NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The Nebraska Cornhuskers completed a second-half rally in order to preserve their top-25 ranking via a 30-27 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. Read on for notes on some of the major draft-eligible prospects on both teams.
RB #22 Rex Burkhead
• Not afraid of contact and has an impressive stiff-arm
• Scores Nebraska’s first touchdown pass on a three-yard “banana” route
• Makes a couple of defenders miss in order to convert for a first down
• Smooth cuts and can navigate between offensive linemen easily
• Runs well between the tackles, especially behind a fullback
Summary: Burkhead is a compact, feisty runner who will likely draw mid-round interest in the draft as a potential member of a running back committee. Nebraska’s passing game functioned more smoothly when he was on the field, and his combination of quickness and vision as a runner will appeal to zone-running teams.
TE #81 Ben Cotton
• Looks considerably out of shape with a noticeable gut
• Made a nice adjustment on a low throw in order to convert a first down
• Gained 26 yards on a delayed drag; was left wide open in space
Summary: At this point, Cotton has done little to stand out as a prospect; he has just five catches on the season and 27 over his entire career. This week’s performance (two catches for 36 yards) looks more impressive than it was; his 26-yard gain came on a short, uncovered throw. He is strictly a height/weight prospect.
TE #25 Kyler Reed
• Gets some work in the slot when Nebraska spreads out their offense
• Made an impressive third-quarter touchdown grab in traffic (lined up in slot)
Summary: It’s surprising how little Reed is integrated into Nebraska’s offense. His ability to line up in the slot would be valuable if he saw more targets. He is a more impressive prospect than fellow Cornhusker Ben Cotton, and could draw interest as a late-round draft pick or developmental free agent despite his lack of production.
DT #55 Baker Steinkuhler
• Not getting any penetration against either the pass or the run
• Easily cleared out of the way by a combination block
• Shot a gap early in the third quarter to make a tackle for loss
• Anchored well against the run on third and short to force a redirect
• Made a tackle in the backfield on a stretch play
• Recorded a quarterback hit but was too late to prevent a completion
Summary: Steinkuhler rehabbed his draft stock a little bit in the second half of this game, getting more consistent penetration into the backfield against both the pass and the run. He made five tackles including two in the backfield; his combination of size (6’5”, 290) and length could draw mid-round interest from 3-4 defenses.
DE #34 Cameron Meredith
• Simply not powerful enough to hold up against Ricky Wagner
• Gets off the line of scrimmage in a hurry with a low pad level
• Won the inside and forced an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter
Summary: Meredith (6’4”, 260) isn’t exactly small for a defensive end, but he wasn’t much of a factor in this game against Wisconsin left tackle Ricky Wagner. He recorded just one assisted tackle in addition to his quarterback pressure but was otherwise silenced. His combination of size and athleticism may be worth a late-round pick.
ILB #51 Will Compton
• Sacks Joel Stave on a blitz up the middle; had a clear path
• Dropped an easy interception near the goal line just before halftime
• Navigated through traffic in order to stop Montee Ball for a loss
• Knocked down Wisconsin QB Stave on a third-down delay blitz
Summary: Compton made ten tackles during the game and stood out for his ability to time blitzes and pressure Joel Stave. Compton is relatively small for an inside linebacker (6’2”, 230), but is quick and physical on the field. He will likely have to add bulk in order to see the field on defense at the next level.
SS #3 Daimion Stafford
• Commits a major pass interference call; could have made a play
• Broke up a reverse pass; didn’t fall for the misdirection
• Doesn’t always exercise proper tackling form; lunges at times
• Was in coverage on Stave’s 19-yard throw in the mid-fourth quarter
• Blitzed on the final drive and forced an intentional grounding call
Summary: Stafford had an up-and-down game; he was in position to make a play on the ball early on but ended up committing a costly pass interference penalty. However, he was generally in the right place and his successful blitz killed one of Wisconsin’s final drives. He is a potentially draftable developmental prospect.
RB #28 Montee Ball
• Dropped a long would-be touchdown pass (slightly underthrown)
• Quick to cut back but doesn’t have elite burst to separate from defense
• Impressive vision; skilled at finding creases to cut back through
• Very good at converting around the goal line and in short yardage
• Caught in the backfield on seven different occasions
• Must improve his awareness in pass protection
• Fumbled after being tackled for a loss on fourth-and-one
Summary: Ball rushed for 90 yards and three touchdowns but required 32 attempts to do so. His vision, cutback ability, and ability to convert in short-yardage situations are all impressive, but he isn’t a particularly dynamic player. His dropped touchdown pass and late-game fumble were key moments in the game. At this point, he appears destined for the third round.
OT #58 Ricky Wagner
• Size immediately stands out, especially in comparison to Meredith
• Has the grip strength to easily able to control his man once he’s locked on
• Backpedal looks sloppy when trying to protect deep rushes
• Looks dominant in the run game and can twist defenders easily
• Whiffed at the second level on Montee Ball’s third touchdown run
• Beat to the inside at one point in the fourth quarter (pressure)
Summary: Wagner made a few gaffes during the game – he allowed a couple of quarterback pressures, had some trouble on a second-level block, and ended up on the ground once – but was very effective overall against a solid pass rusher in Cameron Meredith. His size, strength, and run blocking ability should draw early-round interest as a starting tackle.
C #72 Travis Frederick*
• Occasionally has trouble finding a man to block
• Pushes his man to the ground in pass protection
• Very strong initial punch to jolt defenders off the ball
• Gets a great push on drive blocks in the run game
• Seemingly never gets driven backwards by his man; great anchor
Summary: We profiled Frederick as a potential Patriot recently, and he was as impressive as usual. Frederick demonstrated a strong anchor and excelled as a run blocker, overpowering Nebraska’s defensive fronts. His size and pedigree should earn him consideration in the second or third round of the draft.
ILB #44 Chris Borland*
• Can disengage from blockers while pursuing the ball
• Often used as a quarterback spy on Taylor Martinez
• Range is impressive; runs sideline-to-sideline to make plays
• Blitzed and recovered a Taylor Martinez fumble (forced by Gilbert)
Summary: Borland’s instincts stood out this week, as he was constantly around the ball and recorded nine tackles including a tackle for loss. His fumble recovery while blitzing off the edge was an important play in the game as well. He may struggle to match up in coverage due to his size (5’11”, 240) but has the motor and diagnostic skills to work his way into a rotation and should be a standout special teams player as well.
CB #14 Marcus Cromartie
• Allowed a long touchdown throw on a fade route
• Makes a quick tackle to prevent a first-down throw
• Allows a first down after the catch by Kenny Bill (missed tackle)
• Plants and closes on an out route quickly, makes the tackle
• Willing to come up and support the run
Summary: Cromartie (6’1”, 190) certainly looks the part of an NFL cornerback, and he made few mistakes after allowing his initial touchdown. Nebraska tried to throw the ball to Kenny Bell as much as possible, but Bell was relatively limited in the game (four catches for 57 yards.) Cromartie could draw interest as a man cover cornerback or potentially even as a free safety.