Iowa has history of success in NFL draft

BY CODY GOODWIN | MAY 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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The NFL draft is set to start tonight at 7 p.m., which can be both relieving and exciting for football fans everywhere.

Hawkeye football fans, especially, have had plenty to celebrate in recent years.

Since 2010, more Iowa football players have been selected in the NFL draft (19) than any other Big Ten team — yes, more than Ohio State (17), Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska (16 each), Michigan State (12), and Michigan (10).

(Surprisingly enough, Illinois has also had 16 players drafted in that same time, during which the team has gone 20-30.)

That Iowa leads this list might seem surprising to some. But those who have gone through the program and have carved a career for themselves in the NFL aren’t surprised at all.

“Coach Ferentz really prepares guys for the NFL,” former Hawkeye and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Adrian Clayborn told The Daily Iowan before the Outback Bowl. “I’d say I came into the league more mentally prepared than some of the other guys.”

The most recent Hawkeye to transition into the professional ranks is Micah Hyde, who was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round — 159th overall — of last year’s draft.

Hyde proved he was more than ready to play professional football from the start. He initially got onto the field as a punt returner for the Packers but eventually worked his way into his natural position at cornerback by the end of the 2013-14 season.

His play impressed Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy so much that, when asked about Hyde back in March during the NFL owners’ meetings, McCarthy said the Iowa grad deserved the opportunity to be an every-down player.

“I got to a point in the season where Micah was standing on the sidelines too much. He’s a good football player and I thought he deserved the opportunity to compete to play,” McCarthy said then.

“And it’s tough to do when you’re a rookie because you get into camp and you’re trying to build packages … We’re going to give Micah the opportunity to play on all three downs — whether that’s corner, nickel, dime, safety — that’s the versatility I think he brings to our football team.”

A handful of former Hawkeyes from the 2013-14 team, which went 8-4 and earned an Outback Bowl appearance on New Year’s Day, might add to that total this weekend. The most notable prospects are tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and linebacker Christian Kirksey, both of whom are projected to go somewhere in the third and fourth rounds (so, late on Day Two or early on Day Three).

In addition to Fiedorowicz and Kirksey, linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, as well as offensive linemen Connor Boffeli and Brett Van Sloten and defensive back B.J. Lowery, are expected to be taken late on the draft’s final day or sign through free agency.

Perhaps the only downfall — for Hawkeye fans, at least — is that, for the second-straight draft, no Iowa player is expected to go on Day One. The last time that happened was between 2008 and 2009; Iowa had at least one first-round draft pick from 2010-12.

But that doesn’t normally deter spirits. Mike Tirico, the famous play-by-play voice for ESPN football games, said in December that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has created a reputation for getting his players ready for the NFL.

That perhaps goes back to Ferentz’s history in the NFL as a coach — he spent time on both the Cleveland Browns’ and Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff before becoming Iowa’s head coach.

His history and track record are likely the reasons NFL scouts get so excited when Iowa guys declare for the draft.

“There’s a whole bunch of Iowa players [in the NFL] on a regular basis,” Tirico said. “Some other schools, Alabama comes to mind … players come out of those schools are NFL-ready, because of the mental preparation, what is asked of them from a football standpoint.

“So you know if guys can play for and star for Kirk Ferentz, they’ll do well in the league.”

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