Hawkeyes Johnson, Kittle, King find NFL homes

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Jaleel Johnson is staying in the Midwest. George Kittle will remain teammates with C.J. Beathard a little bit longer. And Desmond King's draft slide came to an end.

Iowa Hawkeyes were on the move Saturday in the NFL Draft, with Johnson leading the charge. 

The powerful defensive tackle was taken with the day's second pick — in the fourth round, No. 109 overall, by the Minnesota Vikings.

Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 316-pound native of Lombard, Ill., was a first-team all-Big Ten Conference pick after leading the 2016 Hawkeyes with 7.5 sacks.

Jaleel Johnson, shown at the NFL Scouting Combine in early March, was selected early in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

Upon seeing the pick, NFL Network's Mike Mayock noted Johnson's high snap count at Iowa (600-plus snaps as a senior) and said, "He needs to play with more consistent leverage. I think with less playing time in the NFL, he'll be a better player."

Johnson delivered an impressive showing in the Senior Bowl in January, showing himself to be one of the quickest defensive tackles, but then arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine with some extra poundage, which slowed his performance and dropped him down the draft board.

"He came back, he cut a bunch of weight, cut about 16, 17, 18 pounds to get back to a good weight. And he had a real good pro day," Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan said on this week's Hawk Central radio show. "Wherever he goes, I think he's going to impress people because he loves football. He has a great passion for it.

"He's violent, which is good in football. He's going to take coaching; he wants to be coached."

Iowa tight end George Kittle will join the San Francisco 49ers, where he'll be reunited with Hawkeye teammate C.J. Beathard, a third-round pick by the Niners on Friday.

Kittle, meanwhile, will now get a better view of San Francisco Bay after the 6-4, 247 tight end was taken by the 49ers with the second pick (No. 146 overall) of the fifth round.

"Versatility will keep you in this league for a long time," draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during ESPN's broadcast. "They used him on the line, in motion; he was in the slot. ... Then he goes to the Combine and wowed everybody."

Kittle, who caught 10 touchdowns for Iowa over the past two seasons, took only one out-of-town NFL visit, and it was to the 49ers. It was a quick-but-productive business trip.

“I didn’t get to see the Bay until I was taking off in my airplane (on the way back)," Kittle said this week.

That'll change now.

With the 49ers, he'll also continue to catch passes from his college teammate. Late Friday night, San Francisco made quarterback Beathard a third-round pick (No. 104 overall) and the first of four Hawkeyes chosen in this year's draft.

Desmond King was not only an excellent defensive back at Iowa (14 interceptions), he was also a sensational kick returner. He was chosen by the Los Angeles Chargers with a fifth-round pick Saturday.

The fourth might have been the most surprising because many expected him to be the first.

King, the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback, slipped into the fifth round before being snapped up by the Los Angeles Chargers. King (5-10, 201) was thought to be taken as early as the second round.

The folks on NFL Network speculated that King's drop down the board may have been related to uncertainty about whether he'd be a cornerback or safety at the next level. Upon announcing King, the Chargers listed him as a safety even though he played all 53 games of his Hawkeye career at corner.

"All I'm going to do is encourage this young man to make that transition mentally," NFL Network's Charles Davis said. "Don't think you're a corner anymore. Go be the best safety you can be in the NFL. I think he'll have a nice impact in this league. I think this guy has great natural skills, instincts and he will tackle."

This marked the eighth NFL Draft under Kirk Ferentz, and first since 2012, that at least four Hawkeyes were chosen in the seven-round event.

It started with Beathard (6-2½, 219), a surprise third-rounder after the 49ers traded up to get the quarterback who posted a 21-7 record as Iowa's starter.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told Bay Area media that he didn't put much stock into Beathard's deteriorating numbers in 2016 after his receiver corps at Iowa was decimated.

“You go through an entire game, and how good does he do his job? I think he does his job very well," Shanahan said. "I think he gives his team a very good chance to win. I think he showed that a lot more in 2015 when his team had a lot more opportunities to win.”