April 22, 2009

NFL Draft gurus weigh in on Huskers' draft chances

For a select group of departing Huskers, this weekend could every well determine if they will get to continue their football dreams for at least another year or if they've already played their last snap.

Beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. CST, the dreams of hundreds of former college football stars will be realized when the NFL Draft kicks off. Like every year, Nebraska has some prime candidates to take their games to the next level.

HuskersIllustrated.com decided to check in with some NFL Draft experts from around the country to see how they expect NU's latest crop of pro talent will fare in this weekend's seven-round draft as well as in post-draft free agency.

Overall, most of the experts agreed that players like defensive end Zach Potter and offensive lineman Lydon Murtha were the two most likely Huskers to have their names called this weekend.

Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly had plenty of good things to say about Potter in particular, saying Potter's 6-foot-7, 279-pound frame should allow him to fit in as an end/tackle spot in a 3-4 defensive scheme, which is quickly becoming the new trend in the NFL.

"The one that stands out probably the most is Zach Potter," Nawrocki said. "I think he's got a chance to be regarded as a five-technique for a 3-4 defense, and those guys are very hard to find. He's got great size."

Nawrocki pointed to Potter's performance last year against Kansas State as one that really stood out to him. Potter helped guide NU to a 56-28 win with a sack and a pass break-up and helped hold the Wildcats to just 59 yards rushing.

Overall, he ended his senior year with 47 tackles and finished second only to Ndamukong Suh for the team lead in sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (16), quarterback hurries (6) and tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

"He has good strength, plays a little bit tall because he is so long, but he's got developmental upside," Nawrocki said. "I think he can get looks from the fourth round on."

Nawrocki went on to add running back Marlon Lucky and receiver Nate Swift as Nebraska players who could get picked in the later rounds, but had one glaring omission from his rundown for draft-eligible Huskers - Murtha.

Whether by mere oversight or on purpose, Nawrocki didn't even mention Murtha as a possible selection this weekend. One analyst who did, however, was ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.. Kiper projected Murtha, like Potter, to be either a third- or fourth-round selection, but said the 6-7, 306-pounder's stock has continued to rise after an impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Murtha posted the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.89 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.34) and the 3-cone drill (7.06) of any offensive lineman at the combine, as well as the second-highest vertical jump (35 inches) and the fourth-best broad jump (9-2).

However, Kiper said injury concerns could hurt him come draft day, as he missed four games due to injury last season, four in 2007 as well as his entire freshman year with various ailments.

As far as the other Husker draft hopefuls go, Nawrocki said he thought Lucky had a decent chance to get picked up late in the draft, likely by a team that runs the West Coast offense and could utilize his pass-catching ability and elusiveness in the open field.

"I think he has a chance," Nawrocki said. "He probably would be best suited for a West Coast system where he could make use of his great hands. I think that's where he'll get the most looks, probably late in the draft."

Nawrocki said he also thought Swift could get some late looks, but would probably have a better chance at signing with a team after the draft as a priority free agent. As for quarterback Joe Ganz, Kiper said he would be another player who could get picked up as a priority free agent, though his chances of getting drafted were slim.

Nebraska has a few other possible draft candidates in defensive tackles Ty Steinkuhler and Shukree Barfield, linebacker Cody Glenn, linemen Matt Slauson and Mike Huff, cornerback Armando Murillo and receiver Todd Peterson.

While most of the out-going Huskers likely won't be holding their breath this weekend as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads off the names of drafted players, that doesn't mean they're giving up on their NFL dreams just yet.

Coverage of the draft begins with pre-draft shows on ESPN and NFL Network beginning at 10 a.m., and the actual draft will be shown on both networks beginning at 3 p.m.

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