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The Big Ten's defensive back of the year had another great game in Iowa's 27-22 win over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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Iowa sent four players to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week.

And all four proved they are ready to make an immediate impact at the next level.

That’s the word from Matt Bowen, a former Hawkeye safety and current NFL analyst for ESPN, who was on site.

“They all have the talent to play in the NFL next year, to be contributors in their first years,” Bowen said of former Iowa tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, defensive end Anthony Nelson and safety Amani Hooker.

“You’ve got to give credit to the Iowa coaching staff here. These guys are pro-ready. When you go to an NFL training camp, the first day you put pads on, no one cares what your 40 time is anymore. You best be ready to play. And you’ll be playing against guys that have been in the league eight, nine, 10 years. And if you’re not ready to play, they’ll bury you. Right there on the field.”

A closer look at the four Hawkeyes, all of whom could be drafted in the first three rounds after leaving college early:

NOAH FANT

Key measurables: At 6-foot-4, 249 pounds, he ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, 6.81 seconds in the three-cone drill and showed a 39 ½-inch vertical leap.

Bowen’s view: “When you take those testing numbers and you apply it to Fant’s game, what he can do in the modern NFL, he can be a slot tight end. A tight end that’s flexed in the formation, that can draw matchups vs. a safety, vs. a dime or nickel linebacker. He can go to work on them. He can run vertical routes inside the number, crossing routes. You’ve seen at Iowa he can even run bubble screens. He fits what the NFL wants today from a pass-game perspective.”

Where he will be drafted: A likely first-rounder, in Bowen’s view. “It depends on how the board plays out. If a team is looking for an offensive player that can create mismatches in their specific system, he’s the choice. If there’s a run on a position early, that pushes tight ends down. He’s definitely a first-round talent.”

T.J. HOCKENSON

Key measurables: 6-5, 251, with a 4.7-second 40, 37 ½-inch vertical and an impressive 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle.

Bowen’s view: “What you saw at the Combine is what you see on the tape. He’s a very smart route-runner who knows how to create leverage to the football, who knows how to create leverage vs. man coverage, find the open hole when he’s running the seam route, and he’s a three-down player. If I’m his coach, he doesn’t come off the field. Because I can run my playbook in reduced sets when he’s an in-line tight end blocking at the point of attack. I know I also can flex him in formation. And you’ve seen what he can do after the catch. What I expect him to do more so in the NFL is to work the middle of the field like crazy. Run seam routes, square-ins, little quick unders, shallows, just to get the matchup and see what he can do after the catch. That’s where I think he’s going to be excellent in the NFL is making the catch and getting upfield and moving the chains.”

Where he will be drafted: Bowen, like many analysts, sees Hockenson as the best tight end in the draft and a surefire first-round choice.

ANTHONY NELSON

Key measurables: At 6-7, 271, Nelson showed terrific speed with a 4.82-second 40 and a 6.95-second three-cone drill. He also jumped 35 ½ inches. All that plus arms that measured 34 7/8 inches.

Bowen’s view: “He’s got the movement skills to redirect and bend on the edge. That’s what you’re looking for from a defensive end, someone who can redirect, has some short-area speed who can also bend and show the athleticism to turn the corner. He’s got length. That allows him to do the two-hand punch, create separation from the blocker, and then technique comes into play.”

Where he will be drafted: Bowen thinks the third or fourth round in a deep class of defensive linemen. “He could play eight years in the league because he’s going to develop his body in the NFL. He’s going to develop even more technique.”

AMANI HOOKER

Key measurables: 5-11, 210, with a 4.48 40 time and 6.81 seconds in the three-cone.

Bowen’s view: “Amani fits into the mold of what the NFL is looking for now in that second level, especially in sub packages. There’s great tape of Amani because of what coach (Phil) Parker did, moving him down almost like a slot safety. Because that caters more to his skill-set, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean he can’t play deep. It’s playing downhill. It’s playing in space. It’s lateral movement skills to match a tight end in the open field, to carry a seam route, to drive downhill and tackle. Those things matter.”

Where he will be drafted: Bowen thinks rounds 2-4, depending on when teams start coveting the few standout “hybrid” safeties in the class. Bowen sees Hooker in a group that includes Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson of Florida and Juan Thornhill of Virginia.

 

 

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