THREE HAWKEYES WERE DRAFTED THIS YEAR. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Christian Kirksey were selected in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens went to Dallas in the 4th round. Iowa failed to produce a first round pick for the second consecutive year but that could change in 2015.
Had Brandon Scherff entered the 2014 Draft, he could have heard his name in the first round. Kirk Ferentz told the media in March he thought Scherff would have been selected in the 20's (picks). Scherff decided to return to Iowa and could be the first Hawkeye since Riley Reiff in 2012 to go in the first round. The Big Ten hasn't had a Top 10 draft pick since 2009 but that should change too. Scherff is a possibility to crack the Top 10 if he has an all-American season and wins the Outland Trophy like Robert Gallery in 2003. Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun and Maryland's Stephon Diggs are also Top 10 possibilities.
Some early 2015 NFL Draft mocks are surfacing on the web. WalterFootball.com lists Scherff as the 31st draft pick to the Denver Broncos. SBNation lists him at #26 to the Indianapolis Colts. Sporting News puts Scherff at #16 and LostLettermen.com pens him in at #27. The highest is at Draftsite.com where Scherff is the #5 pick to the Carolina Panthers. (Late add: one CBS writer also has Scherff #5). So, there's quite the range but the consensus is he's a first round pick.
What about the other seniors? It's unlikely that Iowa will have underclassmen leave early next year. Desmond King could be a star but he's only a sophomore. Austin Blythe may be an all-Big Ten player at center but centers don't often leave school early.
The next Hawk off the board could be Carl Davis. CBS.com lists Davis as the third best senior defensive tackle prospect. He's physically similar (6'5" 315 lbs) to Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, a second round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons over the weekend. Statistically, Hageman finished 2013 with 38 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and two sacks. Comparatively, Davis finished 2013 with 42 tackles, four tackles for a loss and one and a half sacks. Another comparison: former Michigan State Spartan Jerel Worthy. Worthy finished his senior season with 31 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and three and a half sacks. He was also a second round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers. Davis will have to improve his pad level and show he doesn't take plays off this season. He also needs to make more plays in the backfield and pad those tackle for a loss stats.
Since Kirk Ferentz arrived at Iowa, eight tight ends have had their name called in the NFL Draft. C.J. Fiedorowicz was the first pick of the 3rd round of this weekend's draft and Ray Hamilton could hear his name in the same round next year. Third may sound like a lofty projection for a guy with 11 career receptions but he has all the tools to have a breakout season. He's big enough to block in the league and can also split out wide if called upon. His production still may be limited due to Iowa's depth at the position but he's waited behind Fiedorowicz for three years to shine. Hamilton was an excellent basketball player in high school and that athleticism shows on the football field.
Next off the board could be right tackle Andrew Donnal. He injured a knee in 2012 and Ferentz says now he looks fully recovered after spending much of last season rotating at guard. He's locked down Iowa's starting right tackle spot opposite of Scherff and will benefit from NFL GMs studying Scherff's tape that may not have been looking or him. He's probably a free agent prospect as of right now but could play his way into a 5th round selection if he has a strong season. He has position flexibility as he's played guard and will have a full year of film at tackle too.
Another possible late round selection could be Louis Trinca-Pasat. He just might be big enough at 6'3" 290 pounds but might need to add a few pounds to really get the NFL interested. He'll also need to match his 2013 productivity (39 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 sacks) and have an outstanding Pro Day. Like Donnal, GMs and scouts will watch a lot of Carl Davis' film and LTP will show up there.
Quinton Alston is another wildcard. Iowa just put three linebackers in the league from the 2013 squad. Alston waited patiently behind James Morris for three years before getting the nod as a starter this season. He'll also need a big Pro Day to show off speed and agility if he has it.
Iowa will have a handful of free agent prospects. Mark Weisman's speed will likely make him a fullback prospect at the next level. Lucky for Weisman, a few fullbacks were drafted in the late rounds of the weekend's draft.
Damon Bullock has a tendency to run sideline to sideline instead of bursting through the hole as a running back. He doesn't have great top-line speed but does have excellent hands out of the backfield. He may get a shot with a team looking for a solid third down back.
Kevonte Martin-Manley will leave Iowa after four years of consistent production. He's a slot receiver at the next level and isn't overly fast/quick but, he'll have highlights of punt return touchdowns from 2013 for his resume. He's a solid blocker but will need to catch everything thrown his way and not drop the occasional pass like years past. He has a chip on his shoulder that motivates him. On his social media picture share account, Instagram, he often uses the hashtag #2star. That was his ranking by Rivals as a recruit.
If Tanner Miller can get a shot, perhaps, John Lowdermilk can too. He'll have two solid years of film as a starter to show off to scouts. Lowdermilk isn't quite the athlete Miller is but he's learned from one of the most respected defensive back coaches in the nation and that could get his foot in the door.
Damond Powell will need an amazing season to draw interest as a pro prospect. He's still tiny despite putting on a few pounds this off season. His Pro Day numbers could break Iowa records but he'll have to show he's a complete receiver this season.
Nico Law could have a Jordan Bernstine-like breakout season. It's likely he'll be more of a role player this year though. If he does breakout, that's certainly great for Iowa's defense.
Finally, Mike Hardy is unlikely a pro prospect but former Hawks Thomas Nardo and Joe Gaglione both got tryouts following their final season at the collegiate level. Nardo got a shot with the Cardinals and Gaglione with the Vikings. Hardy could be a better player than both so don't be surprised when he's fighting for a spot on an NFL squad.
IN SUMMARY. The potential for strong Hawkeye representation at the NFL Draft is there again in 2015. If you love the NFL Draft like I do, or just need a reason for optimism for the Hawks for 2014, things are looking good for Iowa. There's a legit first round draft pick on the roster. There's a potential second or third rounder starting on the defensive line. There's also players with pro potential that maybe haven't peaked like Ray Hamilton and Andrew Donnal. Iowa should have a minimum of three players drafted again next year. The ceiling may be six, like 2012.