Point/counterpoint: Which undrafted Hawkeye will have the biggest impact in the NFL?

BY DI STAFF | MAY 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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Several former Iowa football players found new homes as free agents after being passed over at the NFL draft last weekend. Undrafted players don't always amount to much at the professional level, but sometimes they shine; here, the DI breaks down which ex-Hawkeyes could fall into the latter category.

Broderick Binns, DE

Former Hawkeye defensive end Broderick Binns recorded 21 pass break-ups in four seasons at Iowa.

That's two more than cornerback Shaun Prater, who was good enough at defending passes to be selected in the fifth round of last weekend's NFL draft.

Binns went undrafted last weekend because he's fairly small, given the elephantine standards of the NFL, and can be pushed back off the line of scrimmage occasionally. That makes it tough for him to shed big, skilled offensive tackles.

But Binns signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals after the draft. And in a league in which one specialized skill can earn a prospect a place on a 53-man roster, his long, pass-swatting arms give him a chance to stick there.

That ability to knock throws down at the line of scrimmage made the St. Paul, Minn., native stand out last season. And it's easy to see why he's so good at it. Binns' arms were measured at a borderline freaky 34 inches. He recorded an excellent 36-inch vertical leap at Iowa's pro day.

But Binns didn't only demonstrate that one skill in 2011. He was named Iowa's defensive MVP and given second-team All-Big Ten honors. He was second on the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (5). Binns was one of a few reliable performers on an uncharacteristically weak defense in several games.

Arizona runs a 3-4 defensive scheme, and early indications are the Cardinals plan to test out Binns as a blitzing outside linebacker. That could be to his advantage, because moving him off the line of scrimmage minimizes one of the knocks against him: that big lineman can often move him back off the line. It could also free him up more to break up short pass attempts.

Binns isn't a world-beater by any stretch. A undrafted player making a strong impact is a pretty rare thing, and there's a reason he wasn't drafted. But he has one elite skill in his ability to deflect passes out of the air.

That gives him a chance.

— by Sam Louwagie

Markus Zusevics, OT

Former left tackle Riley Reiff will be Iowa's biggest impact player in 2012, but his counterpart on the right side of the Hawkeyes' 2011 offensive line will make the biggest impression of the undrafted Hawkeyes.

Zusevics was signed by the New England Patriots, and he will be given an opportunity to make the Pats' roster. The tackle was considered a mid- to late-round draft pick before tearing his left pectoral muscle at the NFL scouting combine.

Zusevics will be able to work with Patriots' offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia — who is considered one of top O-line coaches in the NFL — to improve his game. The retirement of veteran Matt Light opens up a spot on the roster for a player such as Zusevics — especially on a team like New England, which is known for turning low-round picks or undrafted players into stars. (See Brady, Tom.)

One of the main advantages for Zusevics will be that he will play for a head coach considered similar to his college coach. Kirk Ferentz coached under Bill Belichick with the original Cleveland Browns.

If Zusevics outplays New England's other undrafted free agents, he'll have the opportunity to contribute as a backup and possibly play alongside another former Hawkeye offensive lineman. Robert Gallery signed with the Patriots in March and will likely play guard for the defending AFC champions.

Reiff may get all the attention directed toward former Iowa tackles, but he won't be the only one making an impact in the NFL. Zusevics will become a productive member of the Patriot O-line.

— by Ryan Murphy

Eric Guthrie, P

The case for Eric Guthrie is a little tricky.

The ex-Hawkeye punter hadn't signed a contract as of Monday evening, though the popular idea — thanks to a tweet he posted on April 28 — is that he's in talks with Tampa Bay.

If that's true, you have to like his chances at making the roster ahead of current Buccaneer punter Michael Koenen.

Guthrie was arguably Iowa's most consistently solid player last season, more so than James Vandenberg (road issues), Marcus Coker (occasionally fumble-prone), or Marvin McNutt (73 total yards in last two games). His reliability helped keep Iowa in games in which the team otherwise wouldn't have had a chance.

The punter took the field for 53 boots, averaged 41.2 yards on each, and forced 22 fair catches to only 4 touchbacks. His net average of 38.5 yards was the best in the conference. His long was a 59-yarder — one of six punts of at least 50 yards — and he spotted 18 within the 20-yard line.

Koenen's numbers were only slightly better, which makes the potential position battle intriguing. Recent history has shown it isn't so hard to believe an undrafted Iowa punter can unseat a longtime starter at the professional level.

Detroit picked up former Hawkeye Ryan Donahue as an undrafted free agent last year, and he wound up winning the first-team job from Nick Harris during the preseason. He finished with 49 punts — 13 of which fell inside the 20-yard line — and a 42.7-yard average in a season shortened by a thigh injury.

Guthrie would need to shine during Tampa's preseason, and do so consistently, to make the team's roster. But he has shown his knack for reliability before.

And if he does indeed wear the Bucs' colors in Raymond James Stadium in the fall, it isn't a stretch to imagine him doing what he does best: pinning opponents deep enough in their own territory that an otherwise shaky team has a chance to win.

— by Seth Roberts

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