Can the Cornhuskers reverse course after having just one draftee in 2017?
Nebraska saw an incredible streak related to the NFL draft come to an end last week. The Cornhuskers’ national-best 54-year run of having multiple draft picks was snapped. Former Huskers safety Nate Gerry was the program’s only selection of 2017, with the Philadelphia Eagles picking the projected linebacker in the fifth round (No. 184 overall).
Nebraska’s draft history still remains favorable, as its 55-year streak of having one player selected trails only Michigan, USC, Michigan State and Florida. Can the Huskers extend that streak next year? Likely. Can they start restart a streak of having multiple players drafted? Perhaps, although that may depend on how their 2017 season plays out.
Here’s an early look at potential Huskers (in alphabetical order) who could get drafted in 2018.
Drew Brown, PK (Redshirt Sophomore, 5-11, 200)
The younger brother of former longtime NFL kicker Kris Brown, Drew Brown has amassed many honors so far in Lincoln, from being a second-team All-Big Ten pick in 2015 to being a Lou Groza Award semifinalist in ‘16. Drafts regularly come and go without kickers being taken — although three went this year — but Brown should give himself a chance with another strong year in 2017.
Chris Jones, CB (Senior, 6-0, 195)
Jones is by far the safest bet of this group of five to be drafted, and, from a year out, it is not absurd to say that he might be the only Cornhusker drafted. Jones earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season after recording three interceptions, three tackles for a loss and 10 pass breakups. He announced his return in November, after having the opportunity to leave early.
Joshua Kalu, DB (Senior, 6-1, 195)
Kalu is a versatile threat who has played mostly cornerback but is getting a look at safety this season. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player as a sophomore in 2015 and, last year, tallied 11 breakups, an interception, three tackles for a loss, and two hurries. With a deep and experienced secondary back in the fold at Nebraska this year, there should be plenty of big-play opportunities to go around for Kalu, who has played a ton of football through his first three years in Lincoln.
Tanner Lee, QB (Redshirt Junior, 6-4, 220)
Lee, whom Mike Riley announced in April as Nebraska’s No. 1 quarterback for 2017, actually has a sixth year of eligibility left. If he performs well in his Huskers debut, though, perhaps that extra year won’t be necessary. Lee has 19 starts under his belt from his days at Tulane, where he threw for 3,601 yards and 23 touchdowns. He’ll look to build off those numbers as the Huskers try to challenge for the Big Ten West crown. Lee will be 23 by the time of next year’s draft.
De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR (Senior, 5-9, 195)
Pierson-El was slowed last season by a knee injury he had suffered in 2015, catching just 20 passes for 254 yards. When healthy, though, he can do plenty, illustrated by his All-America honors as a freshman punt returner in 2014. Pierson-El has eight career returns of 25 or more yards, and he is expected to take on a bigger role in the passing game this season as the elder statesman of a relatively green group.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.