A year from now, Husker fans will be watching the NFL draft and wondering where Taylor Martinez will be taken, and how he might be used in an NFL offense. Given his limited toolbox is as a passer, he's more likely to be used as wide receiver/kick returner/wildcat quarterback. Just stop, crazy fan -- if you think Martinez can actually be a starting NFL quarterback, watch highlights of Christian Ponder in college. That's a game manager who needs the NFL's only transcendent running back just to get his team to the playoffs.
If it were going to be 2009, the year after Miami had popularized the wildcat, T-Magic could have had a shot at being picked as high as the mid-second, where the Dolphins took Pat White (albeit a bad pick in retrospect). In 2014, there isn't likely going to be a team that values a wild-card player that highly, but as long as you can break into space, there's a place for you in the NFL. We've seen how quickly Martinez can go from 0 to 70, and there is a precedent that could help Martinez get drafted at a good spot.
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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports</div>The most comparable player in the NFL to Martinez is former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, a former fourth-round pick. Like Martinez will be, Smith was a four-year college starter, a quick guy with who is now ten pounds heavier than Martinez, weight that Martinez could put on easily. Smith doesn't have many career touches (132 rushes, 101 receptions), but has averaged 9.4 yards per reception and 7.3 yards per rush during his six-year career, under imaginative coaches like Eric Mangini, Brian Schottenheimer, and Chan Gailey who knew how to use him. If Martinez ends up with the right coaches, he can make 50-60 effective touches a year, like Smith has averaged. Of course, if he does end up playing wildcat quarterback, it will likely be on a bad team that has to use the wildcat, but an NFL job is an NFL job.
However, it's hard to go from star quarterback on a college team to NFL role player, where a player gets less attention. Consider the recent former quarterbacks who have stayed around the NFL as skill players: Antwaan Randle El (Indiana), Smith (Missouri), and Joshua Cribbs and Julian Edelman (both Kent State). No traditional powers on that list; Mizzou was still coming out of a twenty year dry-spell when Smith played there. Numerous converted quarterbacks from prominent college programs have washed out of the NFL, like Florida's Chris Leak, White, and Nebraska's own Scott Frost and Eric Crouch. They'd gotten the bright lights in college, and weren't interested in doing NFL dirty work.
But just because Martinez will be stepping away from the Memorial Stadium and Big 10 lights, it may not mean that he will automatically bail on the NFL. He wasn't a high profile recruit and has always spoken in turn, always cool and collected. While these may be signs that he will never reach his ceiling as a college quarterback, they might be signs that he will do the dirty work necessary to stay on an NFL roster.
Big 10 running backs do have a stigma that may stick to a prominent Big 10 running quarterback: they've taken too many hits in college and never have great NFL careers (Ron Dayne, Javon Ringer, Lawrence Maroney). Martinez has stayed healthy the last two years, and given how much he runs, he deserves some credit for just staying on the field. Dennard Robinson couldn't stay healthy as a running quarterback in the Big 10. But there is only so much pounding that Martinez's small frame can take and only so much weight he can put on.
Ultimately, whether or not Martinez makes it as an NFL slash will depend on how much he wants to make it. He may attack route-running with the same kind of work ethic he approached improving as a passer with Steve Calhoun, or he may get a taste of an NFL camp and decide it's not for him. Or he may, like Crouch, try playing quarterback in a circuit of lesser leagues. Which, given how laid back he's appeared over the last three years, wouldn't be a huge surprise to Nebraska fans.