Huskers Must Compete to Win NFL Jobs
The NFL draft this past weekend didn't paint a cushy scenario for any of the departing Huskers. It also put some Nebraska alums in the NFL on notice. It's nice to be drafted or signed as a free agent, but making the roster is what matters in the end. Here's a look at some of the competition NU players will face.
Rex Burkhead is one of five players in what will likely be a four-man running back rotation in Cincinnati. While he could hang on as a practice squad player, he'll need to beat out someone to make the main 47-man roster and he might have to rise to third on the depth chart to make the active roster. Benjarvus Green-Ellis would be the presumptive starter for the Bengals as he's rushed for over 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons. Giovani Bernard was a second-round draft pick and the first running back selected in the 2013 NFL draft. The smallish back could have durability and pass protection issues but otherwise was very productive both rushing and receiving. Bernard Scott was re-signed to a one-year deal after tearing his ACL last October. Scott was a small change-of-pace back that Giovani could make obsolete. Cedric Peerman was productive in limited duty a year ago and also appeared on special teams. That's five guys for three or four jobs.
Daimion Stafford joins a crowded field competing for jobs at safety in Tennessee. Bernard Pollard was signed from Baltimore and is penciled in as a starter. Michael Griffith is penciled in as the other starter and is in just the second year of a big five-year contract. Robert Johnson had emerged as a top reserve at safety before tearing ligaments in his foot late in the season. George Wilson was signed in the offseason after a number of productive years in Buffalo. He's penciled in as a two-deep player. Al Afalava was mostly a special teams player pressed into duty a year ago before being sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Tracy Wilson was mostly a practice squad player a year ago. Markelle Martin was signed as a rookie but then missed the season due to a knee injury a year ago. The Titans own the rights to Suaesi Tuimaunei, who never saw the field as a rookie a year ago. With four jobs already seemingly taken and probably not more than five spots (including the practice squad), it looks like an uphill battle for Stafford to make the cut from 9 to 5.
The Redskins had recently been a haven for Husker players. Last year, their roster featured Adam Carriker, Roy Helu, Niles Paul, and Dejon Gomes. Will Compton was also just signed as an undrafted free agent. But depending upon how competition plays out, Washington could feature anywhere from one to five of these guys in the fall. Carriker appears to be in a good position with little competition at defensive end. Compton faces more competition at inside linebacker. London Fletcher is getting old but he will play this year. Perry Riley has played well as the other starter. Three reserves as inside linebackers are holdovers from a year ago and all contributed at least somewhat. He'll have to beat out at least one of these players to make the roster and possibly two.
Roy Helu was part of a four-man running back group after losing time to injury. The Redskins just drafted a pair of smallish running backs in rounds five and seven that could help in the backfield and on special teams. Alfred Morris is sure to return ahead of Helu and Evan Royster was a durable (but unspectacular option) a year ago. The same could be said about the veteran Keiland Williams. Helu better show that he can be healthy and productive if he wants to remain on the team.
Dejon Gomes saw two safeties drafted in rounds 4 and 6 in addition to what returns. Brandon Merriweather and Reed Doughty would be the incumbent starting tandem. Jordan Pugh is again in the mix along with the healing Jordan Bernstine and suspended Tanard Jackson. That eight guys for five spots not counting Devin Holland, who's also under contract.
Niles Paul will be one of four tight ends. Thankfully, Redskin head coach Mike Shanahan seems to like all four of his tight ends and talked about the possibility of dressing four tight ends. Paul's history as a receiver means he could potentially make the team in that role as well. Still, four tight ends is a luxury, not a necessity. Fred Davis was explosive when healthy. Logan Paulsen is the prototypical blocking tight end. New draftee Jordan Reed is thought to be a Davis-like receiving talent. Paul will have to prove he;s worth space on the roster.
These are just a few examples of the kind of battles facing Nebraska alums. There are about three dozen players attached to NFL franchises at the moment. By September, that number will undoubtedly be smaller as rosters shrink.