Nebraska Cornhuskers Prospect Preview:
Taylor Martinez, QB, Senior- Martinez is well known at this point and enters his senior year with 24 starts on his resume. He’s still not very accurate as a passer and his arm strength is limited. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and does have the athleticism to pick up yardage with his legs (obviously, Nebraska uses the option in their run game) but he’s not a rare athlete. He’s going to have to attempt a transition to wide receiver to make it in the NFL, and I’m not sure he has the skill set to thrive there. He was certainly more efficient last year as he passed for 2,871 yards, completed 62% of his passes, and threw 23 TD’s and only 12 interceptions. Still, I’m not a fan of his passing mechanics (particularly his throwing motion, though he has worked to improve it) and I don’t think he’s a NFL QB. There is one player on Nebraska’s roster that I think has that potential though…
Tommy Armstrong, QB, Freshman- Full disclosure: Until a few days ago I had absolutely no idea who Tommy Armstrong was. I’m not that tapped in to high school recruiting, so I had never heard of him. However, judging by Nebraska’s spring game (his first playing time with Nebraska, as he redshirted as a true freshman) as well as his high school highlights he is going to be special. He is listed at 6’1”, 220 pounds, he’s athletic, he is already a better passer than Taylor Martinez in my opinion (he’s better at pitching on the option as well) and boy does he have an arm. It’s not the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s strong. Not only does he have a strong arm, but based on everything I’ve seen, he’s also accurate. He has made a few throws to the sideline placing the ball perfectly in between zone defenders for his receiver to make the catch that made my jaw drop. He can throw on the run, he’s shown that he can be lethal off of play action, and I have to admit watching him he reminded me of Russell Wilson. I know that’s excessively high praise, but that’s who came to mind watching him play. He’s got a lot of ability and he’s almost completely unproven, but I am extremely intrigued. I think he can be a star.
Ameer Abdullah, RB/KR, Junior- Now that I’ve completed my fan boy rambling about Tommy Armstrong, let me start my fan boy rambling about Ameer Abdullah. He didn’t get a ton of touches on offense as a freshman, but seeing him return kicks and punts was enough for me. I was on the bandwagon. Thankfully, Nebraska made him one of the focal points of their offense as a sophomore and he made it worth their while. The 5’9”, 190 pound back led the team with 1,137 yards, averaged 5 yards per carry and scored 8 touchdowns. He added 24 receptions for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns, a 21.2 yard average per kick return (which was actually down SIGNIFICANTLY from his freshman year average of 29.35, likely due to the significant increase in his workload) and an impressive 13.1 yard average per punt return including another touchdown. Abdullah may not have elite size, but he’s very fast and explosive. Not only that, but he is very shifty in the open field and his lower body strength and balance is obvious as he can run through arm tackles easily. I was also impressed with him not only as a receiver, but as a pass blocker. He made a few great blitz pick-ups and isn’t afraid to be physical which I really like. He’s my favorite draft eligible prospect on Nebraska’s roster and I am looking forward to seeing him play even more as a junior.
Imani Cross, RB, Sophomore- Cross is going to be the #2 behind Abdullah, but I think there’s the potential for a “thunder and lightning” combo since Cross is listed at 6’1”, 225 pounds but is a pretty good athlete. He runs hard, and last year he produced 324 yards on just 55 carries as well as 7 touchdowns. He impressed me in the spring game and I think Abdullah and Cross are going to be up there with Melvin Gordon and James White as the top running back duo in the Big-10.
Kenny Bell, WR, Junior- Kenny Bell may very well be the top prospect on Nebraska’s roster, though Abdullah is my favorite. He’s listed at 6’1”, 185 pounds but he has impressive speed, very good hands, adjusts to poorly thrown balls well, and clearly has good concentration. He may not be a 4.4 flat guy, but I was impressed with his speed and quickness. I haven’t seen him enough to accurately evaluate his route running, but he is definitely Nebraska’s best wide receiver given that he had 50 receptions, 863 yards and 8 touchdowns as a sophomore. He also added 325 kick return yards with an average of 23.2 yards per return. He’s a playmaker and I’m excited to see what he can do as a junior.
Jamal Turner, WR, Junior- Turner is Nebraska’s other main playmaking receiver and is actually listed at the exact same height and weight as Kenny Bell. Like Bell, he has impressive speed, good hands and he has shown me a lot of shiftiness in the open field. The 6’1”, 185 pound receiver totaled 32 receptions, 417 yards and 3 touchdowns as a sophomore and figures to produce even more as a junior. If he and Bell come back for their senior seasons they could be a truly terrifying duo with Tommy Anderson passing them the ball. Hell, they’ll be quite a duo as juniors with Taylor Martinez this year.
Brent Qvale, OT, Senior- Qvale started 13 games for the Huskers last year in his first year as a starter. He’s listed at 6’7”, 315 pounds and was actually a very good basketball player in high school, reportedly averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds a game as a senior. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to stick at LT in the NFL, but he could slide over to right tackle or maybe inside to guard if he can’t stick outside. He doesn’t look like a great athlete on the edge to me, but he is surprisingly solid when asked to cut block and will at least get a shot to stick outside at the next level. He had some issues against UCLA because of their athleticism in their front 7, and I don’t think he’s a prototypical “mauler” that can compensate for his less than stellar upside as a pass rusher. He’s a late Day 3 guy to me right now, but I haven’t watched enough to write a full report on him yet.
Jeremiah Sirles, OT, Senior- In my opinion Sirles is actually the better tackle prospect between him and Qvale. I think he’s the better athlete, and he has a lot more starting experience and less injury question marks. Sirles started 14 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman before not starting any games as a sophomore. As a junior he re-emerged as the started on the right side where he started all 14 games a year ago. Sirles plays both right and left tackle for the Huskers, replacing Qvale on the left side at times, and looked pretty comfortable there. I don’t know that he can stick there at the next level, but I believe he has the athleticism to play right tackle at least. He’s listed at 6’6”, 310 pounds and moves pretty well for that size. I’m not sure where I have him graded at right now, but he’s probably in the 4th-5th round conversation at this point.
Spencer Long, OG, Senior- Initially when I was watching Long I was actually really unimpressed. Much like with Khaled Holmes last summer I saw him ending up on the ground more than I would like and bending at the waist too much when he was trying to drive block. However, after I got past my initial displeasure I ended up liking some of what I saw. The first thing you notice when you’re watching Long is that he’s a big, squatty guy. He’s listed at 6’4”, 315 pounds but he looks like he’s 6’2” or 6’3” to me and doesn’t look like he has the longest arms. However, despite that, he moves pretty well for his size and is very regularly used for pulling from his right guard position. He’s comfortable pulling both ways, moves well in space and generally takes one guy out when he is asked to pull. He’s not a great drive blocker contrary to what I was expecting of him, but he does seal well and I was impressed enough with him as a puller to give him a mid-round grade at this point.
Jason Ankrah, DE, Senior- I’ll be honest and admit I’m not overly familiar with Ankrah’s game, but he is one of TWO seniors projected to start in Nebraska’s front 7 and his size and length intrigued me. He’s listed at 6’4”, 265 pounds and produced 26 tackles, 2 sacks and 4 TFL last season. He’s flashed some hand usage and while I don’t think he has a great burst off the ball I think he has some potential as a strong side end in a 4-3. I don’t think he’s going to be a dominant pass rusher, and that’s one of the reasons Nebraska has to be worried about their defense this year. If Ankrah is their top returning sack man (which he is, tied for the team lead with Ciante Evans, a cornerback) and he doesn’t generate much pass rush then Nebraska’s more experienced secondary is going to have a lot of pressure on them. Perhaps Ankrah will surprise me, but right now I don’t think he’s going to be able to replace the 8.5 sacks that Eric Martin produced last season.
Zaire Anderson, OLB, Junior- Anderson is a kid that I was completely unfamiliar with until the spring game and until I read up on him a bit following it. He generated a lot of buzz by dominating the “Compete Drill” which is a drill where a defender has to beat two blockers and tackle a ball carrier. From what I read the blockers won this drill almost every time, but Anderson absolutely shredded it. He tore his ACL before the second game of the season last year and received a medical redshirt, and now the short not small linebacker is ready to play a full year of football. Having only started one game for Nebraska last year there isn’t much film to go on, but watching what I could of him at junior college and reading up on his performance at the spring game I definitely am keeping an eye on this kid. He screams impact player to me and even though he is listed at 5’11”, 220 pounds he plays bigger than that (as you can see from that video). He’s not afraid of contact, he stacks and sheds shockingly well for his size, he’s a good tackler, and he’s a good athlete. I think he can get up in the 230-235 range by the time he leaves Nebraska and if I’m right I think he’s going to be a linebacker in the NFL.
Ciante Evans, CB, Senior- It’s hard to get a great feel for corners (at least for me) without All-22 footage, but Evans is a guy that I think could be draftable with another solid senior season. Evans was a first year starter last season as a junior and the 5’11”, 190 pound corner produced 56 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 8 pass break-ups and 1 interception. From what I’ve been able to see of him it seems like he has pretty good ball skills and he is the Huskers’ nickel corner, so having experience covering in the slot will help him in the eyes of evaluators. He needs another good year to boost his draft stock into the draftable range in my opinion.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Senior- Andrew Green is supposedly the better prospect, but I am much more intrigued by Jean-Baptiste. He’s a converted wide receiver who had never played defensive back before his first season with Nebraska as a sophomore but he still made this fantastic interception despite only having been on the defensive side of the ball for 3 weeks. Given the NFL’s trend of wanting bigger, longer and more physical corners I think Jean-Baptiste is going to be far more popular than people expect come draft time. He’s listed at 6’2”, 215 pounds and has great length and ball skills thanks to his time spent as a wide receiver. He’s still raw and obviously doesn’t know the nuances of the position, but I think he has a lot of upside as an outside corner. He’s not going to run a 4.4 flat, but I think he is in the 4.5-4.55 range which is more than good enough to get a NFL look at corner given his fantastic size. He may not even be a starter for Nebraska, but I think he’s going to get some NFL looks. He had 9 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior, so hopefully he gets some playing time outside when Evans slides inside to nickel.