After winning 11 games in 2009, Iowa has averaged only 6.8 victories per season each of the last four years, but the program appears to be on the rise, especially with a very manageable 2014 schedule (Wisconsin at home, no Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan and the toughest non-conference game is Pittsburgh). Despite the recent struggles, Kirk Ferentz, who is entering his 16th season as the head coach of the Hawkeyes, continues to send players to the NFL.
Iowa has had a player drafted every year since 1978, one of the longest active streaks in the Big Ten. And barring injury, 2015 prospect Brandon Scherff will all but guarantee that streak extends another year.
Iowa's NFL Draft-Eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
OT Brandon Scherff, RS Senior (6-5 | 315 | 5.09 | #68)
Iowa's program has been an offensive line factory since Ferentz took over in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes haven't had a draft pick at the position the past two years. However, that will change in the 2015 NFL Draft with Scherff, who moved from guard to left tackle last season and blossomed into one of college football's top linemen. He is balanced with a naturally wide base and light feet, controlling his momentum well despite some hip and joint tightness. Scherff is an outstanding drive blocker with the punch to jolt and drive his man where he wants with above average hand use to attack rushers, keeping separation between him and his target. He shifts his weight well and can be a wrecking ball at the second level with an eager blocking attitude and the demeanor of a wrestler, taking down rushers. Scherff has drawn some “better guard than tackle” distinctions from pro scouts due to his body type and skill-set, but he has the ability to stay outside at the next level. He enters the 2014 season as a contender to be the first offensive lineman drafted next spring, projecting somewhere in the first round.
DT Carl Davis, RS Senior (6-4 | 315 | 5.12 | #71)
The anchor of Iowa's defense, Davis was a first-year starter as a junior in 2013 and emerged as one of the Hawkeye's most valuable defenders. Lining up mostly at the one-technique tackle position, he finished last season with moderate production (42 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks), but his impact was felt far beyond the stat sheet. Davis plays with excellent base strength and isn't an easy player to move, handling double-teams well and not allowing himself to be swallowed up by blockers. He has a strong upper body to stack-and-shed with power to control blocks and force the issue, showing accurate hand placement to latch-and-toss. Davis is more of a short-area defender with only average body control and redirection technique and while he shows good knee bend and flexibility, he often struggles with leverage issues. Based on 2013 game tape, Davis appeared to improve his anticipation and awareness with each game and should get even better with more reps in 2014, one of the main reasons he is one of the top senior prospects at his position.
OG Jordan Walsh, RS Junior (6-3 | 290 | 5.24 | #65)
While Scherff is obviously the leader of the offensive line, Iowa has a talented unit up front with several prospects worth watching, including Walsh at right guard. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore last season and more than held his own against several quality interior rushers, including Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. Walsh isn't the strongest and doesn't consistently use his length properly, but he holds his ground at the point of attack, squaring his frame and bending his knees to absorb contact. He plays with excellent body control and engages well at the second level with the finishing attitude needed for the position. While not overpowering, Walsh is always looking for someone to block and rarely loses in one-on-one battles. He has a squatty body type and might be a better center at the next level, but his 2013 tape is encouraging for his future.
SS John Lowdermilk, Senior (6-2 | 207 | 4.65 | #37)
As the son of one of Ohio State's best blockers in school history, Lowdermilk grew up a Buckeyes fan in central Ohio. He became his high school's all-time leading passer, but wasn't highly recruited and Iowa offered him a scholarship at the other position he played at Carrollton High School: defensive back. Lowdermilk saw limited playing time on special teams early in his career and earned the nod as the Hawkeyes starting strong safety last season, finishing fourth on the team with 78 tackles. He recorded his first career interception in the bowl game vs. LSU, returning in 71 yards for what should have been a touchdown (he dropped the ball shortly before crossing the end zone). Lowdermilk is physical and delivers a pop coming downhill while also showing the versatility to line up in man coverage and cover slot receivers. He doesn't have the speed or transitional technique to be routinely left on an island, but plays smart, assignment sound football wherever he lines up on the field. Scouts love bloodlines and Lowdermilk has those too as his dad played 12 seasons in the NFL (1984-96) at center and at one point was the highest paid offensive lineman ever, playing a total of 178 games over his career. As the younger Lowdermilk enters his senior season, look for him to fill the leadership void as the Hawkeyes are forced to replace seven starters on defense.
Other Iowa prospects worth watching:
RB Mark Weisman, Senior (6-0 | 236 | 4.70 | #45)
Iowa's running back situation has been a revolving door in recent years, but Weisman has helped bring stability to the backfield. Built like a fullback, he rarely wins with make-you-miss quickness, but he does have the balance, power, and no-nonsense run style that allows him to rack up positive yardage, leading the Hawkeyes with 975 rushing yards in 2013.
WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, RS Senior (6-0 | 205 | 4.58 | #11)
Despite only 388 receiving yards last season, Martin-Manley led the team in receiving and is the active leader on the team in career catches. He tends to struggle with consistency and needs to improve his routes and reliability finishing catches, but also adds value as a return man with a pair of punt returns for scores last year.
OT Andrew Donnal, RS Senior (6-6 | 305 | 4.94 | #78)
There isn't much tape for scouts to evaluate on Donnal because he's been a career reserve up until this point. But he's expected to start opposite Scherff at right tackle in 2014 and did a nice job in the spring. With plenty of scouts flocking to Iowa City to get to know Scherff, Donnal has an excellent opportunity to impress campus visitors this fall.
DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, RS Senior (6-2 | 290 | 5.02 | #90)
Carl Davis receives most of the attention (and with good reason) on Iowa's interior defensive line, but Trinca-Pasat has some encouraging tape the last two seasons. He led all Hawkeye defensive linemen with 8.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year and although he doesn't have Davis' anchor or strength, he shows better quickness and range.
LB Quinton Alston, Senior (6-1 | 232 | 4.69 | #52)
Iowa is forced to replace all three of their starting linebackers from a year ago, three linebackers that were all drafted. Although he has only one career start, Alston is basically the veteran of Iowa's linebacker group as he will try and fill the shoes of James Morris at middle linebacker.