Point/Counterpoint: Which Iowa rookie will have the best NFL season?

BY DI STAFF | SEPTEMBER 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Three Daily Iowan sports staffers debate which Hawkeye rookie will have the best results during the NFL season.

Marvin McNutt, Philadelphia Eagles

Iowa was among some of the more popular schools during the NFL draft in April. Six Hawkeyes were selected in total, marking the third-straight season in which at least six Hawkeyes heard their names called.

The group of Hawkeyes headed to the NFL included former standout wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Missouri native set numerous records during his tenure at Iowa,and left campus as one of the best — if not the best — receiver in Iowa football history. McNutt holds Iowa records for receiving touchdowns in a career (28), receiving yards in a season (1,315), and receiving touchdowns in a season (12).

Unfortunately, the sixth-round draftee was not able to secure a roster spot in training camp.

However, the Eagles decided that McNutt was too valuable to cut loose and signed him to the practice squad.

The practice squad has a reputation as a death sentence for NFL players. But many players have gone on to have successful NFL careers after spending time on the practice squad, including former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison.

The Eagles decided to keep just five wide receivers on the active roster, leaving the door open for McNutt to eventually see time on the field.

Moreover, the Eagles receiving corps doesn’t necessarily have the best track record of health. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have each completed just one full season of 16 games. McNutt is one injury away from landing a spot on the active roster.

McNutt’s physical stature makes him a prototypical target in the red zone. In fact, many experts were shocked at the fact that McNutt lasted until the sixth round of the draft. 

When looking for a former Hawkeye to make a noticeable impact this season, keep an eye on Marvin McNutt.

Ryan Probasco

Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions

No former Hawkeye will have a bigger impact in the NFL this season than offensive lineman Riley Reiff.

Reiff will come in and begin the revamping of a stale Detroit offensive line. He will be a breath of fresh air for Matthew Stafford and whatever running back the Lions are able to dig up that week.

The knock against the former Hawkeye entering the draft was that his arms were too short for a left tackle, but seeing him open up holes for a revolving door of Iowa running backs throughout his career shows that the potential is definitely there.

There is a reason the Detroit Lions selected the Parkston, S.D., native with the 23rd overall pick, and it begins and ends with current Lions left tackle Jeff Backus.

Backus, who was drafted by Detroit in 2000, has been the topic of much debate in the Motor City throughout his career. Each year, furious fans are ready to run him out of town, and they have begged the organization to bring anyone else in to take his spot for almost a decade. Now that the former Michigan Wolverine is almost 35 years old, no time seems more suited to find a successor than now.

Enter Reiff.

Reiff is starting the season listed behind Backus on the Lions’ depth chart, but don’t be surprised if he is in the starting lineup by Week 8. Backus has trouble against any sort of functional pass rush and will take the heat in Detroit each time Stafford hits the ground. Also, a look at Detroit’s schedule shows that the Lions will face the 49ers, Vikings, and Bears — teams with elite pass rushers — in the first half of the season. This spells trouble for Backus.

Reiff will be the most successful Hawkeye rookie because he’ll receive more playing time than his former teammates in the big show. Combine that and the low expectations the left-tackle position has maintained for over a decade in Detroit, and you have one successful first-year player.

Tom Clos

Jordan Bernstine, Washington Redskins

Jordan Bernstine isn’t expected to make a lot of noise this year as a rookie. But he has the potential to.

The Des Moines native was one of the first free agents to be signed by the Washington Redskins after being the final pick in their 2012 draft. He had previously shown strong versatility with the Black and Gold, playing both safety and corner for Iowa.

This ability to adapt will be Bernstine’s biggest benefit this upcoming season.

He already displayed his supreme athleticism during the preseason. He accounted for 8 tackles, deflected 2 passes, and even picked one off in the Redskins four preseason exhibitions. This surprised Washington, but in a good way.

Bernstine’s ability — one Redskin insider, Brian Tinsman, called it “intriguing” — will come in handy more than likely during what looks to be a rebuilding year for the Washington secondary.

The only two defensive backs who have guaranteed positions on the ’Skins are corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. Consider the time Bernstine has already spent underneath both of those veterans, absorbing all of their knowledge, watching their every move. There’s no doubt whether he has gotten better.

Then you have to take into account the wide-open competition at the safety spots for Washington. Madieu Williams and Brandon Meriweather are more experienced, snagging the leadership tags, but if Bernstine proves himself, there’s no doubt he’ll get playing time.

Compared with both Riley Reiff (get ready to consistently ride the bench all year) and Marvin McNutt (good luck getting playing time behind Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson), it’s clear that Jordan Bernstine will be Iowa’s strongest NFL rookie this season.

Cody Goodwin

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