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Collins and Valentine get their good news in the third round
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Collins and Valentine get their good news in the third round

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Another Husker D-lineman is going to Big D. Then Big V went off the board earlier than many may have guessed.

Maliek Collins got the call from the Dallas Cowboys early in the third round Friday night, making him the No. 67 pick overall and first Nebraska player selected in the NFL Draft. He'll join former Nebraska teammate Randy Gregory, whom Dallas picked just a year ago in the second round.

Collins' defensive tackle mate, Vincent Valentine, didn't have to wait much longer, selected by the New England Patriots at No. 96 overall, two picks before the third round ended.

Valentine battled an ankle injury that kept him out of three games and limited him to seven starts, notching just 10 tackles this past season. But Bill Belichick obviously saw plenty to like.

"The more I watch him, the more I like him," said ESPN's Todd McShay, describing Valentine as having strong hands and "explosive power."

Certainly the night's results made the decisions of Collins and Valentine to leave Nebraska a year early seem reasonable enough.

Speaking of Collins, the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah noted that the defensive tackle's statistical production wasn't as good as hoped this past season, "but you see the flashes."

"See if they can get it out of him on a down-to-down basis," Jeremiah said. "You see that quickness. It just hasn't resulted in the type of production you're looking for, but it's there. You've got a nice piece of clay to work with."

The Cowboys will get a worker. Collins missed just two practices during his entire Husker career, something he recently told the Journal Star he takes great pride in.

"I always think of outworking my opponent. I want to study film more than my opponent. I want to have the edge on gameday," Collins said then. "There's nothing worse than looking back on a game and thinking, 'Ah, man, I got outworked.' That's embarrassing to me."

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said after the pick the potential is there with Collins, but he'll need to take his game to another level to meet the promise he showed in a breakout sophomore season. McShay pointed out that Collins was adjusting to a new scheme this past year.

Longtime NFL analyst Gil Brandt heaped praise on the 6-foot-2, 311-pound Collins after his Pro Day workout in Lincoln in March, noting that scouts tried to wear down the tackle, but "Collins was just as good at the end of the workout as he was in the beginning."

He had 30 tackles last year, including 2½ sacks, receiving double teams at times, often a main focus of the opponents. During his three-year Nebraska career, he had eight sacks and 23 tackles for loss, along with 19 quarterback hurries.

The selections of Collins and Valentine means Nebraska has had multiple players drafted every year since 1962, one of just five schools that can claim the distinction of being represented in every draft since it adopted the common format in 1967.

As expected, there was some waiting for the Huskers, as the first two rounds passed with seven Ohio State players chosen but none from NU.

From 1991-2003, at least one Husker was drafted in the first two rounds each year. This year joins 2004, 2008 and 2013 as recent years that didn't happen.

Nonetheless, Collins came close to the second-round draft grade he said he received when he made the decision to leave school a year early.

And the 6-3, 320-pound Valentine, who already has his degree, exceeded even the highest prognostications of most draft analysts.

Kiper did have Valentine as a potential fourth-round prospect when he announced he was leaving early.

"When he was 100 percent, I thought he was as good as Collins, myself," Kiper told the Journal Star in January.

Since Nebraska's 2015 season ended, Collins was long considered the likely first Husker pick in this draft, though buzz in recent days cast some speculation that the honor might fall to the offensive tackle Alex Lewis.

Lewis was not picked Friday, but may go early Saturday when rounds 4 through 7 complete the draft. He is listed available by ESPN's draft tracker as the top offensive tackle available.

This was a night for the Husker D-tackles. A night some didn't see coming.

There was plenty of skepticism in these parts about Valentine's decision to leave early.

And while not as much surrounded Collins, who never redshirted at NU, some doubt crept into the air when McShay listed him as one of his "biggest fallers" in the draft, and Kiper had him ranked No. 119 on his big board, far below where the Cowboys saw fit to pick him.

Such late feedback was somewhat surprising, since Collins had performed respectably at the NFL Combine and Pro Day.

After that Pro Day workout, Collins felt good about how he had tested. He even described the work leading up to the combine as fun.

"I was prepared for it all, man," he said then. "Just go in there and be honest. Know your defenses. Just talk highly of yourself. I got a lot of positive feedback. Everything I've heard has been positive. We'll see come April how things go."

What he got was a star on his helmet.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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