Nebraska stretches NFL draft streak to 56 years, but the wait was unmatched

Nebraska stretches NFL draft streak to 56 years, but the wait was unmatched
Tanner Lee threw for 3,143 yards with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions during his season on the field for the Huskers. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s NFL draft streak survived for another season — barely.

The only Husker picked during the three days was quarterback Tanner Lee, and he had to wait awhile — to pick No. 203 Saturday. Deep into the sixth of seven rounds.

The Jaguars, who made the AFC title game last season, plucked him. Lee will try to win a job backing up starter Blake Bortles. Lee didn’t immediately return calls or messages from The World-Herald, but told reporters on a conference call that he sat on his couch — in the same spot, for two days — playing the “waiting game” until he was selected.

He said his skills are “fit for the NFL.”

“My ability to process information and understand the game of football,” Lee said. “Just being a NFL quarterback, being a leader, is something I’ve always enjoyed and I’ve always been good at.”

The Huskers have been good at putting players in the pros. They will put their 56th straight notch on the NFL draft board. That’s how many years in a row, dating to 1963, Nebraska has had a player selected. But Lee had to wait longer to be the first Husker drafted than any other year in that streak. Rex Burkhead, at pick 190 in 2013, had the previous longest wait.

And with no other Huskers hearing their name called, Nebraska had just one player selected for the second straight year. In 2017, it was safety Nate Gerry, who parlayed his fifth-round selection into a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles. Two lean years in row after five decades of multiple players being selected by NFL teams.

While many other Huskers signed free agent contracts, that’s what a 4-8 record — Nebraska’s worst since 1961 — can do. When NU went 3-6-1 in 1961, none of its players was taken in the 1962 draft. And if the Huskers hadn’t coaxed Lee as a transfer from Tulane, there wouldn’t have been any in 2018, either.

Lee became the first Nebraska quarterback drafted to play that position since Keithen McCant in 1992.

Subsequent NU quarterback draftees Scott Frost, Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord switched positions in the NFL. Another quarterback projected to be picked, Brook Berringer, died in a plane crash days before the 1996 draft. Lee transferred to Nebraska in 2016, sat out one season, then won the starting job for 2017.

The Jaguars had good intel on Lee thanks to the presence of former Tulane offensive coordinator Eric Price, a researcher for Jacksonvillle.

“He was huge for me when I was at Tulane,” Lee said. “Just an unbelievable support. Great coach. It’s going to be a blessing to be reunited with him.”

Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell, who made the pick, told reporters in Jacksonville that Lee had a “big arm” and a “quick release.” Lee had one of the strongest arms of any draft-eligible quarterback, according to several draft analysts.

In one year at NU, Lee passed for 3,143 yards and 23 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, including four that were returned for touchdowns. Nebraska’s porous defense — coupled with the Huskers’ nonexistent run game — often forced Lee to win or lose games with his right arm. One time — at Purdue — he led a stirring comeback. That performance, plus some head-turning work at the Manning Passing Academy the previous summer, helped earn him invites to the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. Lee received mixed reviews at both.

Other Huskers signed free agent deals Saturday night, according to World-Herald confirmations and other media reports:

» Offensive lineman Nick Gates — who left school a year early — signed with the Giants.

» Defensive back Joshua Kalu signed with the Titans.

» Cornerback Chris Jones signed with the Lions.

» Receiver/returner De’Mornay Pierson-El signed with the Redskins.

» Fullback Luke McNitt signed with the Falcons.

» Tight end Tyler Hoppes signed with the Vikings.

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