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Developing a strong, winning culture has to start over every year.

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — There are better ways to evaluate the strength of a college football team than the number of its NFL Draft picks.

Win-loss record, for example.

But for any Iowa fans still stinging from the Hawkeyes’ one-draft-pick weekend, know this:

Next year figures to be much better, at least on that front.

Early (ridiculously early?) projections have five Iowa seniors-to-be in line to hear their names called during the 2017 NFL Draft, led by all-American cornerback Desmond King. Hawkeyes offensive line coach/run game coordinator Brian Ferentz threw a sixth possibility into the mix on Wednesday’s “Hawk Central” radio show in tight end George Kittle.

And that’s not even factoring in the possibility that someone such as ball-hawking linebacker Josey Jewell may choose to turn pro after their junior season.

Feel better, Hawkeye fans?

Head coach Kirk Ferentz, acknowledging he was surprised that center Austin Blythe was the only Hawkeye selected in the 2016 draft after a 12-2 season, cautioned against reading too much into what the NFL does.

“We’re not here to produce NFL players. That’s a byproduct of things working right,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday after laughing when asked about 2017 mock drafts already appearing online. “What’s important is guys doing their job here and really maximizing what they can as players at Iowa.”

Those efforts won’t begin to be judged until the season begins in September. But, if you don’t want to wait that long, here are some Hawkeyes that NFL pundits are already touting:

  • King would have been a high pick if he had turned pro after a sensational junior campaign that included 72 tackles and eight interceptions. Most mock drafts have him as a first-round selection next spring, with Pro Football Focus listing him at fourth overall and saying his “all-around game translates well to the next level.” What’s more, after Iowa was the last Big Ten Conference team to have a player selected in 2016, a few mock drafts have King being the first Big Ten product off the board in ’17.
  • C.J. Beathard is viewed as the second-best senior quarterback prospect by CBSSports.com. 
  • Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson also gets high marks from that website. He's sixth at his position.
  • Cole Croston is listed as the 13th-best offensive tackle who will be available.
  • And King’s positional partner Greg Mabin made the top 20 at cornerback.

Brian Ferentz, who spent four years on the coaching staff of the New England Patriots, said he could see all five of those players getting drafted, along with Kittle, assuming he has a big senior season. But he also said it’s dangerous to try to predict what NFL front offices are going to do. For example, Ferentz said he thought last year’s top tight end at Iowa, Henry Krieger Coble, would be drafted along with Blythe.

“They’re trying to improve their roster. It’s not my place to really judge what NFL teams do,” Brian Ferentz said.

“They get paid a lot of money to make tough decisions. Their job is to find problems with guys.”

Ferentz said that was why it was so disingenuous for someone such as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio to express indignation after his quarterback, Connor Cook, fell to the fourth round in the draft after questions arose about his leadership and overall attitude. "Writers need to check their facts and 'sources' inside the bubble," Dantonio wrote on Twitter in response to the criticism. But it's well understood those are areas that NFL scouts will explore before investing millions of dollars in a player, Ferentz said. Not being named a team captain as a senior quarterback can be seen as a red flag.

“For a long time, you read just positive things about yourself. But when you become draftable, people are going to pick you apart,” Brian Ferentz said on Hawk Central.

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Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz offers an assessment of his team's practices.

So he’s sure that Beathard’s stature (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is going to be seen as a drawback by some, even as he’s sure that Beathard can overcome those doubts with his play on the field. Ferentz pointed to Johnson and Croston as playing positions that are highly coveted by NFL teams. With King, it’s just a matter of how teams project his value, he said.

And there are certainly other Hawkeyes who could play their way into the NFL conversation this fall.

“I know this, they can all help their status by playing well,” Kirk Ferentz said of his next group of upperclassmen. “It’s a simple formula: Play well in college, and that gives you a better chance.”

Brian Ferentz said there may be one positive to come out of Iowa’s poor showing in last weekend’s draft, calling it “an excellent wake-up call” to this year’s seniors to worry more about team goals than any individual accolades.

“When you have success as a group, you start to think that you’re the reason for that,” he said. “Maybe we can all learn from that and figure out that the collective is more important.”

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