Five Hawkeyes heading to NFL Combine: What do they need to show before the draft?

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Two athletes who cut short their Iowa football careers for a shot at the NFL will be under the microscope this week at the league’s annual scouting combine. 

“The most intriguing corner in this draft is going to have a big week … one way or the other, and that's Josh Jackson,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told reporters Monday, referencing the former Hawkeye who emerged as one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in his lone year as a starter last fall.

“I’ve heard people talk about, is he the next Richard Sherman?” Mayock said later.

Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson, left, runs a drill with receiver Henry Marchese prior to kickoff against Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

That’s high praise, and Jackson will begin his quest to live up to it at Lucas Oil Stadium, with the key being his time in the 40-yard dash. He is widely seen as a first-round pick, with the potential to move into the top 15 selections in April.

Former Iowa center James Daniels, a two-year Hawkeye starter who is still only 20 years old, also is a potential first-rounder, Mayock said, although he is competing with three others to be the second interior offensive lineman to hear his name called.

“A big, square dude,” Mayock said of Daniels, who played in college at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds.

Mayock meant that as a compliment. Daniels is an intriguing prospect for a lot of reasons.

In addition, former Hawkeye linebacker Josey Jewell, running back Akrum Wadley and guard Sean Welsh will be participating in the drills, medical and psychological tests and discussions with NFL executives that run from Wednesday-Monday in downtown Indianapolis.

A closer look at what each player is hoping to showcase in their first big-time exposure to the professional talent evaluators:


Position: Cornerback

Listed size: 6-1, 192

Combine schedule: Arrives Friday, medical examinations Saturday, meets with media Sunday, on-field drills Monday.

How he’s viewed:Jackson was an unknown a year ago, a terrific athlete out of Texas who dabbled at playing wide receiver for the Hawkeyes before making one start at cornerback as a sophomore. As a junior, he led the nation with eight interceptions and broke up another 18 passes. It was a startling rise to all-American status and now he’s widely viewed as the second-best cornerback in this draft (behind Ohio State’s Denzel Ward).

What they’re saying: “What I like about him is he can play zone. He understands what the No. 2 and 3 receivers are doing when he's out on No. 1. He's got great eyes, great instincts, and he trusts them. It's rare when you get a corner that has great instincts. Look at Marcus Peters, an off corner with great instincts. Josh Jackson, what he has to show is at what level can he run? Is he a sub-4.5 guy? Is he a sub-4.55 guy, or is he a 4.6 guy? We're going to find out.” — Mayock.

Iowa junior center James Daniels discusses with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz on the sideline against Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.


Position: Interior offensive line

Listed size: 6-4, 295

Combine schedule: Arrived Tuesday, medical examinations Wednesday, meets with media Thursday, on-field drills Friday.

How he’s viewed: Hawkeye offensive linemen always carry a favorable impression with scouts, based on the coaching and development they receive during their time in Iowa City. But Daniels also brings some outstanding athleticism to his position in terms of his speed and footwork. He also has the advantage of youth, which allows NFL teams to project what he can become with some extra muscle and experience. The question for him will be strength. Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) is expected to be the first draftee among the interior offensive linemen. That puts Daniels among a group that includes Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Will Hernandez (Texas-El Paso) and Billy Price (Ohio State) as the next tier. Those four figure to be selected anywhere from the late first to the early third round. Obviously, Daniels wants to be on the high end of that, which would guarantee him a lot more money.

What they’re saying: “Whenever you're watching Iowa offensive linemen, you know you're going to get a technique-proficient guy. That is what it is with James Daniels. … The Kirk Ferentz tree of offensive line coaches is phenomenal. So I know what I'm going to get when I get an offensive lineman from Iowa. In the case of Daniels, not only is his technique good, but he's a big kid with physical ability. I think he can play all three interior offensive line positions, but being a center for me gives him more value.” — Mayock.


Position: Linebacker (off the ball)

Listed size: 6-2, 236

Combine schedule: Arrives Thursday, medical examinations Friday, meets with media Saturday, on-field drills Sunday.

How he’s viewed: Jewell, like Jackson, was a unanimous all-American last fall. The Decorah native is one of the best — and most popular — Hawkeyes in history. Fans love his back story of being barely recruited to starring for three years as the heart and soul of Iowa’s defense. But NFL interest has been hard to read. Jewell is not thought to have the size or athletic gifts to be a star at the next level, although no one doubts he’ll be a solid pro. The question then becomes, how high of a draft pick to expend on such a player? And what can Jewell do to turn heads when being flashy has never been his style? If he can run a 40 comfortably in the 4.6s or turn in a 34-inch vertical leap, that would help his cause. He is seen as a fourth-round pick.

What they’re saying: “There’s a lot of super elite prospects at the position group (off-the-ball linebackers are players who typically aren’t called on to blitz). In order for linebackers like him to have that extra value, he’s going to have be extra productive in coverage. When you have oversized safeties coming down and kind of taking that role, the general opinion is that run-down linebackers aren’t as needed. I think he can play all three plays (in the NFL), I just don’t think he excels in any one area at the next level. He graded out the ninth-best Big Ten linebacker. I would attribute a lot of that to the Big Ten just having a ton of really good linebackers. He missed 18 tackles (in 2017). But he had a lot. There’s a lot of volume there. In coverage, pretty solid. Kept everything in front of him. The only really big gain was against Michigan State, a 31-yarder. Nothing else over 20. He didn’t allow any touchdowns, had two picks and seven passes defended. That’s pretty good stuff for his size. He’s probably the fourth or fifth off-the-ball linebacker in the draft class.” — Josh Liskiewitz, Big Ten talent evaluator for Pro Football Focus

Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley takes off down the field against Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.


Position: Running back

Listed size: 5-11, 195

Combine schedule: Arrived Tuesday, medical examinations Wednesday, meets with media Thursday, on-field drills Friday.

How he’s viewed: Wadley had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Iowa and showed the ability to make big gains on receptions out of the backfield. His elusiveness is a top-tier skill. The questions revolve around his size (195 might be a stretch) and straight-line speed. He will also need to prove capable of pass-blocking if he is expected to be a third-down specialist. In a deep draft class for running backs, Wadley is seen as a mid- to late-round pick. He will have a tough time changing that perception in Indianapolis.

What they’re saying: “Knowing him off film, I don’t know that he’s going to show anything that’s going to help him stand out. His ability as a receiver is going to help him along with elusiveness in space. He’s not elite in size or speed. He can’t run a 40 too far above 4.6. He must catch the ball consistently. He doesn’t want any outliers (in drills) that are significantly lower than the other running backs. It’s going to be such a heap in yet another deep class at the position that you can’t be the guy that stands out as having a couple of bad measurables. That doesn’t preclude a guy from being productive at the next level, but it could cost you draft position. There are questions about his pass protection.” — Liskiewitz.

Iowa senior guard Sean Welsh raises the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl trophy as Hawkeye colored confetti flies after Iowa's 27-20 win over Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.


Position: Interior offensive line

Listed size: 6-3, 295

Combine schedule: Arrived Tuesday, medical examinations Wednesday, meets with media Thursday, on-field drills Friday.

How he’s viewed: Welsh was a versatile and veteran presence on Iowa’s offensive line, the leader of the unit. He is cerebral and not prone to mistakes. He was selected to play in the Senior Bowl (along with Wadley). But he’s generating little buzz because he is not considered athletic, and there is a question of how high his ceiling is. His size doesn’t help him, either. A lengthy NFL career is within reach, but Welsh has his work cut out for him if he’s to make waves at the combine. It’s a possibility that he goes undrafted.

What they’re saying: “He’s your average Iowa lineman. He doesn’t really stand out physically one way or the other. He’s probably a late-round prospect. If he had a huge day on the bench or just consistently was in the top five or so in every event, was consistently up there in terms of athleticism, that would help. He projects as an average NFL backup type that is probably smart enough, savvy enough to get some starts. The NFL is not really going to commit high picks to backup linemen like that. Those Day 3 picks, they want guys with high upside.” — Liskiewitz