In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 25
2012 NFL Draft picks: 6 – OT Riley Reiff (1st round, 23rd overall), DL Mike Daniels (4th round, 132nd overall), OG Adam Gettis (5th round, 141st overall), CB Shaun Prater (5th round, 156th overall), WR Marvin McNutt (6th round, 194th overall), CB Jordan Bernstine (7th round, 217th overall)
When discussing the top programs in the Big Ten, Iowa is rarely mentioned as one of the heavyweights in the conference, but the Hawkeyes have almost always exceeded expectations over the past dozen years. And that overachieving attitude can also be found in many of the Hawkeye players as they jump to the NFL. Since 1999 when Kirk Ferentz took over as head coach, Iowa has produced 53 draft picks, including six first round picks. However, the Hawkeyes have long been known as an underrated football factory, turning out at least one NFL draft pick every season since 1978.
The Hawkeyes return only 11 starters from last year's seven-win squad, losing their leading rusher and receiver from a year ago. However, they do return their quarterback and several leaders on defense. Iowa has had a first round pick each of the last three years, but that streak will most likely stop this April as the Hawkeyes lack upper-echelon talent on the roster. Nonetheless, Iowa does have several draftable prospects that, as usual, will probably exceed expectations in 2012.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. CB Micah Hyde (6-1, 190)
Under the watch of head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has been well-known for producing offensive linemen to the next level, but over the past five years, the Hawkeyes have actually sent more defensive backs to the NFL. And although the Hawkeyes will need to replace secondary players Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine, who were both drafted this past April, Iowa does return the versatile and experienced Hyde (pictured above), arguably their most important player on defense. Hyde set numerous high school records as a quarterback and defensive back in Ohio and grew up a Buckeyes' fan. However, he didn't receive much attention from Ohio State or other Big Ten schools, except Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Shortly after arriving in Iowa City, Hyde moved full-time to the secondary and proved to be a special teams' stand out as a true freshman in 2009. He started all 13 games at cornerback in 2010 and recorded a career-high 82 tackles and four interceptions. Hyde stared last season at free safety (two starts) before moving back to cornerback for the final 11 contests, finishing with a team-best three interceptions and earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. Although he looks more like a safety at 6-1, 190, he is expected to remain at cornerback as a senior in 2012. Hyde is an instinctive and smart defender, using his eyes and length to track and make plays on the ball. He isn't a quick-twitch athlete and lacks the hip flexibility ideal for the position, but understands body placement and timing in coverage. Hyde is a sound tackler and also makes waves on special teams, hating to ever leave the field. He is a bit of a CB/FS tweener, which will probably knock him out of the top two rounds, but Hyde has outstanding football awareness and leadership that could land him in the top-80 picks.
2. WR Keenan Davis (6-3, 215)
Although he was a top recruit out of high school four years ago, Davis has been forced to play in the shadow of several record-setting receivers to go through Iowa City. However with Marvin McNutt now in the NFL, Davis is the expected No. 1 target on the Hawkeyes' offense and NFL scouts have high expectations for the senior. A four-star wideout out of high school in Iowa, Davis was far from a lock to become a Hawkeye with offers from other top programs like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, the Cedar Rapids product decided to stay close to home. Despite playing in all 26 games over his first two collegiate seasons, Davis combined for just 15 catches as a freshman and sophomore. He had his best season last year as a junior (12 starts) and recorded 50 catches for 713 catches and four scores, finishing second on the team behind McNutt. Davis is a good-sized athlete with excellent length and body control to make acrobatic catches and snag passes away from his frame. He is usually sure-handed with good focus and toughness to make plays in traffic while taking the big hit. Davis needs to improve his quickness in-and-out of his breaks to sharpen his routes and overall consistency separating in coverage. Although it took until his senior year, Davis is finally the No. 1 target in Iowa City and should be one of the most productive receivers in the conference and possible mid-round draft pick.
3. C James Ferentz (6-2, 285)
Although not an elite NFL prospect, Ferentz probably wouldn't have it any other way. He is used to handling adversity and battling through others doubting him, especially after a bit of a rocky start to his collegiate career. Ferentz received only one BCS scholarship offer out of high school and it happened to be from his father, the head coach at Iowa, which obviously attracted some mixed attention and put extra pressure on an 18-year old kid. Ferentz also had two run-ins with the law because of alcohol-related offenses and was suspended for a period of time. Despite his early struggles, he earned the starting center job as a sophomore in 2010 and started every game. Ferentz again started all 13 games last season at center and earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors, leading to him being named to the Rimington Award watch list prior to the upcoming season. At 6-2 and weighing just 250-pounds out of high school, he was considered short and too small for the Big Ten. But Ferentz, who finished runner-up at the Iowa state wrestling championships as a senior in high school, is now up to 285-pounds with 26 career starts under his belt. He is a scrappy, physical blocker who uses his lack of height to his advantage, keeping his butt low to the ground and winning the leverage game. Ferentz is a team leader and as one of only two returning starters on the offensive line from last year, he will be relied upon as one of the top voices in the huddle. The Hawkeyes have had at least one offensive lineman drafted each of the past four years and Ferentz could extend that streak to five next April.
4. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 265)*
A candidate to be one of the breakout NFL prospects during the 2012 season, Fiedorowicz (feh-dor-uh-wits) is a mouthful to say (and type), but even tougher to cover on the football field. Although he has only 16 catches to his name entering his junior season in 2012, he is a central cog to the Hawkeyes' offense this year. Fiedorowicz was one of the top tight end recruits out of high school and turned down scholarship offers by Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU in order to commit to the Hawkeyes, one of the highest recruits to enroll at Iowa. He saw action in every game as a true freshman in 2010, but those reps came mostly on special teams as he was lost on the depth chart behind Allen Reisner and Brad Herman. Fiedorowicz began his sophomore season on the bench as a reserve with only three catches over the first eight games, but he became the starter over the final five contests and combined for 13 receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns. He has been known as more of a late bloomer over his career thus far in Iowa City, struggling to grasp the offense and meet expectations by the coaching staff. However, his physical traits and natural athleticism are rare for a player his size (holds high school basketball record for career points) and the sky is the limit for the talented tight end. Look for Fiedorowicz to double his career production in 2012 and steadily rise among the top tight end prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.
5. QB James Vandenberg (6-3, 210)
A product of Keokuk, Iowa, Vandenberg rewrote the state passing records in high school and is one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever step foot onto the Hawkeyes' campus. With Ricky Stanzi entrenched as the starter at quarterback, Vandenberg redshirted in 2008. However when Stanzi went down with an injury in 2009, he was thrown into action as a redshirt freshman and almost led an upset of top-10 ranked Ohio State in Columbus (Iowa lost by a field goal in overtime). After spending the 2010 season as Stanzi's back-up once again, Vandenberg finally became the full-time starter last season as a junior with mixed results. He finished with 3,022 passing yards, and a 25-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio, but struggled to come through in some clutch situations and had only one 300+ passing yard performance. Vandenberg returns for his senior season in 2012 and while he's far from flashy, he might be the most consistent Big Ten signal-caller. But Iowa coaches (and scouts) are hoping for more of a killer instinct out of Vandenberg this season as too often he appeared to be thinking too much, leading to his middling 56.9% career completion percentage. Although he doesn't stand out as “elite” in any one category, he does have the size and arm talent to at least warrant consideration as a draft pick next April, but will need a productive senior year to boost his late round draft stock.
OG Matt Tobin (6-6, 290)
DT Steve Bigach (6-3, 285)
OLB Christian Kirksey (6-2, 220)*
MLB James Morris (6-2, 230)*
FS Tanner Miller (6-2, 200)*
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team by team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire