The 2018 Winter Olympics have now come and gone, and while many of you may now be considering a career in curling, some of us are left wanting more. Fear not, Olympic fans, the NFL is here to fill your needs with their annual Underwear Olympics.
That’s right, the annual NFL Draft Combine kicks off on Friday and runs through Monday, March 5th. Coverage of the event begins at 8am CT Friday and will run nearly nonstop until 6pm CT Monday evening on the NFL Network. If you can’t catch all the action live, you can always catch up during the replays that are running at 7pm each night following the events. If you happen to be stuck in the office during the action and don’t want to miss a thing, you can also stream the events live on NFL.com.
And there’s good reason for Iowa fans to want to tune in. The Hawkeyes will be well-represented at the combine, sending 5 players this year, including center James Daniels, cornerback Josh Jackson, linebacker Josey Jewell, running back Akrum Wadley and guard Sean Welsh.
So when, exactly, should Iowa fans be paying attention? Well, pretty much every day except Saturday.
According to the NFL’s schedule of events, Friday will feature the running backs, offensive linemen and specialists. For Hawkeye fans, that means Akrum Wadley, James Daniels and Sean Welsh will be on the field participating in drills on Friday. Tune in accordingly.
Saturday features the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. Iowa is not sending any participants at those positions. There’s certainly plenty of buzz swirling around the top QBs in this class and some tremendous athletes at WR and TE, so perhaps it’s worth a look if you have some time.
On Sunday, the Hawkeyes are back on the field with Josey Jewell representing. The day will feature the defensive linemen and linebackers.
Finally, things conclude on Monday with the defensive backs. This will be the culminating moment for Iowa fans as Josh Jackson takes the field. We all know how incredibly talented he is, but we saw a year ago how NFL scouts can completely overlook on-field performance and place all their value on 40-yard dash times, hand size, height, etc.
Supposed issues with speed caused former Thorpe Award winner Desmond King to fall all the way to the 5th round in last year’s draft. Will Jackson be able to avoid a similar fate by impressing at the combine? He claims to be targeting a sub-4.4 40 time. That would certainly do the trick.
So, what are the scouts saying about the Hawkeyes headed to the combine? Let’s take a look.
Before we dive in, an important note on the grade scale used by NFL.com. They utilize a point system with ranges of points corresponding to where they project players for their career. Here’s a look at the scale.
With that in mind, let’s see what the NFL folks have to say about the five former Hawkeyes. The profiles were all written by Lance Zierlein. You’ll recall from a year ago that Zierlein wasn’t terribly high on most of the Hawkeyes in last year’s draft, feeling George Kittle was too small to block in the NFL and that Desmond King lacked the size and speed to play corner and would be a safety at the next level. While those appear to have become consensus views leading into the draft, they look pretty silly given on-field performance for a season. So take all these evaluations with a grain of salt.
Wt: 300 lbs
Projection: 5th-6th Round
The first thing that stands out about Welsh’s profile is the position. He worked in at center a little as a Hawkeye, but most Iowa fans will remember him as a guard. He showed a ton of versatility, getting time at tackle as well when needed, but with his size he’s certainly an interior lineman in the NFL.
Beyond that, he has a grade of 5.37, which slots him in the range of a guy who peaks as an NFL backup or special teams player. I think that’s probably conservative. I don’t envision a scenario where he’s starting next year on an NFL team, but would anyone be shocked if he worked his way into a starting role before his career is over?
Here’s the bottom line on Welsh from Zierlein:
Capable interior lineman who will likely move to the center spot due to his lack of size and length. While Welsh isn’t physically weak, he doesn’t have the mass and pure power to win one-on-one matchups and he is best-suited for teams who lean on inside zone running plays. Welsh’s solid technique and potential to swing from center to guard in a pinch will benefit his roster chances. Welsh has decent talent, but below average physical traits which could force him into a purgatory between starter and backup.
You can view Welsh’s full profile here.
Wt: 295 lbs
Projection: 2nd Round
This is the reason James Daniels opted not to return for his senior year at Iowa. He’s graded out as a 6.0, which translates to an instant starter in the NFL. He’s also got a 2nd round projection, which might actually be low based on some other mock drafts (Mel Kiper Jr. has him just outside the top 20 as the 1st center taken).
Why the high hopes? Well, because Daniels is big, strong and incredibly athletic. He has elite ability to move around for a center and the agility doesn’t come at the expense of physicality either in the run game or in pass pro.
Here’s Zierlein’s bottom line:
Daniels is a fluid mover with tremendous initial quickness to win positioning on most every zone block he’s asked to make -- both on the first and second levels. His height, weight and arm length numbers at the Combine will be critical in either solidifying his draft slot or potentially dropping him a round. Some teams might see him as a zone-only center, but he may be strong enough to fit in with other blocking schemes. He needs to get stronger, but he’s a plus run blocker and pass protector with a chance to become a Pro Bowl starter.
You can view Daniel’s full profile here.
Pos: Running Back
Wt: 191 lbs
Projection: 3rd-4th Round
Akrum Wadley leaves the Hawkeyes as one of the most dunamic players in a generation. His ability to make defensers miss with the ball in his hands is only matched by a few of the expects top-10 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
However, as with much of his time at Iowa, there are question marks around his size at the next level. While he has a similar build to former Texas running back Jamaal Charles who has had a wonderful NFL career, it raises concerns about carrying a full workload and pass protection.
Here’s the bottom line from Zierlein:
The highlight reel runs are full of jukes, cuts and missed tackles for this explosive runner, but teams will likely view him as a rotational back with some pass-catching ability on the next level. Wadley’s unique talent in creating unblocked yardage for himself is a huge plus and his ability to catch passes and return kicks should add to his value. However, his lack of play strength and decisiveness as a runner might limit the number of teams willing to look at him inside the first two days of the draft. Wadley may be a committee runner who can have a solid NFL career if he proves he can be a full-time third-down option.
You can see Wadley’s full profile here.
Wt: 235 lbs
Projection: 3rd-4th Round
The Outlaw leaves Iowa City as a living legend. Like so many Hawkeyes before him, he finds himself with concerns over size and speed. His grade of 5.65 suggests this particular scout feels he may overcome those concerns as that projects as having the chance to become an NFL starter.
Iowa fans will recall that his size, while a little on the shorter side, didn’t seem to give him too many problems as he ascended the all-time tackles list for the Hawkeyes. He has an incredible nose for the ball, solid technique and enough physicality to do almost anything you would ask of an inside linebacker.
Here’s the bottom line:
On the borderline from a size standpoint, Jewell will have his detractors who may worry about whether he’s big enough or fast enough to become a starter in the NFL. What I see on tape is a highly instinctive linebacker who combines physicality with a relentless motor to find his way into play after play. Jewell’s consistent play speed and consistency as a tackle finisher could make him a future starter as an inside linebacker perfectly suited to the WILL spot in a 3-4.
You can see Jewell’s full profile here.
Wt: 192 lbs
Jackson is perhaps the most interesting case in the entire group of Hawkeyes at the combine. A year ago, he was a relative unknown, buried on the depth chart behind a pair of future pros in Desemond King and Greg Mabin. As the season went on, Jackson began his meteoric rise up draft boards.
He enters the combine with an opportunity to continue that rise potentially all the way into the top 10 with a solid 40 time or suffer some semblance of King’s fate a year ago if he were to disappoint with his speed and agility. It’s that potential for a rise as high as the top ten (I’ve seen him as high as #4 on a few boards) that makes his profile so perplexing.
Despite being the highest rated player, his overall evaluation is incomplete. He has no projected round and no “bottom line.” His grade suggests he should become an instant starter at the next level, however.
Here’s what did make it into his profile as his strengths and weaknesses.
Had mind-blowing ball-hawking season with 27 passes defensed including eight interceptions. Tall with long arms. Allowed 41.3 percent completion rate. Made a play on 25.7 percent of his targets. Makes his own fortune. Instincts are top-notch. Plays the ball and not the man. Flashed supreme ball skills. High-point winner with ability to pull down the one-hand grab. Put together monster performances in big games. Finished with three interceptions in upset win over Ohio State and two pick-sixes against Wisconsin. Anticipates routes. Allowed no touchdowns after Week 4. Spotlight player. Lauded for positive attitude and strong work ethic.
One-year wonder. Has just 14 career starts. Early opener from press. Needs more experience and more patience. Too easily influenced by release fakes at the line of scrimmage. Can be turned by quality routes. Doesn’t flash a big chase burst when he gets behind on the routes (crossers). Needs to tighten up tackling. Questions are being raised about his long speed. Buys into route breaks a little too hard from trail and can be double-moved.
Honestly, given the lack of a complete profile, it’s hard for me to take this seriously. I won’t rag too hard on the author for his “one year wonder” comment and the reason behind why he only started a year, but it’s strange to say the least that of all the players to have things incomplete profile it’s a guy who will almost certainly find himself in the first round and possibly as high as the top ten.
Here’s Jackson’s full profile.
As previously mentioned, Iowa is sending 5 participants to this year’s combine. That’s fourth in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State, who is sending 11, Penn State at 8 and Wisconsin at 6. In total, the conference is sending 50 representatives this year. For comparison’s sake, the SEC has 71 former players participating.
You can view the entire list of participants here.
Good luck to all the former Hawkeyes participating this weekend!