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2018 NFL Draft: Congratulations on your Tanner Lee Pick?

Swipe right for practice. Swipe left on game day.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Please tell your loved ones you love them, shut the door to your sacred internet browsing place, and put on some relaxing music. With the NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time to start reviewing the Nebraska players with a shot at the next level, and we’re starting HOT. That’s right, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite quarterback!

Over the next three days, a professional, paid money, will likely convince their team to expend a salary slot (via free agency or, God forbid, the Draft) on Tanner Lee, despite his, ah, spotted record as a starting quarterback in college football. This is just additional proof that, as a general rule, the NFL does not actually pay any attention to college football. (Which is odd since college football is effectively the cheap developmental league that the NFL depends on for their future employees, but hey, I’m not trained in HR hiring practices!)

Who has that team selected? The off-brand generic version of everyone’s favorite NFL-bound QB, Josh Allen.

As we touched on when Lee declared for the draft (the first time EVER a Nebraska QB has left early for the draft):

In 2017, Tanner Lee posted 3143 yards, a 57.5% completion rate, 23 touchdowns through the air, 2 touchdowns on the ground, and 16 interceptions. Lee definitely looked like a QB who hadn’t played football for almost two seasons. That said, there were issues in pass protection which was basically what Lee struggled with at Tulane, so it makes sense that he continued to struggle at Nebraska. Without a run game to protect him and push defenses off, the conditions never existed for Lee to succeed, short of a Heisman-level performance. Simply put, Lee and Nebraska simply were never in sync. It was a gamble that a QB who struggled at Tulane could succeed in Power 5 football, and it sadly never paid out.

And while the 2017 season did not go as anyone expected, least of all Tanner, I think we can all agree he handled the criticism and frustrations with all the maturity in the world. At 6’ 4” and 220 pounds, Lee has the size and qualities the NFL seeks in their QBs, even if his college record isn’t really something to write home about.

Needless to say, a QB with that sort of career caused some trepidation and joviality, but as noted by the Mothership, this wasn’t some third string scrub declaring, but someone with a legitimate shot at landing on a NFL roster, at least for the summer.

He would then go on to struggle at the Senior Bowl (putting it lightly) despite having the occasional good day during the practices leading up to the game. How much did he struggle? Well...

Which is, quite honestly, what we’ve come to expect and understand about Tanner. He was the consummate practice warrior whose football talents disappear come game time. But as I noted above, Tanner fits in the box of a prototypical NFL QB. That box may be changing, or at least needs to, but at least for now he’s still the size and shape of the typical NFL QB.

Despite his performance at the Senior Bowl and the loud noises from college football fans thinking there was no way the NFL would show interest, Lee was invited to the NFL Combine, where he put up acceptable numbers but didn’t really make a lot of noise or inspire a lot of attention. To the point, he did not inspire teams to draft him first overall, or even ahead of his spirit animal, Josh Allen.

Tanner Lee’s combine results

The analysis of Tanner wasn’t exactly rosy, but again, the central theme comes through that Tanner has the build of a NFL QB if ever a coach could fix the mental aspects of his game.

Specifically, the weaknesses noted:


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

All of that speaks to what, I think, is the core issue for Lee: he doesn’t trust his offensive line to defend him, and it causes his decision making to be erratic. (He also may need help understanding what his team’s jerseys look like.) I’m not sure if a NFL team would or can invest the time it would take to fix those issues for game-time situations. But I believe with the right coaching, Tanner could become a serviceable NFL backup QB.

But your team will absolutely love having him on their practice squad. Again, Lee typically practices very well, once he settles in and becomes familiar with his surroundings (see the glowing practice reports from Nebraska last spring vs his performance at the Senior Bowl).

Here’s a report from Nebraska’s Pro Day, with Tanner throwing to Nebraska players:

All in all, he will likely be a great scout QB for mostly non-mobile pocket passers behind typical lines, which, unless I’m mistaken, fits approximately 65-75% of the professional league right now. He’ll bring a solid work ethic as a good teammate and he won’t cause issues for your team’s management. He will represent the local community well, even if he never plays a down on Sundays.

Congratulations to Tanner Lee on living out his dream, and congratulations to his new team, whomever they may be. Y’all got yourself a solid team member, if nothing else. Let’s hope y’all both prove us wrong, and Tanner goes on to an an all-pro career.

Pro Big Red!

PS - I hope you enjoyed this actual football content. More coming over the next few days as we preview the 2018 NFL hopefuls.