In NFL Draft, look for Iowa Hawkeyes on discount rack
In 13 of the last 14 NFL Drafts, an Iowa Hawkeye has been selected in the third round or earlier.
But it might not happen this year, which is odd to consider with Iowa coming off a historic 12-0 regular season and first Rose Bowl bid in 25 years.
Don't look for the Hawkeyes to get shut out, though, for the first time since the NFL Draft went to seven rounds in 1994.
Rimington Award finalist Austin Blythe, who started 49 games as a Hawkeye, might be the most likely to get chosen. But after the first three rounds, which take place Thursday and Friday in Chicago, Rounds 4-7 on Saturday can become an unpredictable free-for-all.
“I’m just trying to continue to train, answering any phone calls I get from teams. Which interestingly enough, hasn’t been a ton,” Blythe said recently. “But that could mean several different things. You’ve got to control what you can control and prepare yourself to go into a camp ready to go.”
In Rose Bowl prep in late December, Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz thought Blythe could be the first center drafted. Blythe’s NFL.com draft profile raves about his body control, mobility, patience and strength but says he’s “undersized by every standard that NFL teams use for centers” and projects him as a sixth- or seventh-rounder. Yet USA TODAY's DraftWire said Blythe was "one of the more underrated prospects" in the draft and could be a third-round steal.
At the NFL Combine, Blythe's 29 bench-press reps at 225 pounds topped all centers.
“Tough, dependable, reliable, experienced, smart – go down the list. Athletic. I know in the NFL they get caught up on measurables and value to the team based on what position,” said Ferentz, who spent four years on Bill Belichick’s staff with the New England Patriots. “(Blythe) can play center or guard, and he’s done it at a high level at a good program. And he’s got pretty good pedigree, I would take him.”
Blythe is floating in the same boat as many of his other Hawkeye classmates: Really good college football players that might get passed over by the eye test. But as Blythe pointed out, “It just takes one team (out of 32) to like you.”
Like the majority of top NFL candidates in his class, Blythe brought uncertainty into the week. They'll either go to an NFL camp from among the 253 players drafted or as a free agent. The list includes placekicker Marshall Koehn, tight end Henry Krieger Coble, safety Jordan Lomax, defensive end Drew Ott (a true wild card), wide receiver Tevaun Smith and offensive lineman Jordan Walsh.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen on draft day,” Lomax said. “They could say you’re going in this round, and you end up not getting drafted.”
Here’s a look at what some draft websites are saying about the Hawkeye prospects:
Blythe (6-2, 291, 5.32 seconds in 40-yard dash) -- A CBSSports.com mock draft has him going in the sixth round to the Los Angeles Rams. That site agrees with Ferentz, that Blythe is “pro-ready” and has the “toughness and technique to project as a future starter.” Blythe's agent is Cleveland-based Neil Cornrich, who represented No. 5 overall pick Brandon Scherff last year.
Koehn (6-1, 197, 4.61/40) -- Looking at that 40 time that dazzled Combine watchers, no wonder Iowa tried two fake field goals with him last season. Koehn’s big leg will give him a shot in an NFL camp. He reportedly hit 15 of 16 field goal attempts (with a long of 55 yards) for scouts on Iowa’s pro day.
Krieger Coble (6-3, 248, 4.8/40) -- The aforementioned CBS mock has the Mount Pleasant native going in the seventh round to the Oakland Raiders. His NFL.com draft profile compares Krieger Coble to Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson because of his excellent hands and run-blocking skill.
Lomax (5-10, 202, 4.62/40) -- A FoxSports.com mock draft has him going in the seventh round to the Miami Dolphins. At minimum, the hard hitter will end up with an NFL camp as a priority free agent.
Ott (6-4, 277) -- He could be a discount-rack find for an NFL team as he continues recovery from a torn ACL and Tommy John surgery. Though NFL.com wonders about his limited range and athleticism, he’s shown on film to be a high-effort, powerful pass rusher. The FoxSports.com mock projects the Tennessee Titans taking a chance on Ott in the seventh round. “If Drew would’ve had his healthy senior year and continued the way he was going," agent Cornrich said, "he was probably a second-round draft pick."
Smith (6-0, 205, 4.38/40) -- NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, one of the most revered scouts in the game, said Smith would get drafted after the Canadian's phenomenal pro day in Iowa City, in which he showed impressive speed and a 38-inch vertical jump. Smith caught two touchdown passes of 80-plus yards for the Hawkeyes in 2015.
Walsh (6-2, 311, 5.31/40) – Though he was a first-team all-Big Ten Conference right guard, Walsh’s stock seems to be trending toward undrafted free agent. CBSSports.com thought he might be best suited as an NFL center. “When you're an interior guy, if you haven’t snapped the ball and you’re not 6-5, that can be a little bit of a problem,” Ferentz said. “But he's a tough guy."