Which Hawkeye football players have the best chance at being chosen during the annual three-day event? Danny Lawhon/Hawk Central
Iowa's NFL Draft streak will be extended to 40 years this week.
A Hawkeye has been selected in every draft since 1978, a run that was almost broken a year ago until center Austin Blythe was chosen with five picks remaining in the seventh round.
There's no such doubt this year, with four outgoing Hawkeye seniors expecting to hear their names called. Three of them have a good chance to be taken by the time Friday's second and third rounds are finished.
Here's a breakdown of Iowa's prospects in the three-day draft, which begins Thursday, with comments from a Register interview with Pro Football Focus senior analyst Steve Palazzollo.
DB Desmond King
Measurements: 5-10, 201, 4.52/40 (pro day)
Hawkeye career: One of the most decorated defensive players in the Kirk Ferentz era, King has his portrait already hanging in the Iowa Football Performance Center as a consensus all-American. Owns school records for games played (53), starts (51) and is tied for fourth in interceptions (14).
Palazzollo’s take: “I still think he’s one of the best zone corners in the draft. If you were to stack up draft boards, depending on the team, you could see him as a fringe first-(round) or second-round type player. … Understands the game. Sees the game really well. And that’s why I like him in the zone. He understands route concepts. Breaks on the ball. … He got tested more in the Senior Bowl than we probably saw him in man coverage at Iowa. That would be part of the concern.”
Final analysis: King could be a cornerback or a safety, depending on the system. PFF ranks him as the No. 14 corner and No. 64 overall player. NFL.com projects him as a third-rounder. Whoever drafts King will get an excellent football player.
DT Jaleel Johnson
Measurements: 6-3, 316, 5.38/40 (Combine)
Hawkeye career: Led the Hawkeyes with 7½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2016 and, along with King, was named first-team all-Big Ten.
Palazzollo’s take: “There are not a lot of players with his style in the draft, with that penetrating style, that classic 3-technique over the outside shoulder of the guard. … One of the better interior pass-rush options in this draft.”
Final analysis: A productive space-eater, PFF ranked Johnson sixth nationally in pass-rush productivity (43 pressures, 330 snaps). Had an excellent Senior Bowl performance, then a lackluster combine. Which wins out? NFL.com pegs him going in Rounds 3 or 4, but perhaps his upside at a thin position sneaks him into Round 2.
TE George Kittle
Measurements: 6-4, 247, 4.52/40 (Combine)
Hawkeye career: Despite being injured in the second half of the 2016 season, still piled up 10 touchdown receptions over his junior and senior years. His memorable block helped pave the way for Akrum Wadley’s game-winning, 54-yard touchdown run at Minnesota.
Palazzollo’s take: “I don’t know if the NFL is as high on Kittle as we are. … We have him as the No. 5 tight end. We have some guys pushing to make him our No. 3 tight end, because he blocks really well.”
Final analysis: PFF compares him to former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who was also effective as an H-back. Staggering Combine and pro day numbers underscored his athleticism, while PFF graded him as the second-best run-blocker among the 2016 tight-end class. NFL.com predicts he will be taken in the fourth round.
QB C.J. Beathard
Measurements: 6-2, 219, 4.79/40 (team workout)
Hawkeye career: Won the first 13 starts of his Hawkeye career and wound up 21-7 overall with 5,562 career passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Was second-team all-Big Ten as a junior. Had to work with an anemic group of receivers during parts of his career; PFF notes that 9.1 percent of his passes were dropped, third-highest among the QB draft class.
Palazzollo’s take: “I think he has plenty of arm for the next level. Maybe questionable from a touch standpoint. … Questionable decision-making at times, especially under pressure and late in the down. ... I think he’s a backup at the next level, a guy that should be a late-round guy that teams bring in and see what they get.”
Final analysis: PFF ranks Beathard as its No. 10 quarterback, and his stock seems to be on the upswing at a position with high interest. He was able to get healthy after being slowed by a hamstring injury he suffered in the Outback Bowl. Might be a late-round steal for a team looking for a smart, strong-armed option. NFL.com has him going in Rounds 6 or 7.
The Dubuque native ran the 40 in 4.36 seconds on Iowa's pro day. Chad Leistikow / The Register
OL Cole Croston (6-5, 314): Probably has the best chance outside the top four Hawkeyes to get drafted, giving Iowa’s history of offensive linemen (16 drafted since 2000). “A lot of offensive linemen have made careers in the NFL from the University of Iowa,” said Croston, who was injured for much of the second half of the 2016 season. Palazzollo noted Croston struggled at times in pass protection.
RB LeShun Daniels (5-11, 222): Ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash on Iowa’s pro day. “Taken a few visits, talked to numerous teams,” the powerful 1,000-yard back said. “Obviously, I would love to be drafted and hear your name called. But that’s not going to break me.” He’ll be in an NFL camp, one way or another.
WR Riley McCarron (5-9, 188): Taking a break from his accounting job in Kansas City to train full-time for a shot at the NFL. “Had a change of heart and put it on hold,” McCarron said. “Have been training with coach (Chris) Doyle for a while.” His prospects were emboldened by running the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds during Iowa’s pro day. That effort, plus his special-teams prowess, should get him a spot in a training camp.