Rookie report: How Iowa football's NFL newcomers have performed

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

NFL rookies have until this Saturday to earn one of their team's 53 roster spots.

San Francisco 49ers' C.J. Beathard throws during the team's organized team activity on Thursday, June 8.

There are a handful of Hawkeye alums competing for those spots. Some are locks to make their team. Some are borderline guys fighting for their position's final opening. And some are fringe players who will likely land on a practice squad.

The final preseason games are this Thursday.

Here's how Iowa football's NFL newcomers have performed thus far:


C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers

Preseason stats to date: 21-for-36 for 370 yards, four touchdowns and one interception

Performance breakdown: Beathard threw a 46-yard touchdown pass in his preseason debut, and just kept showing more potential from there. He earned second-string duties for San Francisco's second and third preseason games. 

What they're saying: "After the 49ers first-team offense gasped, wheezed and coughed up three first-half turnovers against the Denver Broncos, en route to a 33-14 defeat at Levi’s Stadium (Aug. 19), the rookie quarterback (Beathard) waltzed in and showed what Kyle Shanahan’s offense is supposed to look like." — Daniel Brown, Bay Area News Group.

Expected role this season: It looks like Beathard is the front-runner over Matt Barkley to back up Brian Hoyer. 

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.

Jaleel Johnson, Minnesota Vikings

Preseason stats to date: Eight tackles, five solo tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack

Performance rundown: Johnson really broke through in Minnesota's second preseason game against Seattle, when he racked up five tackles and two for loss. The Vikings moved him from nose tackle to under tackle, where he's more likely to see early playing time.

What they're saying: "(Against Seattle, Johnson showed) a flash of production the Vikings shouldn’t ignore as they’re again expected to be without injured first-round pick Sharrif Floyd at defensive tackle. However, Johnson is only getting started." — Andrew Krammer, Star Tribune.

Expected role this season: Krammer wrote that the Vikings will likely rely on a rotation for its defensive line this year. And Johnson is very much in the picture.

San Francisco tight end George Kittle runs past Denver Broncos safety Orion Stewart on a touchdown reception on Aug. 19 in Santa Clara, Calif.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Preseason stats to date: Three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown

Performance rundown: Kittle just about broke Hawkeye Twitter when Beathard, his quarterback at Iowa, found him for a 29-yard touchdown in San Francisco's second preseason game. He didn't catch a pass in the 49ers' third preseason game, but his block set up Beathard's 87-yard touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert.

What they're saying: "Kittle seems to be Hoyer’s favorite target, probably because none of the Niners linebackers can cover the rookie tight end. During seven-on-seven drills, Kittle easily beat starting middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman with an out route." — Grant Cohn, Santa Clara Press Democrat

Expected role this season:Chris Biderman of Niners Wire said Kittle is "the only lock" of the tight ends to make the 53-man roster. The 49ers also traded veteran Vance McDonald, clearing up additional opportunities for Kittle. 

San Diego Chargers rookie Desmond King warms up during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 12, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers

Preseason stats to date: Eight tackles, one sack; one interception; two kick returns for 39 yards

Performance rundown: King is already thought of as a fifth-round steal for the Chargers. In Los Angeles' second preseason game against the Saints, for instance, his receiver was targeted just twice and he allowed only 1 yard of offense.'s four "insiders" unanimously picked King as the most impressive rookie in training camp.

What they're saying: "He’s light years from where he was during rookie and minicamp. Now that he knows what he is doing, he’s playing safety. He has a versatility to go out and play corner and play some special teams." — Chargers coach Anthony Lynn

Expected role this season: King will make the team and will play regularly. 

Iowa's Riley McCarron runs down field for a 77-yard touchdown during the Hawkeyes' game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.

Riley McCarron, Houston Texans

Preseason stats to date: Four catches for 24 yards; two kick returns for 32 yards; one punt return for 1 yard

Performance rundown: McCarron had a nice 18-yard grab in Houston's first preseason game, and he caught three passes for 6 yards the following week.

What they're saying: "The Iowa Flash — Riley McCarron. He's a good kid. He works hard. He's the spitting image of (Wes) Welker, wearing No. 83. ... I like a lot of what he does. He just needs to keep getting better." — Texans coach Bill O'Brien

Expected role this season: McCarron is in the mix for Houston's final receiver spot. If he doesn't make the cut, chances are another team will pick him up.

Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin, tackling a Miami of Ohio receiver in last season's opening game, is coming back to Iowa City on Monday to cheer on his former teammates at their Pro Day. Once Mabin is completely healed from his broken talus -- in two or three weeks -- he will conduct his own private workout in the hopes of impressing NFL teams..

Greg Mabin, Buffalo Bills 

Preseason states to date: Three tackles; one interception (27-yard return)

Performance rundown: Mabin got some first-team reps during training camp and has performed well in his limited preseason snaps. His interception was one of the preseason's highlights; he literally snatched the ball from Eagles receiver Marcus Johnson.

What they're saying: "In a crowded cornerback room, Mabin has occasionally stood out in a positive way." — Matthew Fairburn,

Expected role this season: Mabin is fighting for the sixth and final cornerback spot, and he's certainly got a shot. His interception against the Eagles will help.

Iowa offensive lineman Cole Croston (64) will likely get one more game in his Hawkeye career. He was working with the No. 1 unit in Wednesday's practice at right tackle.

Cole Croston, New England Patriots

Preseason stats to date: Croston was one of six Patriots to play more than 50 offensive snaps in their second preseason game against the Jaguars.

Performance rundown: Croston is getting most of his reps at right guard, where he's impressing enough to "at least" make the practice squad, The Telegram and Gazette's Rich Garven wrote.

Croston is No. 70 in this clip:

What they're saying: "The 6-foot-5 Croston, who is listed at 295 pounds, has performed this summer like a player who has a decent shot of at least making the 10-man practice squad this fall, in part due to his potential to become stronger and more versatile." — Garven

Expected role this season: Croston could land on the practice squad.

Iowa running back LeShun Daniels, Jr. dives in for a touchdown during the Hawkeyes' game against Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.

LeShun Daniels, New England Patriots

Preseason stats to date: 11 carries for 39 yards.

Performance rundown: Daniels led New England in carries and rushing yards in its first preseason game. He's missed the past two games due to an undisclosed injury.

What they're saying: "Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee all look like roster locks while Daniels is likely to be cut." — Zack Cox, NESN

Expected role this season: New England's running back room is crowded, but Daniels could make an NFL team's practice squad.

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.