The 2016 NFL Draft begins tonight, but from an Iowa perspective, this could be one of the quieter and least interesting drafts in a while. Iowa has had at least one player selected in the NFL Draft every year since 1978, a streak that stretches beyond the tenures of both Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry. The Iowa-to-the-NFL pipeline has only gotten stronger under Fry and Ferentz. In all, 58 former Iowa players have heard their name called during the NFL Draft since the first NFL Draft of the Ferentz Era in 2000, beginning with Matt Bowen and Austin Wheatley in 2000 and most recently with Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis, and Andrew Donnal last year. Iowa has had 19 players selected over the last five years, which is the 17th most over that span -- and more than programs like Nebraska, Michigan State, Texas, UCLA, and Michigan have produced in that same span.
Will Iowa's NFL Draft streak continue this year? Probably, although there's some doubt because Iowa doesn't really have a surefire NFL Draft selection among their eligible players this year. Had Desmond King opted to turn pro instead of returning for his senior season, this would have been a moot point -- King would have been a lock to be drafted (probably fairly highly) this year. But no King makes things murkier. Iowa's other best NFL Draft prospects are Drew Ott, who suffered a serious, season-ending injury and spent much of the draft preparation process in limbo while the Big Ten and NCAA determined if he would receive a fifth year of eligibility, and Austin Blythe, a short-armed interior lineman with so-so measurables.
No Iowa player is going to hear his name called tonight during the first round. It's extremely unlikely that any Iowa player will hear his name called tomorrow night during the second and third rounds, either. It probably won't be until Saturday, when the remaining four rounds of the draft occur, that we'll hear an Iowa player's name called. The last time we had to wait that long was 2012, when only one Iowa player (Micah Hyde) was drafted. It would be weird if Iowa had the same number of players drafted (one) after their worst season in the last 15 years and one of their best seasons in the last 15 years, but it's possible that that's what happens this year.
These three seven-round mock drafts agree on just one Iowa player -- Austin Blythe, who all three mock drafts have going in the sixth round. Bleacher Report's mock also has Henry Krieger-Coble being selected in the sixth round, while Draft Site's mock has Cole Croston going in the sixth round, which is a little odd since Croston, uh, will be a senior in 2016 and isn't part of the 2016 NFL Draft pool. (In related news, Draft Site may not be super-reliable.)
So which Hawkeyes could hear their names called this weekend and what round might they be called?
Austin Blythe, OL
What Blythe lacks in measurables, he makes up for in production -- he was a consistent and steady four-year starter on the Iowa offensive line, developing into a very solid center by the end of his career. Almost every multi-year starter on the offensive line in the Ferentz Era has been drafted, so it would be a surprise to see Blythe snubbed. A sixth-round pick sounds about right.
Henry Krieger-Coble, TE
The best way to get drafted from Iowa is to be an offensive lineman -- 15 Iowa OL have been drafted since 2000. The next-best way is to be a defensive back (11 players) or defensive lineman (10 players), although those designations have an advantage since they encompass multiple positions. "OL" includes tackles (7), guards (7), and centers (1). "DB" includes cornerbacks and safeties. "DL" includes defensive ends (4) and defensive tackles (6). No single position has produced as many NFL draft picks as tight end, which has produced eight so far under Ferentz, from Austin Wheatley in 2000 up through C.J. Fiedorowicz in 2014. Krieger-Coble is Iowa's latest tight end to hit the NFL waters and he's a solid blocker who showed good pass-catching skills in an increased role last year. He's not a burner, but he'll get a shot in the NFL -- the question is whether he gets drafted or signs a free agent contract after the draft. I think he'll get drafted in the sixth or seventh round.
Jordan Walsh, OL
Like Blythe, Walsh is another interior lineman, although he wasn't as consistent over the course of his career. He was very good as a senior and arguably Iowa's best lineman last season. Walsh didn't get an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, which doesn't help his odds of getting drafted, but all it takes is one team to like his film to get drafted -- and he has some good film after last year. I think Walsh gets drafted late in the seventh round.
Tevaun Smith, WR
Smith also didn't get an invitation to the Combine and he didn't have eye-popping numbers last year (or ever in his Iowa career, unfortunately), but he did wow scouts with his 40 time at Iowa's Pro Day earlier this spring. Running a 40 in the 4.3 range will turn some heads, but is that enough to get him drafted? I don't think it will be enough for him, unfortunately. If he doesn't make it in the NFL, though, the CFL will definitely be an option for our beloved Canadian Missile.
Drew Ott, DL
If not for injuries, Ott would probably be a slam dunk NFL Draft pick somewhere around the third or fourth round. Unfortunately, those injuries happened and they're going to wreck his draft stock. Ott is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and ACL repair surgery and it's unclear what, if any, role he'll be able to play for a team next fall. Drafting Ott could be a bit of a gamble, although it could provide very nice value if he is able to make a full recovery from his injuries. Will any team take that gamble during the draft? If so, it won't happen until the sixth or seventh rounds.
Marshall Koehn, K
Koehn showed off some serious wheels at the NFL Combine, but being fleet of foot isn't going to get a kicker drafted. Koehn has a very strong leg, as evidenced by his high rate of touchbacks over the last few season and his success on long field goals. On the other hand, his accuracy was an issue at times and there's not really any way to sugarcoat the fact that he missed six (!) extra points last year. That's not the sort of stat that will endear him to prospective NFL teams. He seems more like an undrafted free agent signing than a draft pick.
As for Iowa's other draft-eligible players like Jordan Canzeri, Jordan Lomax, Cole Fisher, and Sean Draper... hopefully they can get an opportunity after the draft as undrafted free agent signings. They seem like very long shots to hear their names called during the draft itself.
And so, we wait for an Iowa player to be drafted. One Iowa player who had considerable experience with waiting during the draft process was Matt Bowen, who had to wait until pick #198 in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft (FUN FACT: Bowen went one spot ahead of some quarterback from Michigan -- Bom Trady? Thom Brader? I'm sure he never amounted to much in the NFL). He documented his experience waiting in a great article on ESPN.com:
And, like the majority of prospects waiting to hear their names called this weekend, I overvalued my own draft stock. Two-year starter at Iowa. First-team All-Big Ten as a senior. Ran a 4.49 at the combine. Maybe late third round, probably early fourth, I thought. You hear things, talk to your agent, listen to family, the college girlfriend, too. Yeah, she thinks you're a star.
Mock drafts? Rumors? Of course I looked at them. Dial-up internet back then. I even read Mel Kiper's draft guide. He gave me a pretty decent grade, I think. And I was sure the league would see me as a mid-round safety. That's decent cash, an opportunity to compete for a starting spot and some security.
But come Sunday morning, after hearing absolutely nothing on Day 1 of the draft, I started to get angry as picks came off the board. That safety? Come on, I'm better than him. He can't run like me. This cat? Nah. He isn't going to make it.
In reality, I was scared. And I didn't know if this thing was going to work out.
Best of luck to Blythe, Ott, Smith, Krieger-Coble, Walsh, Koehn, and the rest of the Hawkeyes in the NFL Draft this year as they wait to hear their names called. We'll have full coverage of the Hawkeyes taken in the NFL Draft all weekend.