NFL draft: What the Denver Broncos are getting in Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

How fitting that "The Outlaw" is headed West.

Josey Jewell, whose high motor and tenacious play made him the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as an Iowa senior, was drafted Saturday by the Denver Broncos with the No. 106 overall pick.

At Iowa, three-year starter and all-American Josey Jewell finished with 437 tackles, which ranks No. 4 in school history.

His game is befitting of his nickname. His parents named him after the vigilante portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the 1976 movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

Hawk Central columnist Chad Leistikow broke down what the Broncos can expect in this farm-raised middle linebacker.

The positives

At the Scouting Combine, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah polled all Big Ten Conference players and asked: Who is the best player you went up against?

The name that came up the most: Josey Jewell.

That’s the thing that stands out for Jewell: His tape. A fearless and aggressive presence at middle linebacker, Jewell displayed a combination of hard hits, savvy reads and durability throughout his Hawkeye career.

And while Jewell racked up the fourth-most tackles in Iowa history (with 437), it shouldn’t go unnoticed that he was a play-maker. For his career, Jewell accumulated six interceptions — including several in big moments (in the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game vs. Michigan State’s Connor Cook; in an instant 2017 classic vs. Penn State’s Trace McSorley) — along with 28 pass breakups and 28 tackles for loss.

According to, one AFC director scouting gave this glowing endorsement of Jewell: “Give me a guy with his mindset and instincts, and I can sell him to a coaching staff even if he's not as big as they are looking for. His tape will win them over."

The concerns

What doesn’t stand out about Jewell: His measurables. He’s considered under-sized at inside linebacker (6-foot-1, 234 pounds), and his 4.82-second 40-yard dash was something that pundits thought would drop him down the draft board. (Jewell did respond with a 4.68 on Iowa’s pro day, which eased some concerns.)

Given his label as an overachiever at the high Division I level, there’s a prevailing thought that Jewell doesn’t have a whole lot more upside.

Among the criticisms from’s Lance Zierlein in his scouting report of Jewell: “Gets lost behind defensive line when finding the football at times … can get engulfed by size and stuck on blocks … struggles to get early depth in his drops.”

Leistikow’s final thoughts

Even Kirk Ferentz will tell you today: The Hawkeyes (and everyone else) almost missed on Jewell. Were it not for a gut feeling that assistant coach Reese Morgan had about Jewell, this eventual Jack Lambert Award winner (college football’s top linebacker) would have been headed to Division III Luther College in his hometown of Decorah, Iowa.

So, to say Jewell is undervalued is just par for the course.

But if the Broncos did their homework on Jewell, they know what they’re getting. He is a film-study freak, a ready to-play linebacker who excels against the run. That alone should keep him on the field for first and second downs early in his career, when he’ll likely excel on special teams.

Though he has average linebacker speed by NFL standards, Jewell possesses “football speed” because of his stellar on-field instincts. His game is tailored toward zone schemes, something he mastered while becoming one of Iowa’s all-time defensive greats.

Jewell fueled his college rise in part by seeking out criticisms, then digging deep inside to prove them wrong. A quiet but determined individual, Jewell’s selfless approach to the game will endear him to teammates. That intrinsic quality helped him become a team leader with the Hawkeyes; he remains the only three-time captain Ferentz has had in his 20 years as coach.

Bottom line: Look at Jewell’s tape. John Elway and the Broncos certainly did. The evidence shows he has the makeup to be an NFL starter for many years to come.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.