NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. sees Iowa's Daviyon Nixon falling out of first round
Daviyon Nixon’s lone year as a starting defensive tackle at Iowa was eye-opening, but not enough to make him a first-round NFL Draft selection, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Monday.
“I thought maybe at one point he could jump into the first, but that’s not going to happen the way it looks right now,” Kiper said of Nixon. “I’d say at worst a third-rounder, and he could maybe be a (second-rounder).”
Kiper once considered Nixon a potential first-round pick, but indicated that he had softened that view after more discussion with NFL personnel. Interior defensive linemen are typically not valued as highly as those on the edge, because of their ability to rush the quarterback.
But Nixon, at 6-foot-3, 306 pounds, displayed elite athleticism for his size in Iowa’s eight-game 2020 season. He had 45 tackles and led the Big Ten Conference with 13 of them behind the line of scrimmage on his way to earning unanimous all-American honors.
His 71-yard interception return for a touchdown at Penn State was perhaps the highlight of the year for the Hawkeyes.
“That was a phenomenal play, with his running skills. His athletic ability was all shown in that one play. There’s a defensive tackle looking like he could have been a tight end,” Kiper said.
“There were some games where he was a little quiet. He was handled on the interior,” Kiper added.
Kiper said the fact that Nixon only started nine games at Iowa is also a concern. He spent one season at Iowa Western Community College, then sat out his first autumn with the Hawkeyes to get his coursework in order. As a sophomore, he was primarily a backup, earning one start and finishing with 29 tackles.
In 2020, Nixon quickly emerged as Iowa’s best player. He had seven tackles, 2.5 of them for loss, in the opener against Purdue. The next week, he set a career-high with 11 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage, against Northwestern. He also forced a fumble in that game. Nixon had five tackles in his next two games combined. He was a force again in Iowa’s win over Nebraska later in the season, with eight tackles, including another three for loss.
There was little question that Nixon would parlay that exceptional season into an NFL opportunity. He announced his intent to enter the draft shortly after the Hawkeyes’ 6-2 campaign concluded.
Kiper was less enthusiastic about Iowa offensive tackle Alaric Jackson’s NFL potential. He said Jackson, a four-year starter at left tackle for the Hawkeyes, projects as a fifth-round draft pick. Jackson returned for his senior season in an attempt to improve his draft stock, but, according to Kiper, that’s not what happened.
"Jackson, to me, is a guy a little up and down with his play. I saw him beaten some,” Kiper said.
Jackson is considered a stronger run blocker than pass protector. It’s possible that he may have to adjust to playing right tackle once he gets to the NFL.
The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 29-May 1. There will be no Scouting Combine this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning each school’s individual Pro Day will become extremely important. Nixon and Jackson will have a chance then to show their strength, speed and agility, which will alter where they fall in the draft.
Iowa has a recent history of placing players high in the NFL Draft. Last year, offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was taken in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and started every game for the Super Bowl champions. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa was a second-round selection of the Buffalo Bills. Both players left, as Nixon is doing, before their eligibility was exhausted.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.