Burkhead, Stafford high notes in rough draft for Huskers

2013-04-28T00:20:00Z 2013-05-07T16:08:07Z Burkhead, Stafford high notes in rough draft for HuskersBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Even Superman gets nervous, Rex Burkhead confirmed.

Then the phone rang. Then mom cried happy tears. Then he was part of the club. Then he was in the NFL.

That’s how it was for the former Nebraska running back Saturday. After waiting and waiting through the first two days of the NFL Draft, one of the most beloved Huskers ever was picked midway through the sixth round (190th pick overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals.

You’d have to go back to the 1970 draft to find the last time it took so long for the first Husker to be chosen. Even so, Burkhead tried to enjoy the thrill of it even in those anxiety-filled hours Saturday.

"Just put it in God's hands and let him take care of it,” Burkhead said. “You’re just sitting there seeing names get taken off the board, and you’re hoping yours gets called soon. It’s a nerve-racking experience, but I tried not to stress out about it. But when your name gets called, there's definitely a relief."

The selection of Burkhead and a late seventh-round pick (248th overall) by the Tennessee Titans of former Husker safety Daimion Stafford were the good notes to an otherwise rough draft for Nebraska.

“God is good!” Stafford tweeted.

It marked the 10th time in the past 12 years at least one Husker defensive back had been drafted.

But overall, it was a draft the Huskers won’t want to hang on the fridge.

While Nebraska did continue a streak that dates to 1962 of having at least one player drafted, it was the first time since 1969 that at least three NU players were not picked.

The draft was similarly cruel to most of the rest of the Big Ten. A year after the league had 41 players selected, just one fewer than the SEC, the Big Ten had only 22 draftees. The SEC had 63.

Even so, it might be wise to show caution in judging the pro talent of this Husker class until after some of the former Nebraska players who sign free-agent deals show what they can do in NFL camps.

Soon after the draft concluded, linebacker Will Compton (Washington), tight ends Ben Cotton (San Diego) and Kyler Reed (Jacksonville), and defensive end/linebacker Eric Martin (New Orleans) all signed free-agent deals.

Brett Maher, the top-rated kicker not drafted, and defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler also are expected to get NFL camp opportunities. Maher said in a text message he'd arrive at his decision on a team Sunday morning.

And so Cotton wasn’t about to let the low draft numbers dictate his view of this Husker group.

"That's been the story of our class the whole time,” Cotton said. “We were not highly thought of going in.We weren't the most highly ranked recruiting class. We were always considered underdogs, the comeback kids this year. Now, we're going to be a group of guys that goes and shows the NFL what we’re capable of and what we can do at the next level."

Reed was looking at the advantage of being a free agent, where a player can have some say in picking his spot.

He picked Jacksonville, a team that showed interest early in the process and isn’t loaded with tight ends.

“In the NFL, it’s all about where you fit,” Reed said. "In the case of Ben and me, we were on the field a lot, but had low production in stats. That’s just how our system was. We run the ball a lot. We understood that. We’re not blaming anyone. … It’s just one of those things. But we’re all going to get an opportunity to make a team and show what we can do.”

Granted, Reed acknowledged it would have been cool to say you were drafted.

It’s a thrill Burkhead has been thinking about since he first put on shoulder pads as a PeeWee player.

And the team that drafted him isn’t that far from Kentucky, where much of Burkhead’s family lives. Burkhead was born in Lexington, Ky.

“The family was pumped. My mom was crying. It was great joy,” Burkhead said. “It’s the stuff you dream about as a little kid.”

Now, the next challenge. The Bengals are loaded at running back, having spent a second-round pick on North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard, the first running back chosen in the draft.

The Bengals also have veterans BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott.

That’s fine with Burkhead. It was a topic, in fact, that came up when Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis called to tell him they were picking him.

“That’s what I love,” Burkhead said of the competition. “Coach Lewis said they like having three or four solid backs they can put on the field at any given time. They want guys that can catch the ball. Competition with all of us will make us better.”

It’s competition that will come soon.

But Saturday night, for those former Huskers who spent a tense day watching the draft, a little rest would come first.

Martin summed up how he was feeling at draft's end in three words: “Tired. Exhausted. Sleepy.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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