Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Nebraska

Oct 6, 2018; Madison, WI, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers offensive lineman Brenden Jaimes (76) during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, NFLDraftScout.com will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Head Coach: Scott Frost (third season)

2019 Record: 5-7

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Khalil Davis, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 6th Round, No. 194 overall

Carlos Davis, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers – 7th Round, No. 232 overall

Overview:

The improvements in the won/loss column have not (yet?) happened as abruptly as they did at the University of Central Florida, but make no mistake Scott Frost is rebuilding the mighty Nebraska program.

Frost, the star quarterback on Nebraska’s 1997 co-national championship team (along with the University of Tennessee), rejoined the Huskers amid great fanfare after leading the UCF Knights to a remarkable jump from 0-12 in 2015 to 13-0 just two years later.

The improvements at Nebraska have been slower, with the Huskers going from 4-8 in his first season on campus (albeit with an 0-6 start) and 5-7 last year. Nebraska’s only conference wins last year were against the weaker opponents in the Big Ten, specifically Illinois, Northwestern and Maryland, with ranked conference foes like Ohio State (48-7), Minnesota (34-7) and Wisconsin (37-21) still thumping the Huskers.

As has often been the case at Nebraska, the running game is the straw that stirs the drink for their offense. The Huskers jumped to third in the Big Ten in rushing yards last year while sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and the Huskers’ passing attack took a step back. After completing 64.6% of his passes for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns (against eight interceptions) as a freshman, Martinez suffered through a bit of a sophomore slump, falling to a 59.4% completion rate with his passing yards (1,956) and touchdowns (10) dropping, as well, while his interception total rose by one despite attempting nearly 100 fewer passes. New offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, hired away from Oregon, has worked with Frost before and should spark a boost in the Huskers’ offense.

Frankly, they’ll need it. Nebraska lost three quality defenders to the NFL in defensive linemen Khalil and Carlos Davis, as well as cornerback Lamar Jackson, who signed with the New York Jets as one of their most intriguing undrafted free agents. 

Fortunately, the Huskers return plenty of talent on offense – including splashy true sophomore Wan’Dale Robinson - and offer intriguing breakout candidates on defense, as well.

Also, the Huskers have a chance to start the season hot and build momentum. Their first seven games appear winnable (Purdue, Central Michigan, South Dakota State, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Illinois, Rutgers) with only Northwestern and Rutgers away from Memorial Stadium.

The second half of the season is much more daunting, however, with the best teams in the Big Ten scheduled in a brutal five-game stretch at Ohio State, hosting Penn State, at Iowa and at Wisconsin before hosting P.J. Fleck’s rapidly improving Minnesota Gophers to finish the regular season. 

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Brenden Jaimes, OT, 6-6, 300, 5.10, SR

A critical component of any rebuild is the foundation and Jaimes has been providing that for the Huskers since stepping onto campus.

According to his official bio, James turned down opportunities at multiple programs from the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 after a stellar prep career at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Tx. The only college campus he visited was Nebraska, signing with the Huskers and becoming a fixture on the offensive line as a true freshman, starting the final nine games. For that, Jaimes was characterized by Nebraska as “arguably the most productive true freshman offensive lineman in school history.”

Jaimes made the switch from right to left tackle as a sophomore, starting all 12 games there in 2018 and earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors for a team that finished the season just 4-8. His value was further acknowledged by Frost and the Huskers’ coaching staff last year when he was named Offensive MVP over productive skill-position stars Adrian Martinez and Dedrick Mills, among others. The Big Ten coaches and media also recognized his play, awarding the 33 consecutive-game-starter honorable mention praise for the second consecutive year.

Jaimes reportedly considered making the NFL jump last year, but opted to return in large part to help with Nebraska’s rebuild.

Strengths: Already looks like an NFL offensive lineman with a much beefier build than his listed 6-6, 300 pounds suggests with his weight well distributed over his upper and lower halves. He moves like a man barely hitting three-bills, though, easing out of his stance in pass protection to cut off speed rushers while showing good lateral agility and balance choking off counters back to the inside. He does not panic if initially beaten in pass protection, striking out with quick hands and continuing to force defenders to run a wide arc, buying his quarterback time – even if it isn’t always pretty.

He can fire out of his stance as a run-blocker, as well, quickly sealing off defenders at the point of attack and showing burst climbing to the second level. His starting experience (33 consecutive games entering the 2020 season) shows in his recognition of stunts, blitzes and in anticipating defenders’ pursuit angles while run blocking at the second level. Jaimes has at least adequate arm length and hand strength to latch and sustain blocks, showing good core flexibility and strength to win ‘rassling matches in the pit. Experience again shows here with James throwing strikes in his hand placement, attacking the breastplates of his opponent and cleverly using his hands to rip and beat opponents to the ground.

Plays on the balls of his feet and with good knee bend, anchoring well for a player with his height, suggesting he may be able to handle the move inside, if asked to do so.

Weaknesses: A bit of a tackle-guard ‘tweener with a frame better suited inside, where he has no experience. Isn’t asked to pass block as often in this offense and does so for a very mobile quarterback, making his impressive sack rate (reportedly allowed just two in 2019) a bit inflated… Is not the mauler his frame suggests, providing more turn-and-seal blocks than driving opponents off the ball… Good hand placement but could stand to improve his grip strength, especially if moved inside. Beaten too often inside with defenders blowing through his initial punch. Struggles when opponents can get into his chest… Too inconsistent finishing his blocks, looking for pancakes when helping teammates double-team in pass protection but easing up too quickly on anticipated quick-hitting plays like QB draws and receiver screens…

NFL Player Comparison: Rick Wagner, Green Bay Packers – In terms of size, style and allegiance to their programs, scouts could see the second-coming of the 6-6, 315 pound Wagner (a former walk-on who always wanted to play at Wisconsin) in Jaimes. While not as forceful in the running game as their size and programs’ run-heavy reputations might suggest, overall reliability and consistency will have both playing in the NFL for a long time.

Current NFL Draft Projection: Second-Third Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Nebraska:

1. Brenden Jaimes, OT, 6-6, 300, 5.10, SR

2. Jojo Domann, OLB, 6-0, 230, 4.60, rSR

3. Cam Taylor, S, 6-0, 205, 4.50, JR

4. Dedrick Mills, RB, 5-10, 215, 4.55, rSR

5. JD Spielman, WR, 5-09, 185, 4.45, rSR

6. Dicaprio Bootle, 5-10, 190, 4.50, rSR

7. Adrian Martinez, QB, 6-1, 220, 4.60, JR

8. Collin Miller, ILB, 6-2, 245, 4.80, rSR

9. Jack Stoll, TE, 6-4, 260, 4.75, rSR

10. Deontai Williams, S, 6-0, 200, 4.50, rSR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates

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