2021 NFL Draft: Where each former Iowa football player was picked; landing spots for undrafted Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Over the past five NFL Drafts, the Iowa Hawkeyes have had 20 players picked — including 17 in the first five rounds.
The Hawkeyes were right on that average in this year’s draft, with four players hearing their name called. Many who didn’t quickly signed with an NFL franchise as a free agent and will have an opportunity to make a roster.
The four draft picks bring Iowa’s total to 79 during the Kirk Ferentz era, which is entering Year 23.
A breakdown of where these former Hawks have landed.
DE Chauncey Golston: Round 3, Dallas Cowboys (No. 84 overall)
Ferentz spent a portion of his opening remarks after Saturday’s final spring practice to commend Golston’s workmanlike ascent to the NFL.
“He’s just kind of a prototypical Iowa player in my mind. A guy who came in here under-recruited. And, boy, he’s just done things in a quality fashion, really from the first day he got here,” Ferentz said. “He developed as a player, did everything he’s supposed to do academically and then some, graduated with ease in December. Just a first-class guy.”
Golston (6-foot-4½, 269 pounds) arrives to Dallas in a similar situation that former Hawkeye teammate Anthony Nelson did with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft. Last year, Nelson backed up star edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett for the Super Bowl champions.
In drafting Golston, the Cowboys get depth behind expected starters DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Golston has the flexibility to play inside, too.
According to Spotrac.com, Golston would be in line for $4.9 million over the course of a four-year rookie contract, including a signing bonus of $935,701.
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette: Round 5, Minnesota Vikings (No. 157 overall)
Before the draft, Smith-Marsette told the Register, "I feel like it’d be opening the door for future Hawkeye receivers to come. Something new, something different and take the legacy on a different path at Iowa."
Indeed, Smith-Marsette has broken through as the first wide-receiver draft pick for Iowa since Marvin McNutt in 2012 (and second since 2002). The slender speedster can really carry the Hawkeye banner if he produces at the next level.
Minnesota was a mid-pack team in kickoff returns a year ago (21.8 per attempt), and Smith-Marsette (28.4 for his career) should help in that category. Interesting side note: Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu was a fourth-round pick of the Vikings, and he is the Cyclones’ school-record holder in kickoff return yardage (and third in Big 12 history).
Smith-Marsette (6-1, 179) was due a $318,960 signing bonus, according to Spotrac.com, and if he makes the team would be in line for total compensation of a shade over $1 million as a rookie.
DT Daviyon Nixon: Round 5, Carolina Panthers (No. 158 overall)
Two of the most infamous draft slips of the recent Ferentz era happened in the 2017 draft. And by their second NFL season (in 2018), both of those fifth-round draft picks became all-pro picks. Those players were tight end George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers (No. 147 overall) and cornerback Desmond King of the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 151 overall).
Nixon certainly hopes he now matches their path after falling well below the first-round projected status he enjoyed several months ago. Even coming into this draft, he was expected to be picked between the second and fourth rounds. But obviously some concerns must have circulated in the NFL surrounding Nixon. It’s up to the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year to prove that they were unfounded.
While the Panthers drafted heavily on offense in the draft, Nixon (6-3, 313) and first-round cornerback Jaycee Horn were their big defensive swings.
Nixon would be in line to make just over $1 million as a rookie, including a $318,548 signing bonus, according to Spotrac.com.
LB Nick Niemann: Round 6, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 185 overall)
The cool aspect of Niemann’s arrival in the AFC West is that he’ll get to go against his older brother, Ben — a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs — twice a year. And the most recent Iowa linebacker to be drafted happens to play for another AFC West team (Josey Jewell of the Denver Broncos).
Nick Niemann was the very first pick of the sixth round and was the only linebacker drafted by Los Angeles, which is led by first-year coach Brandon Staley — a young defensive mastermind. Considering his older brother cut his teeth on special teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the younger Niemann follow that same path.
According to Spotrac.com, Niemann (6-3, 234) would receive a signing bonus of $214,002 and be in line for total compensation topping $900,000 as a rookie if he makes the team.
Undrafted free agents
Four-year starting left tackle Alaric Jackson was the most surprising undrafted Hawkeye. But as is always the case shortly after the seventh round, undrafted free agents aren't free for long. Jackson quickly latched on with the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams didn't draft an offensive lineman, so that would seem to be a good sign that Jackson can make the roster. ... Wide receiver Brandon Smith joined Golston as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. ... Tight end Shaun Beyer is signing with the Denver Broncos. Beyer joins friend and former tight-end teammate Noah Fant in the Mile High City. ... Defensive tackle Jack Heflin and offensive tackle Coy Cronk are headed north to join the Green Bay Packers. ... Offensive guard Cole Banwart and running back Mekhi Sargent are joining the Tennessee Titans. ... Linebacker Barrington Wade is headed to the Baltimore Ravens, where he'll join former Hawkeye teammates Geno Stone and Kristian Welch.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.