In the recently completed NFL Draft…
Penn State led the Big Ten Conference with eight draft picks, the most for the Nittany Lions since 1996.
Iowa State had selected four players for the first time since 1977, when there were 12 towers instead of seven.
Led by the Wisconsin five, the seven-team Big Ten West division had 20 players selected — nearly matching the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 21 draft picks and not far behind the Pacific-12 and Big 12 (25 each) . Purdue had a first-round pick in George Karlaftis and a third-round pick in David Bell; 3-9 Nebraska had two second-round picks; Minnesota had two guys taken in the first three rounds and four overall. Even Illinois had three players drafted.
As for Iowa? Only two players were drafted, the program’s lowest total in six years – center Tyler Linderbaum to the Baltimore Ravens (first round, 25th overall) and defensive back Dane Belton to the New York Giants (fourth round, n ° 114 in total).
Still, the Hawkeyes beat Iowa State at Ames, by 10. They beat Penn State in an electric top-five game at home that ultimately swayed a five-star safety to sign. They won the West Division outright and posted a 10-2 regular season record.
This might be a good opportunity to give the Iowa coaching staff an extra tip of the hat. Phil Parker’s defense and LeVar Woods’ special teams maxed out their production to help the Hawkeyes go 7-0 in regular season games decided by 10 points or less. And also give Brian Ferentz offense credit for finding enough big plays to beat Minnesota in a tense 27-22 victory in November which ultimately swayed the West.
Seeing Michigan and Kentucky (nine draft picks combined) with plenty of first-pick talent also served as a reminder that the Hawkeyes’ playoff losses in the Big Ten Championship Game and Citrus Bowl were met with formidable foes.
It may also be a signal that there’s still plenty of punch on the Hawkeyes’ 2022 roster. (More on this at the bottom of this column.)
A few more final thoughts from Hawkeye’s perspective on the NFL Draft…
Linderbaum gonna be a hit in Baltimore. There was no more perfect match than the Ravens for consensus American center Iowa. In Linderbaum, the Ravens get a plug-and-play starting center in Week 1. In Baltimore, Linderbaum gets a franchise that appreciates hard-nosed football players (like former Hawkeye/Raven Marshal Yanda).
Given Linderbaum’s poor streak and athleticism at center, he should be a great pair with quarterback Lamar Jackson. Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about Iowa’s zone management program, but said the Hawkeyes “run a lot of gap programs (and) a lot of leading programs. (They run ) a lot of pull-ups, a lot of screens. Those are all things that when you have a really athletic center, you can do those things.”
Here’s who predicts we’ll see Ravens highlights this fall where Linderbaum will throw key blocks down the field on long quarterback runs by Jackson. (Admittedly, given Linderbaum’s track record in Iowa, that’s not a very bold prediction.)
Belton’s rise reminds us how quickly football passes. Thinking of Belton going from Iowa City to the Big Apple, my mind flashed back to 40 months ago in Tampa. At an Outback Bowl practice before 2019, I remember seeing Belton and his family show up to watch some of the action. Belton was still a high school Tampa Jesuit as the Hawkeyes prepared to beat a Mississippi State team with three first-round picks.
Now, Belton is the latest Parker-to-the-pros story in Iowa’s defensive backfield. Belton arrived as a three-star safety prospect, and he’s leaving for the NFL in less than three years. It’ll be fun to see if five-star safety prospect Xavier Nwankpa can follow a similar path (with higher recruiting recognition) in Iowa.
Speaking of the 2019 Outback Bowl, you’ll recall that Noah Fant was absent from that game. The tight end opted out of preparing for the NFL Draft, and he ended up being selected No. 20 overall by the Denver Broncos.
In this cycle, running back Tyler Goodson became the second player to sit out the Kirk Ferentz-era bowling game…and then went undrafted. Many people have wondered why Goodson wasn’t among the 23 running backs chosen in the three-day, seven-round draft, especially since he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard sprint at NFL Scouting. Combined.
The running back position has lost its premium luster to the next level, and NFL teams are more often making this position a late afterthought. By comparison, 17 wide receivers were drafted in the first three rounds alone (tying a record last set in 2007).
In that sense (apart from perhaps pride), it didn’t matter whether Goodson was a sixth- or seventh-round pick or a free agent. Most Day 3 acquisitions are automatically in an uphill battle for an NFL roster spot. The rosters start at 90 but are reduced to 53 for the season (and just 46 for games).
Finding the best fit was important to Goodson, and he apparently found that in Green Bay. Goodson’s pass-catching ability should stand out with the Packers, who have more physical running options with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon (remember him from the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl?).
Could Caleb Shudak be Iowa’s next NFL kicker? Nate Kaeding, winner of the 2003 Lou Groza Award, holds this distinction. The Iowa City West product had a long career with the San Diego Chargers. Shudak appears to have a great opportunity to at least compete for a job with the Tennessee Titans, a franchise that has struggled in the kicking game (including with record-breaking futility on the field in 2019).
Randy Bullock was Tennessee’s kicker a year ago and just OK by NFL standards (26 of 31 goals, three missed PATs) and doesn’t have a huge leg (only one over-50 attempt in 2021 and 13 for 26 from a distance in a journeyman career). Shudak, despite being 5-foot-6 ½, has a consistent deep leg over 50 yards and is a touchback machine on kickoffs. His maturity (24 years) and consistency should give him a shot at one of the coveted 32 NFL placekicker jobs in the world. Former Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, another journeyman, is also in the game.
Matt Hankins is an under-the-radar Hawkeye to watch at the next level. Hankins was set to have an all-American senior year for the Hawkeyes until injuries derailed the second half of his season. Hankins has signed with the Atlanta Falcons, a franchise that is trying to rebuild its roster and possibly position itself to have a first pick (to a quarterback) in the 2023 draft. Atlanta wants to make do with good players. market this season, so Hankins will have a chance to prove himself — especially since the Falcons haven’t drafted a cornerback.
It’s hard to doubt the engines of Iowa’s other two undrafted free agents, defensive end Zach VanValkenburg (Las Vegas Raiders) and safety Jack Koerner (New Orleans Saints). Offensive lineman Kyler Schott also got a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Let’s take a look at the Hawkeyes in the 2023 NFL Draft. Tight end Sam LaPorta made a big decision to return to the Hawkeyes for his senior season, and it could pay off in April 2023. LaPorta has been indexed as Global Prospect No. 42 in The Sporting News’ Early 2023 Draft Projections. Physical and fast middle linebacker Jack Campbell is also expected to be picked in the first two days of the draft. Linebacker Jestin Jacobs (tall size and athletic features), cornerback Riley Moss (Reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year with Speed) and punter Tory Taylor (four punters were drafted in 2022) are also expected to have good chance of hearing their name called.
And there always seems to be a player or two who makes a surprising leap. Who’s to say Lukas Van Ness couldn’t be an impact defensive end this season for the Hawkeyes and have a decision to make? Could cornerback Terry Roberts regain his health and have a big senior season? Perhaps such a rise is happening for tackle Jack Plumb?
Going back to the original theme of this column, the Hawkeyes likely exceeded expectations in 2021, but also showed they have a lot of great 2022 building blocks.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow covered the sport for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.