LINCOLN | Tanner Lee, as many folks anticipated, will not return for his final season at Nebraska.
The Husker junior quarterback announced Thursday on Twitter his decision to declare for the NFL Draft.
"After weeks of prayer and consideration with my family, I've decided to enter the NFL Draft and pursue an opportunity that I feel is best for myself and my family at this time," Lee wrote.
Nebraska football coach Scott Frost, who took over the program Dec. 3, is bringing in a spread offense tailored to fit a dual-threat quarterback, a different system than the pro-style one installed by previous head coach Mike Riley.
Lee's style should fit well in the NFL, according to longtime ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen, who helped steer the quarterback to Nebraska after watching him at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
"To me, Tanner is going to be one of those guys that when he goes through the pre-draft process, he's going to be one of those guys who's not on radars and all of a sudden appears higher on radars," Mortensen told the Journal Star. "Ideally, it would have been nice for him to play another year in college with him having to sit out (in 2016). But he has a lot of tools that are impressive."
Impressive enough that Lee could be drafted as high as the second round, in Mortensen's opinion, even though the 2018 quarterback draft class is considered to be deep in talent, headed by the likes of Josh Rosen of UCLA, Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and Josh Allen of Wyoming.
"He has size and a great arm," Mortensen said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound player. "He's going to throw better than the majority of quarterbacks who are going to be available. He's not on the radar right now because Nebraska wasn't on the radar."
Nebraska landed Lee, a Tulane transfer, before the 2016 season. Mortensen actually called Riley to tout Lee's skills, thinking the QB was a fit for Riley's offense. Lee proved himself immediately once he arrived on campus, earning scout-team offensive MVP during his sit-out season.
Lee was highly respected by his teammates, an example of that coming prior to the start of the 2017 season when the Destrehan, Louisiana, native was named a team captain before ever taking a snap in a Husker uniform.
He threw for 3,143 yards and 23 touchdowns in his only season with the Huskers. He completed 57.5 percent of his throws and had 16 interceptions as Nebraska finished 4-8. Riley was fired a day following the Huskers' Black Friday loss to Iowa.
Lee's 3,143 passing yards for a season ranks third in school history behind Joe Ganz (3,568 in 2008) and Zac Taylor (3,197 in 2006).
"I know pro scouts who came through Lincoln — they saw the way the ball jumps out of Tanner's hand," Mortensen said. "Would they prefer a little more mobility? Yeah, probably. Also, lower-body strength is something people are probably going to want to see improve."
Lee's decision-making might be scrutinized in the wake of his high interception numbers at both Tulane and Nebraska.
"Decision-making is not as big a deal as people make it out to be," said Mortensen, noting Matt Ryan threw 19 interceptions in his final year at Boston College while Deshaun Watson threw 17 in his final year at Clemson.
"Nobody knows what the reads were for those guys, or where the receivers' marks were."
In his Twitter announcement, Lee called playing for Nebraska "the opportunity of a lifetime."
"I cannot thank Husker Nation enough for making it so special," he continued. "I will be a Husker for life. I want to wish Coach Frost and his staff the best of luck, Nebraska is in great hands."
Lee had until Jan. 15, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft, to make a decision.
With Lee out of the picture, Nebraska currently has two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in sophomore-to-be Patrick O'Brien and redshirt-freshman-to-be Tristan Gebbia.
True freshman Adrian Martinez, a four-star quarterback out of California, will arrive on campus in January.
Only O'Brien has taken any game snaps. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 192 yards in a backup role this past season, the majority of his action coming in the second half at Minnesota.