LINCOLN — Back-to-back 4-8 seasons have taken their toll in a new way: Nebraska’s 56-year NFL draft streak is over.
For the first time since 1962, the Huskers did not have a player drafted. The three NU prospects projected to be drafted — Devine Ozigbo, Stanley Morgan and Luke Gifford — all had to pick free-agent contracts instead along with the rest of their teammates. Morgan quickly signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, coached by former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor. Ozigbo picked the New Orleans Saints and Gifford signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Recent history shows many ex-Husker players — including linemen Brent Qvale, Jeremiah Sirles and Zach Sterup, plus linebacker Will Compton and cornerback Chris Jones — have forged successful careers after signing free agent contracts.
“Continue to adapt, improvise, and overcome all odds and just know your story will be that much sweeter,” Compton tweeted after Saturday’s draft.
He’s been in the NFL six seasons.
“You felt like you should have been drafted? Go show that,” Jones tweeted.
But it’s usually the steadier option to be drafted in late rounds vs. going in free agency.
NU’s NFL draft performances had been meager in recent years. Just one Husker was taken in 2017 (Nate Gerry) and 2018 (Tanner Lee). Lee’s selection came at pick No. 203, which was the latest “first pick” by a Husker since the beginning of the streak. So a 2019 shutout wasn’t entirely unforeseen.
Nevertheless, Morgan held NU career records for catches and yards, and posted the school’s first 1,000-yard season in 2018. Ozigbo had the Huskers’ first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2014. He averaged 7 yards per carry and ran for 12 touchdowns, but the NFL’s approach to using a committee approach at the position has depressed the draft stock of the entire position. Multiyear stars like Ohio State’s Mike Weber and Washington’s Myles Gaskin didn’t go off the board until the seventh round.
WHO DAT‼️⚜️ as if I needed anymore motivation.— Huncho ZIG⚡️ (@TrulyDevine_22) April 27, 2019
“As if I needed any more motivation,” Ozigbo tweeted after picking the Saints. He’d tested well and met with several teams — some of whom picked backs other than him.
Still — so many teams had at least one player taken in the draft. Every Big Ten team but Purdue and Nebraska had at least one — Ohio State led the way with nine. Prairie View A&M had one. So did Alabama State, North Carolina A&T, Louisiana-Monroe, Elon, Southeast Missouri State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Tarleton State, Valdosta State, the University of Charleston (West Virginia) and Washburn University.
The Huskers did not. But many of them signed free agent deals. Gifford — guaranteed a base salary of $50,000 according to the Houston Chronicle — may have landed the best of those deals. Inside linebacker Dedrick Young signed a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns. Jerald Foster accepted a minicamp invite to the New York Giants — a good deal, he said, because the Giants did not draft linemen or sign a bunch in free agency. Tanner Farmer will attend two minicamps — the Indianapolis Colts next week and the Houston Texans after that. And safety Aaron Williams, who started games all four seasons at NU, thought he’d pick the Washington Redskins before he switched to the Arizona Cardinals.
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“It’s been interesting,” Williams said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of uncertainty. Teams tell you a lot of things.”
They start making calls before the draft even ends. Williams was one of the few Huskers who wasn’t watching much on Saturday. He was at a party. He had to sift through offers quickly once the draft ended, and his agent advised him that the situation with the Cardinals would be better than the one with the Redskins.
In Arizona, Williams will at least have a buddy on whom to rely. Jones.
“I’ve got to give him a call soon,” Williams said.
Even if Huskers weren’t drafted, their grind toward a professional career begins in earnest.
The last time a team did not have an NFL draft pick:— Steven Elonich (@ThanksSteven) April 27, 2019
Michigan State: 1940
Ohio State: 1998
Penn State: 2005