off his foot. Unlikely to have many kicks blocked. Decent athlete and very willing on coverage. Had three tackles on kickoffs and all of them were good, driving shots on the legs of the return man.

WEAKNESSES

Leg strength is subpar. Just 2-of-6 in career field goals of 50-plus yards. Kickoffs are lacking desired hang time and overall distance. Touchback percentage is lower than teams look for.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Free agent

Salt’s projection: The NFL agent doesn’t think Drew makes it to the NFL. Considering only 4 kickers are in the Combine this year, I’d wager Drew has a better shot than they’re saying. He will need to prove he can boom kicks for 50+ yards, which he really didn’t have a chance to show at Nebraska. If he can show off, he’s set to make a roster as a free agent.

NICK GATES, OT [OL12]

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

STRENGTHS

Good foot quickness. Able to gain necessary ground in his first two kick-slides when he gets out of the blocks on time. Has extremely impressive mirror talent. Seamless ability to change direction without a stall. Catches inside moves and rides them into the line of scrimmage from left tackle spot. Adequate punch timing. Hands are strong and can lock into targets once he lands. Plays with balance as run blocker. Has move blocking ability. Adjusts to second-level movement.

WEAKNESSES

High-cut with long legs and lacking a sturdy base. Pass sets tend to be too upright. Speed-to-power rushers put him on skates and roll him back into the pocket. Lack of anchor is troubling. Slow to see tackle/end twists coming and will get blindsided. May lack necessary length for tackle. Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes lived in his frame. Below average drive power as one-on-one blocker.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Round 7/PFA

Salt’s projection: Free agent? If this was 2017, I’d say absolutely he’s in, and probably a mid-rounder. But the OL’s production last fall was woeful, and his play was very substandard. Gates isn’t the same player he was before the Music City Bowl. Hopefully he gets his mojo back, but I’m taking free agency here.

CHRIS JONES, CB [DB21]

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

STRENGTHS

Angular frame carries good size with long limbs and big hands. Displayed disruptive qualities and plus ball production when healthy in 2016. Uses size to overwhelm smaller receivers on contested catches. Bodies up at the catch point and swings his long arms over the top and through the arms of the receiver. Posted 14 passes defensed in 2016. Has soft hands and high points interceptions when possible. Has potential to stymie receivers out of the gates from press. Offers special teams value.

WEAKNESSES

Needs to coordinate hands and feet from press. Tall and tight in his backpedal. Movement is segmented and uneven from off coverage. Footwork is bundled and inefficient when forced to make challenging change of direction. Tight in his transitions and lacks long speed. Finishing rate as tackler was poor throughout his career. Angle to the ball and technique both need work. Tore meniscus and missed first seven games of 2017. Ball production was missing after the injury.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Priority Free Agent

Salt’s Projection: I think Jones changes some minds over the next two months and finds his way into the draft. I’ll take a Round 5-6 flyer here, or one of the first free agency signings at either Washington or New England. Mike Riley knows people, y’all.

JOSHUA KALU, S [DB58]

NCAA Football: Arkansas State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

STRENGTHS

Has frame to make full-time transition to safety. Athletic ability is decent. Has background as cover corner. Able to line up over big slot receivers. Can crowd and body receivers in their routes. Sub-package qualities. Pursues runners and closes out receivers with good speed. Aggressive at catch point. Good toughness. Plays off blocks in space to make sudden tackles. Proved he could pursue with improved patience and leverage against Iowa and Akrum Wadley. Makes reads and shades deep coverage. Click and close transitions.

WEAKNESSES

Indecisive in diagnosis and trigger against the run. Loses out on opportunities to limit rush yardage. Has frightening total of missed tackles thanks to over-pursuit. Lacks body control in change of direction. Not naturally instinctive player. Adjustment to safety is a work in progress. Pursuit angles are inconsistent. Can chase and tackle, but lacks instincts to stop plays from succeeding. Questionable ball tracker. Production doesn’t match the talent.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Rounds 6-7

Salt’s Projection: Kalu may be the most NFL-ready of the five, and I agree with the professionals here. He will need some coaching up, but not much. His draft stock took a hit having his senior season derailed by injury in addition to the inept coaching/scheme of Diaco/Donte/Booker. He’s going to be a late round steal with a long NFL career.

Note: If you were analyzing Kalu based entirely off of photos from the mothership’s various image providers, you would think he was the worst DB in the history of the sport.

TANNER LEE, QB [QB12]

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

STRENGTHS

Experienced working from under center with NFL size. Sells play-fakes and has arm strength to air it out over the top. Deep ball has some touch. Arm talent is a big plus. Able to rip tight spirals into small windows. Has an accelerated release. Can challenge and defeat tight man coverage on a good day. Goes from set to shoot in a moment’s notice. Possesses coveted physical traits.

WEAKNESSES

Atrocious touchdown-to-interception total of 46:37 for his career. Brings trouble upon himself. Throws with very little anticipation or timing. Allows throwing windows to close before taking his shot. Doesn?t allow play design to work for him and misses wide open targets. Willing to fling it off his back foot. Oblivious to edge pressure and freezes under duress from interior rush. Redzone output was poor. Lacks attentiveness to safeties.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Rounds 6-7

Salt’s Projection: Considering this is basically a practice situation, he’s gonna shine at the Combine, which means the NFL will definitely draft Lee in either the 5th or 6th round. Playing in a pro system means something in the NFL. Lee is lucky he’s going out this year though - give the NFL about five seasons, and they’ll actually figure out how to use QBs like Lamar Jackson or Khalil Tate, rendering NFL-copycat offenses and prototypical QBs obsolete.

So there we have it, your NFL combine participants.

Chime in below - how many get drafted in 2018? Anyone not at the Combine with a shot at a paycheck from the PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE?