Grading the Hawkeyes at NFL Combine

Mark Emmert

George Kittle took a big leap forward, Jaleel Johnson looked sluggish, while C.J. Beathard and Desmond King showed few surprises.

That’s one analyst’s assessment of the four former Iowa football players who participated in the NFL Scouting Combine that ended Monday in Indianapolis.

King, Kittle and Johnson all figure to get drafted next month, Josh Liskiewitz of Pro Football Focus told the Register, while Beathard may have to attempt a free-agent path to an NFL career.

Former Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard needs more arm strength, but will intrigue some NFL teams with his football acumen, one analyst said after Beathard's NFL Scouting Combine performance.

A closer look at the four ex-Hawkeyes:

Iowa defensive back Desmond King performed at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday in Indianapolis.

Desmond King

Liskiewitz, whose focus is Big Ten Conference prospects, thought King looked fluid in his positional workouts Monday, but said he still has to make up for a poor impression he made on scouts during the Senior Bowl.

“I think he just struggled in man coverage, which obviously that’s kind of important for being a cornerback. He was biting at double-moves. He just wasn’t staying with guys downfield. You can tell he was just getting frustrated and his confidence dropped. You have to be the alpha dog. You have to have a short memory, and he didn’t show that,” Liskiewitz said of King’s performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January.

“I think he’s a good enough player once Sunday comes to where he can overcome that.”

MORE ON KING: King has middling NFL Combine showing while other DBs flourish

There has been much speculation that King will have to switch to safety to find a home in the NFL. But Liskiewitz said that’s not necessarily true. He noted that PFF consistently graded King as a top college cornerback during a productive Iowa career.

“I can still see him at corner. The Senior Bowl, that’s a point that’s going to scare some teams off I think,” Liskiewitz said. “That can’t be the be-all, end-all at the same time. My guess is he’s going to be a pretty good starter in the NFL.”

Liskiewitz sees King as a third-round NFL Draft pick. Next up for King is to run the 40-yard dash at Iowa’s Pro Day later this month. King skipped that test at the combine because of an abdominal strain.

“If he runs sub-4.5, that’s going to help,” Liskiewitz said.

Iowa tight end George Kittle runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 4, 2017.

George Kittle

The tight end had a fantastic combine, putting up eye-opening numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.52) as well as the long and broad jumps. Liskiewitz has always been high on Kittle, so he said he wasn’t really surprised, but now other NFL personnel may be taking note.

Liskiewitz said Kittle has to be considered at least a third-round pick after what he did in Indianapolis.

“The consensus was that he was the best blocker in his class. Obviously, athleticism-wise, he’s right at the top, too, and it’s a good class,” Liskiewitz said.

MORE ON KITTLE: Iowa tight end George Kittle wows at NFL Combine

Liskiewitz sees the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots as potential ideal landing spots for Kittle.

“If he doesn’t go Day 2 (April 28), then something else is up there, whether it’s medical or something off-field with him, which I can’t imagine. Or teams are just making a big mistake,” Liskiewitz said. “I think he’s a stud. And he can block and catch, which is valuable. Those guys are few and far between right now in the NFL.”

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis.

C.J. Beathard

The quarterback is among a group of prospects that could be chosen late in the sixth or in the seventh round April 29. Or go undrafted.

“His lineage, the Beathard name (grandfather Bobby was a longtime NFL front-office executive) and just football intelligence, I think things like that will help him,” Liskiewitz said.

“I think the impression will be this kid will be able to come in and learn our system quickly.”

Liskiewitz said the knock on Beathard continues to be his arm strength and some slow decision-making in his senior year. Beathard also was slightly injured in Indianapolis and will run the 40 in Iowa City. Liskiewitz said that time won’t be crucial, but that NFL scouts do like Beathard’s athleticism when he chooses to use it.

“I see him as a third-stringer who could maybe move up to backup. I don’t think he’s an NFL starter. I think you’re hoping you have a backup whose intelligence gives you some reliability there,” Liskiewitz said.

“That’s the tough part when you’re talking about being a third-string quarterback or even a second-string quarterback, you have to find the right fit and there’s some luck involved in that.”

Iowa defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 5, 2017.

Jaleel Johnson

The defensive tackle’s combine performance was among the most disappointing of the week for Liskiewitz. Johnson came in at 6-3, 316 pounds, and Liskiewitz thought he looked overweight. (He was listed at 310 with the Hawkeyes.)

Johnson’s 5.38-second time in the 40 was the worst of the day, a bad sign for someone whose forte is getting a strong burst off the line of scrimmage.

“When you’re that slow, I think that’s telling. His first 10-yard split wasn’t particularly fast either. In positional drills, he just looked real stiff-hipped and laboring. I wasn’t impressed with him as an athlete at all,” Liskiewitz said.

“He needs to get in shape. He looked fat and sloppy on the field. I think he can stand to lose some pounds there. That would help him.”

The good news for Johnson is the draft class is light on players who can disrupt the pocket out of the "3-technique." He was able to do that for Iowa, so that film exists.

Liskiewitz things a strong showing by Johnson at the combine could have moved him into consideration for a late first-round draft selection. Now, he might be relegated to the fourth or fifth round unless he looks considerably better at Iowa’s Pro Day.

Johnson can still rely on his best game as a Hawkeye, in a 14-13 home upset of No. 2 Michigan. Johnson had nine tackles, including a pivotal safety in that game.

“Based on his production, there might have been an overestimate on what he was athletically,” Liskiewitz said. “It also helps him that one of his biggest games of the year basically changed the national title picture in prime time in front of everybody.

“That tends to stick in people’s heads.”