April 22, 2010

The final word on Nebraska's top draft prospects






For at least five recently departed Nebraska players, tonight kicks off one of the most important weekends of their football lives.


Beginning at 6:30 p.m. CST, former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Phillip Dillard, safeties Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon and defensive end Barry Turner will all be glued to their televisions (or in New York) for 2010 NFL Draft with the hopes of being selected and continuing their football careers.


Though some of the players have better chances of being drafted than others, HuskersIlustrated.com has decided to recap where exactly each of the former Huskers stand as they get ready to watch their future unfold.



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color="#ffffff" size="2">NEBRASKA'S TOP DRAFT PROSPECTS
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Ndamukong Suh
(6-4, 307), DT





OVERVIEW:
There really isn't much else that hasn't already been said about Nebraska's legendary defensive lineman. An unanimous vote to be a top-5 selection, some draft analysts have projected Suh as the No. 1 pick overall. Though one or even two NFL teams may pass on him because of position needs, many draft gurus agree that Suh is the best overall player in the 2009 class. The St. Louis Rams hold the top pick this year, and while Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has since passed Suh as their likely selection, the Rams recently traded former Husker and defensive tackle Adam Carriker, leaving an opening on the d-line that would be perfectly filled by a player like Suh.


WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING: "(Suh) is a step above the defensive tackles taken in the first round of the past several drafts and he has the tools to be a highly productive starter. He is the top overall prospect in the draft." - Russ Lande, Sporting News.



PREDICITION:
While I think Suh is hands down the best player available in the draft, the Rams currently appear set on taking Bradford at No. 1 seeing how they haven't had a franchise quarterback since Kurt Warner. That means Suh will likely fall to No.2, where the Detroit Lions will have to choose between him and Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Based on what the Lions already have up front, I think Suh makes absolute sense. Pair him up along side recent free agent acquisition and former Husker Kyle Vanden Bosch, and suddenly Detroit has itself a pretty good defensive front.




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Phillip Dillard,
(6-0, 245), LB





OVERVIEW:
It's hard to imagine that a guy who less than a year ago was trying to work his way back into the starting lineup after being demoted to the bottom of the depth chart is now a potential second- or third-round pick. Nebraska's coaches sent Dillard a message last fall by benching him for the first two games of the season, and he was essentially a non-factor until late in the year. Dillard got the hint though, and he played so well down the stretch that he's emerged as a legitimate NFL prospect. While most analysts have him rated as fourth- or fifth-round selection, Dillard said teams have told him he could be picked as early as the second round.


WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING: "Dillard had a tumultuous college career that ended on a high note and has continued to climb leading up to the draft. Dillard had a productive year last season and became one of the team leaders. Playing behind Ndamukong Suh certainly helped, but his being projected as anywhere from a third- to sixth-round pick is an indication teams have seen him as a good value in the middle rounds. And the fact he won over Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, a former linebackers coach with the Patriots and Packers, is a decent indication his Dillard's upside." - Mike Garafolo, New Jersey Star-Ledger.



PREDICITION:
Dillard overcame some pretty hefty adversity last season and really emerged as one of Nebraska's best players not on defensive line. His leadership and hustle on the field have to make him appealing to any NFL GM, and the fact that he showed the will to do what he needed to do to get back on the field last season speaks volumes about his character. The second round may be a stretch, but I could definitely see a team taking him in the third or fourth round.




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Larry Asante (6-0, 212), S




OVERVIEW:
Though he had some issues at times in coverage, Asante was one of Nebraska's most consistent defenders last season. Known for his big-hitting ability, he drew some red flags after delivering a couple of questionable late hits last year against Oklahoma and Kansas and he also had a costly personal foul on the final drive against Texas in the Big 12 Championship. Aside from those, however, Asante was a key part in the Huskers' defensive success. Athletically, he stacks up with almost any safety in the draft, and for the most part he showed solid leadership skills and great play recognition in coverage.


WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING: "Asante possesses the size and mentality to be used as a conventional strong safety at the next level. His game offers a nice degree of upside potential." - SI.com.



PREDICITION:
Asante is simply too physically gifted of an athlete not to get a shot in the NFL. I've seen him projected around the fourth or fifth round, and that should be about where I see him being taken. As long as he can continue to work on not getting beaten deep in coverage and limit the costly mental mistakes, he should be in contention to compete for a starting safety job at the next level within a couple years.




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style="font-weight: bold;">Matt O'Hanlon
(5-11, 207), S





OVERVIEW:
Few players have had to prove more doubters wrong over the course of their football careers than O'Hanlon. A guy who didn't receive a single Division I scholarship offer, had to join Nebraska via a walk-on tryout and earned a Blackshirt despite many people saying he didn't deserve one, O'Hanlon knows a thing or two about doing things the hard way. He came on strong as the season went along, and his crowning moment was earning the Holiday Bowl's Defensive MVP award.


WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING: "Every time I watched Nebraska play last season, Matt O'Hanlon was making plays. He has good instincts and a nose for the ball." - Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.



PREDICITION:
Because of his tireless work ethic and the fact that he's proven doubters wrong his whole career, I'm not going to come out and say O'Hanlon won't get drafted. However, even he admits that his ticket to the NFL will likely come via free agency. O'Hanlon is a deceptively gifted athlete, and he could easily find a spot on an NFL roster as a special teams guy on both coverage and return units.




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Barry Turner
(6-4, 254), DE





OVERVIEW:
After a promising start to his career at Nebraska, injuries took their toll on Turner, and he never quite lived up to the hype built for him during his freshman campaign. Still, Turner came back from surgeries on his shoulder and leg in consecutive seasons to have a solid senior year. He started all 13 games and had his best season as a pass rusher with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss to earn honorable mention all-conference honors.


WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING: "Turner projects as a pass-rushing project, the kind of player the (Chicago) Bears seem to draft every year. He looks to be a late-round selection or a priority free agent, and the (Bears were) able to give him a physical on his visit." - Barry Biggs, ChicagoBreakingSports.com.



PREDICITION:
Turner might be a sixth- or seventh-round selection if a team thinks his value as a pass rusher (i.e. the Bears) outweighs the risk of his injury history. Either way, I'm sure Turner will get a shot at the next level, because injuries or not, he's talented enough physically not to at least get a strong look from some NFL teams.






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