Top 25 NFL Draft Rankings: No. 17 Iowa has stability at coach, plenty of NFL talent
Our countdown of the top programs for NFL prospects continues with Iowa
In the days leading to the start of the college football season, NFL Draft Scout will count down the top-25 college programs, according to draft-eligible NFL talent on the roster.
Iowa Hawkeyes : No. 17
Iowa Draft History
- Draft picks since moving to seven-round format in 1994: 72 (t-24th in college football)
- Draft picks the last 10 years: 36 (t-16th)
- Draft picks the last five years: 14 (t-28th)
Looking back at the 2016 NFL Draft
- Draft picks: 1
- (7/248) OC Austin Blythe
- Undrafted free agents: TE Henry Krieger Coble , DE Drew Ott , OG Jordan Walsh , FS Jordan Lomax , PK Marshall Koehn , WR Tevaun Smith , FB Adam Cox , RB Jordan Canzeri , TE Jake Duzey , LB Cole Fisher , LB Nate Meier
Looking ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft
Over the last decade, only Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions have produced more draft picks out of the Big Ten than Iowa. Kirk Ferentz, who is entering his 18th season as the Hawkeyes head coach, has a strong reputation in NFL circles for his ability to find, develop and groom players ready for the next level. And the 2017 class of Iowa players could be one of Ferentz's better groups of draftable prospects, led by the first-round ability of cornerback Desmond King .
Below are the top draft-eligible prospects on the Hawkeyes' roster for the next level.
One of the more surprising "return to school" decisions last year, Desmond King tied an Iowa record with eight interceptions as a junior and likely passed up a spot in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. But he wasn't ready to leave his Hawkeyes' family just yet, especially a semester away from graduating.
A three-star corner from Detroit, King didn't receive a scholarship offer from Michigan Wolverines or Michigan State Spartans , and Iowa didn't enter the picture until right before signing day. He quickly earned a starting job as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes and has gradually grown into arguably the best defensive back at the college level. King finished last season with 72 tackles, 21 passes defended and eight interceptions to earn the Jim Thorpe Award and consensus All-American honors.
Although he is rarely the fastest player on the field, King is comfortable on an island with the confidence and courage needed to play man coverage in the NFL. He moves with smooth hip action and the body control to make proper adjustments mid-route and crowd the catch point. King needs to tighten up some spacing and eye discipline issues, but he stays patient at the top of routes and competes with better ball skills than most of wide receivers he covers. As a run defender, he takes on blocks that most corners try to avoid and meets every ball-carrier with a finishing attitude.
Whether he stays at corner or moves to safety long-term in the NFL, King has the contagious swagger and opportunistic play style that should make him one of the first defensive backs drafted next spring.
NFL bloodlines can be an influential term in a prospect's scouting report. And for C.J. Beathard , his family connection can be tracked to one of the NFL's most successful general managers: Bobby Beathard, who is C.J.'s grandfather. He spent 38 years in the NFL, several of those as the general manager of the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers , competing in seven Super Bowls and winning four.
For the Hawkeyes, C.J. found the field early in his career due to an injury to Jake Rudock and showed the coaches enough that he earned the starting job towards the end of 2014, prompting Rudock to transfer to Michigan last season. Beathard helped lead the Hawkeyes to a perfect 12-0 regular season last season, finishing with a 61.6 percent completion rate, 2,809 passing yards and 22 total touchdowns.
Although his lack of size will be dinged by scouts, Beathard delivers a very catchable ball and displays an efficient process from snap to release. He is very natural at feeling the rush with his eyes downfield, showing impressive pocket movement to step up, slide and improvise. He's comfortable delivering from the pocket, but needs to speed up his reads by an extra half second and rely more on his secondary options instead of predetermining his throws.
Beathard takes care of the football, with only one interception every 72.4 pass attempts last season (by comparison, Clemson Tigers 's Deshaun Watson was 37.8 last year), but he tends to be too careful, which leads to gun-shy tendencies on routes over 10 yards. He also needs to improve in money situations, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns on third down last season and struggling to consistently convert in the red zone.
Entering the 2016 season, he is one of the top three senior prospects at his position, but NFL scouts are hoping to see him take the next step in his development, doing more to elevate the talent around him and create impact plays.
With Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat off to the NFL, the interior of the Hawkeyes' defensive line was a question mark at this time last season, but Jaleel Johnson quickly caught the eye of NFL scouts. He started all 14 games last season and finished with moderate production (45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks), but his game film was more intriguing than the stat sheet.
Described to me as a "pocket wrecker" by one NFL scout, Johnson carries his weight well with the body control and flexibility to break the rhythm of blockers and track the ball. While rangy to make stops away from the line of scrimmage, he needs to improve his gap integrity and limit his wasted movement, relying too much on motor and not instincts. Nonetheless, Johnson has the raw traits for the next level with his combination of athleticism, length and power. His development mentally and mechanically as a senior will be the key to his draft stock.
Since 2006, when Chad Greenway was drafted in the first round, Iowa has had seven linebackers selected on draft weekend, and Josey Jewell is the next in line to continue that trend. The Hawkeyes' returning starter at MIKE linebacker, Jewell was undersized out of high school, and Iowa was the only FBS program to offer him a scholarship (and that came at the last moment). But he is making the Hawkeyes look smart, coming off a breakout 2015 season with a team-best 126 tackles.
A self-made player who never takes a play off, Jewell has only average size/speed numbers, but his read/react skills are above average and allow him to be productive against both the run and the pass. He is quick to diagnose the offensive game plan and holds up well in coverage with 10 passes defended and four interceptions last season, crowding zones and jumping routes. Jewell was named a permanent team captain last season due to his leadership and intangibles, which will endear him to NFL coaches.
Replacing a player drafted top-five overall is always a challenge, and that was especially true for Iowa last season as they attempted to fill the hole left by Brandon Scherff at left tackle. Cole Croston was one of the players who tried to fill those shoes, starting six games at right tackle and four on the left side. It was his first season as a starter, so there were plenty of ups and downs, but Croston impressed the coaches with his development and is expected to be the Hawkeyes' starting left tackle for the season opener.
Croston, who is the son of 1987 third-round lineman Dave Croston, has a coordinated shuffle off the snap, sliding well and staying balanced in his kick-slide to mirror rushers. He has enough range to get outside, but needs to consistently bring his feet with him in pass protection, choosing to stop his feet and lunge.
While technically sound with his hands to always be in a ready position, Croston plays with high hips and can be too easily bullied, allowing power rushers to put him on his heels. He doesn't have the core strength to consistently compensate, but has added nearly 15 pounds since last fall and his coaches speak highly of his continued growth.
Other draft-eligible prospects to watch:
- LeShun Daniels, RB, SR. (5-11, 225, 4.62, #29)
- Matt VandeBerg , WR, SR. (6-1, 185, 4.54, #89)
- George Kittle , TE, rSR. (6-4, 242, 4.77, #46)
- Sean Welsh , OC, rJR. (6-3, 288, 5.10, #79)
- Nathan Bazata , DT, rJR. (6-2, 284, 4.96, #99)
- Greg Mabin , CB, rSR. (6-1, 200, 4.54, #13)
- Miles Taylor , SS, JR. (6-0, 195, 4.59, #19)
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