If you would have told me five years ago that someday a Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback will declare for the NFL draft early, and it would be mostly greeted by indifference, I would have suggested a brain examination. But that is what happened when Tanner Lee declared for the NFL draft last Thursday.
It’s hard to divorce Tanner Lee’s performance from the disaster that was the 2017 Huskers, but in Tanner Lee’s case, declaring for the NFL is the smartest thing he can do.
Entering the 2018 calendar year, Tanner Lee had three options:
- Learn a brand new offense at Nebraska and compete for playing time in a system that is ill-fitted for his skill set
- Conduct a graduate transfer search and attend the third school of his collegiate career
- Dedicate his full attention into prepping for the 2018 NFL draft, where his physical tools should most likely attract attention from scouts
I was fairly confident Tanner Lee would select either option #2 or #3 after Scott Frost was announced as head coach.
This quote from Lee shortly after Frost was announced as coach : “I definitely know that one of the things I’ve got to work on is being more mobile, running around. And so I’ll just continue to work on that and any other part of my game.”
The leg speed and fast twitch muscles required for Scott Frost’s offense is not something that can be acquired nor improved upon at age 23, which Tanner will be in February. It is just part of it is just genetic makeup. At this point, it’s either you got it or you don’t.
Put yourself in Tanner Lee’s shoes for a moment.
We all know from the TV broadcasts and the Husker Media Offseason Hype Machine about his legendary performance at the 2015 Manning Passing Camp. Many of Tanner’s fellow alumni in that 2015 passing camp have just completed their senior year, while others are already two years into their NFL career, such as Dak Prescott and Jared Goff. Jared Goff, for example, is only eight months older than Tanner Lee. Between Goff and Prescott, they have already won two Divisional Titles already.
Another two-year NFL veteran is who Tanner Lee compares to is former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Tanner Lee was born on the exact same day in 1995 as Christian Hackenberg, the 2nd year quarterback for the New York Jets. Tanner Lee and Christian Hackenberg have similar size and toolsets. Tanner stands at 6’4 220 lbs, while Hackenberg checks in at 6’3 and 234 lbs.
In their final seasons in college, Tanner had a higher passer rating (129 to 123) more yards (3,143 to 2,525), and higher completion percentage (57.5% to 53.5%) compared to Hackenberg. The only edge Hackenberg has is in TD-to-INT ratio, where Hackenberg had 16 TDs-to-6 INTS, while Lee had 23 TDs-to-16 INTS.
Hackenberg, the 2016 51st overall draft pick, has yet to throw an NFL pass, but he has already pocketed a cool 2.7 million.
Not bad work if you can get it.
From the Huskers standpoint, this avoids awkward offseason talk about a returning starter who off-the-field conducted himself with class and composure during a season Husker fans cannot wait to forget. It also opens up a scholarship and opportunity to find the right quarterback for Scott Frost’s system.
Lost in the news of Tanner Lee’s declaration was Frost’s staff offering dual-threat and current Arizona Wildcats commit Jamarye Joiner. The sooner Nebraska gets quarterbacks for Frost’s system, the sooner Nebraska will return to winning seasons.
Tanner Lee may also represent the best chance the Huskers have of extending their NFL draft streak of one player drafted that dates back until 1963. Previously, it was a streak of multiple players drafted in the NFL, but it was snapped last year when Nate Gerry was the lone Husker selected when he went to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 5th round.
Finally, it never hurts hearing the words ‘quarterback’ and ‘Nebraska’ when the NFL draft comes around. Scouting quarterbacks does not rely anymore on traditional metrics such as win-loss record or even the amount of starts. Patrick Mahomes put up gaudy stats at Texas Tech while going 5-7 his final year. He ended up getting drafted No. 10 overall. The 2nd overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, only started 13 games for the 8-5 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Don’t be surprised if after an impressive combine and workout, NFL scouts talk up Tanner Lee’s chances in the NFL.