NFL Draft 2021: Los Angeles Chargers select Iowa's Nick Niemann in the sixth round

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Nick Niemann was pulled off the Iowa bench in the thick of the 2019 Holiday Bowl, as USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was taking advantage of weak-side linebacker Djimon Colbert with his throws.

Niemann settled down Iowa’s defense in a back-and-forth game, and the son of Hawkeyes assistant coach Jay Niemann punctuated a 49-24 win against the Trojans by returning an interception for a touchdown.

That seemed to launch Niemann into a starring role as a fifth-year senior, and now he’s done enough to get selected in the NFL Draft. The Hawkeye linebacker was taken with the first pick of the sixth round by the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday. It's a great opportunity for Niemann, as the Chargers have a new defensive-minded head coach in Brandon Staley.

Nick Niemann led Iowa with 77 tackles during the Hawkeyes' 6-2 season. The next-closest Hawkeye had 47 tackles.

Niemann (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) is just the second Iowa linebacker chosen in the last seven NFL drafts, joining Josey Jewell in 2017. He is the ninth linebacker of the coach Kirk Ferentz era to be drafted, following past names like Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Pat Angerer, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirskey.

Niemann’s presence as an every-down weak-side linebacker in 2020 was essential as the Hawkeyes rotated young middle linebackers Seth Benson and Jack Campbell. Niemann led the team with 77 tackles. Iowa ended up with a top-10 national defense in scoring and yardage.

Niemann's older brother, Ben, played linebacker at Iowa and has been a contributor for the Kansas City Chiefs during his first three seasons in the NFL. Nick Niemann is considered the faster of the two, and that showed on his pro day. Niemann’s 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a blazing 6.67 seconds in the three-cone drill moved him into many NFL Draft late-round projections.