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Scouting breakdowns of Iowa players invited to NFL Combine

Mark Emmert
memmert@gannett.com

Four former Iowa Hawkeye football players have been invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine — a big step in their chances at a professional career.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, cornerback Desmond King and tight end George Kittle will each get a chance to show NFL scouts what they can do at the combine, held Feb. 28 through March 6 in Indianapolis.

Former Drake tight end Eric Saubert also was invited to the combine.

Iowa cornerback Desmond King cradles an interception against Florida in the Outback Bowl last month. It was the 14th and final pick of his Hawkeyes career.

A closer look at each of the five, with analysis from NFL.com writer Lance Zierlein:

North squad cornerback Desmond King of Iowa (14) runs on the field during the player introductions of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

Desmond King

Not surprisingly, King is the highest-graded of the quintet, coming off back-to-back all-American selections. King had 58 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups as a senior after winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best cornerback in his junior year. He also returned kickoffs and punts for the Hawkeyes, piling up 1,014 yards last season.

Zierlein gave King a 5.8 grade on a 10-point scale. That equates to "chance to become NFL starter," according to the system NFL.com uses.

King is the "ultimate iron man" and his "football instincts are off the charts," Zierlein wrote. "Has ball-tracking, hands and high-point talent of a wideout." However, Zierlein noted that King "can be mismatched by legitimate speed merchants." He said, for that reason, King likely will play safety in the NFL.

His NFL comparison is Saints free safety Jairus Byrd, Zierlein concluded.

North squad defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson of Iowa (97) lines up during Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Jaleel Johnson

Johnson graded a 5.67 on Zierlein's scale. The 6-foot-3, 309-pounder had 55 tackles, led Iowa with 7.5 sacks and added five quarterback hurries as a senior. He also recorded the safety that helped turn the tide in the Hawkeyes 14-13 upset of Michigan.

"Accelerates into blockers with forceful punch at point of attack," Zierlein wrote of Johnson. "Loose hips and flexible upper body are play-making tools."

But Zierlein also cautioned that Johnson "is a little soft around the middle and lacking thickness through arms" and "can be a little slow to recognize screen passes."

Zierlein projected Johnson as a potential NFL starter whose strength will be as a pass-rusher, not a run-stuffer.

His NFL comparison was Redskins defensive end Ziggy Hood.

C.J. Beathard played most of the second quarter for the North team during Saturday's Senior Bowl.

C.J. Beathard

Beathard had a rough senior season after a breakout junior campaign. He completed 170 of 301 passes for 1,929 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2016 and didn't show the same mobility that he had the previous year. But Iowa's receiving corps also was depleted last fall.

Zierlein graded him at 5.28, meaning "NFL backup."

"Plays with relatively calm demeanor," Zierlein wrote of Beathard. "Team leader with ability to handle adversity. Won't take unnecessary chances."

On the downside, Zierlein said: "Hesitation is a noticeable issue. ... Slow field scanner who tends to lock into a single side. ... Poor feel for pocket pressure."

Beathard was sacked 58 times the past two seasons.

That led to this conclusion from Zierlein: "Could be a career backup who finds himself in the action at some point down the road."

His NFL comparison is Texans backup quarterback Tom Savage.

Iowa wide receiver George Kittle (46) runs the ball as he breaks away from the North Dakota State defense Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 during the Hawkeyes game against the Bison at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

George Kittle

The biggest surprise among the Hawkeye combine invitees, Kittle didn't get a grade from NFL.com. He was the only one of the four not to play in the Senior Bowl all-star game.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder dealt with injuries as a senior and caught only 22 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns. He is also known as a terrific blocker.

Drake tight end Eric Saubert is impressing as an NFL Draft prospect at the Shine Game practices.

Eric Saubert

Saubert, an Illinois native, caught 111 passes and scored 17 touchdowns in his last two season with the Bulldogs.

Zierlein gave him a grade of 5.37.

"Man amongst boys in red zone where he dominated lesser competition," Zierlein wrote of Saubert. "Has ability to make acrobatic catches when he's focused."

Zierlein cautioned: "Tape is littered with drops for days. ... Hand-eye coordination simply isn't where it needs to be. Doesn't always play to his size (6-5, 251)."

Zierlein said Saubert should test well at the combine, but the inconsistency on film will give NFL teams pause as to how high they want to draft him. He does have "starter's potential, but with a low floor," Zierlein said.

His NFL comparison was Titans tight end Jace Amaro.