This week, the NFL is inviting hundreds of prospects from across the country to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. 18 of them will come from Big Ten West schools: eight from Wisconsin, four from Iowa, three from Northwestern and two from Minnesota.
Only one Nebraska Cornhusker, though.
Wide receiver Stanley Morgan, Jr. earned his spot after becoming Nebraska’s first player to top 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Arguably, I-Back Devine Ozigbo deserved an invitation as well, but the NFL chose to disagree. That’s their prerogative.
Some point to this stat as being proof of Nebraska’s ongoing talent problem, but when Minnesota and Northwestern jump over Nebraska, the problem isn’t exactly talent. Especially when Nebraska has led the West Division schools in recruiting rankings all but once since the Huskers joined the Big Ten.
It’s a development problem.
Talent helps, to be sure. But schools like Wisconsin and Iowa aren’t topping this list because of their four and five star recruits; it’s turning their two and three star recruits into NFL prospects. Wisconsin is sending six three-stars (Beau Benzschawel, Michael Dieter, D’Cota Dixon, David Edwards, Alec Ingold, Andrew Van Ginkel), one two-star recruit (T.J. Edwards) and a walk-on (Ryan Connelly). Iowa sends four three-stars (Noah Fant, Amani Jones, T.J. Hockinson and Anthony Nelson) to the Combine.
So what’s the difference between Iowa and Wisconsin’s three-star players and Nebraska’s three-and-four star players?
We all have felt it and recognized it, but perhaps haven’t been able to define it quite as succinctly as this factoid. It’s no surprise that as Nebraska football regressed from 2015 through 2017, those other two programs pulled further and further away from Nebraska. And as we learned in 2018, a development gap isn’t something that gets fixed in one off-season.
But in year two, after the players had a season to absorb just how much work they need to put in, we may be seeing some signs of progress.
Finished up Strength Testing portion of #winterconditioning with a Vengeance! So proud of these guys and their commitment to the Process. We have come a long way from last year! Great Job coaches! #HuskerNation #HuskerPower #WarDaddyUp pic.twitter.com/ixj1qOOc1G— Zachary Duval (@zduval1) February 25, 2019
This strength staff is seriously the best in the country! Getting us right mentally and physically‼️ New squat max: 650 lbs, with way more in the tank.. SPRING BALL is almost here! #WarDaddyUp @zduval1 @CoachStrop— Wyatt Mazour (@WMazour20) February 25, 2019
Now, strength and conditioning are just part of the equation. The X’s and O’s play a huge factor, and spring practice is the next step in that process. This isn’t to say that talent isn’t important, but the reality of the situation is that if you don’t have proper preparation, talent doesn’t really matter. A burned USDA Prime ribeye will taste just as bad as a burned chuck steak.
Fortunately for Nebraska, it looks like Scott Frost has a pretty decent track record of turning teams around. We’ll have to wait another six months for definitive proof.