The next three days are when dreams come true for many college football players. It's the NFL Draft and players who have dreamed their entire life of playing professional football might hear their name called by an NFL team.
Iowa's success in the NFL Draft is really pretty amazing and don't think high school recruits aren't taking notice of the Hawkeyes success at getting players in the National Football League. Iowa has had at least one player drafted every year since 1978. Iowa has had more players invited to the NFL Combine (23) the past three years than any other Big Ten school. The Hawkeyes have a chance to have a first round pick for three straight years.
Since taking over the Iowa program in 1999, the NFL has drafted 49 Hawkeye players, including five first round picks. In the past three drafts, 16 Iowa players have heard their names called, seven of those in the first three rounds.
It really speaks to the player development aspect of Iowa's program and the respect that it has in NFL circles. While Kirk Ferentz has been out of the NFL for quite a while, he is still well respected by those in the professional ranks. Also, Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who NFL teams have tried to lure away during this time in Iowa City, is respected throughout the league.
Starting Thursday night, there will be more validation to Iowa being a school that can lead to realizing NFL dreams when as many as eight more Hawkeye players could be selected in the draft. Here's the breakdown of each Iowa player and when I think they could be drafted.
RILEY REIFF - Iowa's has had two offensive lineman drafted in the first round during the Ferentz era and Reiff should make it three and further solidify Iowa's reputation as an offensive line factory. He's getting banged around a bit at the last minute by NFL whispers that he has shorter than ideal arms to play left tackle, which is the same deal that led to Bryan Bulaga dropping to later in the first round to the Packers in 2010.
That sort of talk is par for the course as in the final days leading up to the draft, teams look for reasons not to draft a player when they really should just pop in the tape and see what they actually did on the field. Reiff is terrific in the run game and has 29 starts under his belt. He practiced every day against Adrian Clayborn, who was a first round pick a year ago, so he knows what it's like to go up against an NFL defensive end. Reiff is generally considered the 2nd best tackle in this draft and while his arm length might mean he has to start out at right tackle and eventually move to left tackle, he's a great get in the first round. My pick: Reiff to the Arizona Cardinals in the 1st round.
MARVIN McNUTT - When McNutt started his Iowa career, he thought maybe he would be throwing passes instead of catching them. After making the move from quarterback to receiver, McNutt's college career took off and never stopped. He basically owns the Iowa record book now and that is a testament to how hard he has worked and his skill level. While he might not have 4.4 speed, he has shown that he can separate from defenders and isn't afraid to make a catch in traffic. McNutt might have to wait until the start of day three and the third or fourth round to hear his name called, but he's going to be a great value pick for someone. My pick: McNutt to the Cleveland Browns in the 3rd round.
ADAM GETTIS - No Hawkeye helped himself and his draft stock more since the end of the season than Gettis, thanks to a remarkable performance at the NFL Combine, which included a 4.9 in the 40 yard dash. While that might not seem like much, when you are an offensive lineman, sub 5.0 times are pretty hard to find. The knock on Gettis is he has a history of injuries and he's considered small by NFL standards, for an offensive lineman. That being said, he's a very high level player in the run game and has a lot of potential at the next level. Going into the combine, he was probably a free agent or very late round pick. Now he has worked his way up and it couldn't happen to a better guy. My pick: 5th round to the Kansas City Chiefs.
SHAUN PRATER - One year ago the All Big Ten cornerback toyed with the idea of leaving a year early, but decided to stay for his senior season because he didn't like the reading he got from the folks in the NFL. Prater has the instincts and despite not having great size, he isn't afraid to put a hat on someone to stop the run. While he might not be a starting cornerback in the NFL, Prater is certainly a nice nickel back and core special teams player at the pro level. He's been very productive in a major conference, so someone will get him. My pick: 6th round to the Chicago Bears.
MIKE DANIELS - If the NFL Draft was simply based on character and heart, then Daniels would be a high draft pick. The good news is that character and heart do matter, especially when it comes to late round picks in the NFL Draft. Daniels is probably a touch over 6-foot tall and he isn't a 300 pounder in the middle of the line. What he lacks in ideal size, he makes up for with a motor that doesn't stop and a toughness that never quits. He's not an every down lineman at the next level, but someone is going to be very happy and will have a tough time letting him go. My pick: 7th round to the Indianapolis Colts.
JORDAN BERNSTINE - He wasn't invited to the NFL Combine in February, but Bernstine put on one heck of a show when the NFL came to town for Iowa's Pro Day. Like Gettis, the knock on Bernstine will be that he was never healthy at Iowa. Even in his senior season he missed a game due to illness. That knock isn't going away and neither is the fact that when he was healthy this year, he played very well. More importantly, Bernstine is an elite level athlete and late in the draft, you can take a flyer on someone who shows potential upside. Some should take a flyer on the former Des Moines prep late in the draft, possibly during the compensatory selection stage. My Pick: 7th round to the Green Bay Packers.
That would make six NFL Draft picks for the third straight year for the Hawkeye program and that would be a nice selling point on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately, I think that's where it ends for Iowa's draft prospects in 2012. Marcus Zusevics stood a good chance of being a third day draft pick this weekend, but when was injured at the NFL Combine, those prospects probably went out the door. Having said that, he will get a free agent deal and make someone's team as a right tackle or possibly a guard. Tyler Nielsen is probably going to follow the path of Jeff Tarpinian a year ago. While probably good enough to go late in the draft, the injury concerns will now allow that to happen. Again, like Tarpinian, he will get into a camp and make himself impossible to cut and become a very good core special teams performer. Broderick Binns will get a shot in someone's camp and even though he has the longest arms known to man, his size hurts his chances. He will get in as a free agent and get a shot at the next level.
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