Leistikow: King can send NFL a message by stifling Lazard

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — At this time next year, Desmond King should be within days of making his NFL debut.

But will he be doing so as a first-round draft pick and guaranteed multi-millionaire? Saturday’s matchup against Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard could be a determining factor.

Iowa’s King vs. Iowa State’s Lazard is must-see-TV — for pro scouts, too.

The Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback came back for his senior year so he could get his degree and settle "unfinished" team business. Coming back also gives him spotlight moments like this.

With a lock-down performance against one of college football’s most talented, physical receivers, King would re-raise his own profile, and that of the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes.

Desmond King (14) sprints off the field with teammates Miles Taylor (19) and Josey Jewell (43) last season at Jack Trice Stadium after King's interception of Sam Richardson clinched the Hawkeyes' win. Iowa led 24-17 at the time, and Jordan Canzeri ran for a touchdown a few plays later.

Lazard stands 6-foot-5, 223 pounds. He’s caught passes in 24 consecutive games, a Cyclone record. The junior from Urbandale has similar size and ability to the guys King will be tasked to face on Sundays next fall.

“I like his playmaking ability,” King said this week. “He’s one of those receivers that will go up and get the ball, get open for his quarterback.”

King will give up six inches to Lazard. But at 5-11, 203, the senior from Detroit counters with a physical, fundamentally-sound style.

“One thing we noticed on film is when you get to jamming him and not letting him off the line that it kind of affects his play,” King said of Lazard, “so we’re going to try to play more aggressive this game and try to play physical with him.”

Pro Football Focus ranked King before the season as the No. 1 college cornerback. The analytics website also noted that in addition to King’s excellent ball skills (including eight interceptions last year), “he’s also strong in run support, ranking third in the nation last season, while missing only five tackles on 138 attempts the last two seasons.”

In other words, King rarely gives up big plays.

Lazard is a unique challenge, though.

As Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin put it, “He gets away with pushing off a little bit, just because he’s a bigger guy.”

Against Northern Iowa in Week 1, Lazard's six catches for 129 yards accounted for 42 percent of the Cyclones’ offense.

It's hard to tell if King is as pumped for this duel as the Cy-Hawk rivalry's fans. His businesslike approach reflects Iowa's culture.

“He doesn’t really care who it is,” Hawkeye safety Miles Taylor said. “He just wants to go out there and play and do his job and have correct fundamentals and technique. That’s why he’s so good.”

That level-headed approach has worked well for King.

It was his interception of Sam Richardson that sealed the Hawkeyes' 31-17 win at Iowa State in the second game of 2015.

A week later, he intercepted two first-quarter passes while guarding Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd, then one of the nation's premier receivers and now with the Cincinnati Bengals, in a 27-24 win.

Those games were tone-setters in Iowa’s 12-0 regular season.

King has said he wants to be one of the top-three cornerbacks chosen in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Saturday under the Kinnick Stadium lights, he can move a step closer to that goal and send the Hawkeyes to 2-0 in the process.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.