A year ago this time we all sat and watched in amazement as our local hero, a superstar, really, fell and fell and fell in the 2017 NFL Draft. Desmond King had proven himself time and again against some very talented receivers in the college game. He had proven himself so well that teams just stopped throwing at him at all.
NFL GMs were apparently the only people who didn’t get the memo. Rather than focusing on King’s on-field performance, they looked at things like his 40 time and his size. Team after team decided they would rather take a guy with an extra inch in height or a hundredth of a second faster 40 than take a guy who had proven consistently he could cover just about anyone in front of him.
King fell all the way to the 5th round before the San Diego Chargers finally pulled the trigger. A year later, NFL GMs look foolish as King had a tremendous rookie season. He was graded as the 14th best cornerback in the entire league according to Pro Football Focus, ranking third among rookies behind only Marshon Lattimore (who was taken 11th overall) and Tre’Davious White (who was taken 27th overall). There were 17 other cornerbacks taken ahead of King who all had worse rookie seasons.
In fact, King broke the record for most sacks by a rookie cornerback, most defensive stops by a rookie cornerback and highest run-stop percentage by a rookie cornerback in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2007). Not bad for a fifth rounder. How are those 40 times working out for everyone?
And yet Hawkeye fans around the world sat and watched Thursday night as a trio of cornerbacks came off the board, none of them were named Joshua Jackson. I don’t think anyone is going to begrudge the Browns for snagging Denzel Ward (though 4th overall might be a bit of a reach). He seems likely to have a very solid NFL career and he certainly looked good against our Hawkeyes.
In case you forgot, here’s a look:
Whoops, sorry, wrong highlights. Actually, no those were the highlights. The only highlights. Ward didn’t really do anything against Iowa as evidenced by the 55 points our, uh, mediocre (?) offense hung on the Buckeye D.
The real question marks started to fly, for yours truly at least, when the Green Bay Packers first traded back from the 14th spot to the 27th, then traded back up to the 18th spot. Jackson was sitting there, the Pack needed a corner and the franchise has a history of success with former Hawkeyes. I was certain this was the moment. Instead they opted for Louisville’s Jaire Alexander.
A dozen picks later, the Minnesota Vikings were on the clock with a pressing need at corner. Again I was convinced. Again I was disappointed as the Vikings opted for UCF’s Mike Hughes instead. Listen, I hope for the sake of our dual Hawkeye and Viking fans I hope this works out.
But COME. ON.
Finally, with the 45th pick overall and the 13th pick in the second round the Packers decided they needed another cornerback and pulled the trigger on Jackson.
I know the end game is just getting on a roster and making a name for yourself, but the slide both cost Jackson some serious money and likely took a shot at his pride after he sat in the green room in his home town throughout the first round on Thursday. All because a bunch of people value things like 40 times over game film.
And now I hear chatter that Green Bay is thinking about lining Alexander up in the slot and making Jackson an every down starter on the outside due to his size. What the literal hell? You spent a first round pick and millions of dollars on a slot corner and just hoped your starting CB would be there in the second round?
#Packers still have to address edge rusher, but their CB position could be real good. With Kevin King and Josh Jackson on the outside and Jaire Alexander in the slot, that's a lot of playmaking potential. Helps to have Tramon Williams and Davon House as mentors in the room.— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) April 28, 2018
Of course, Jackson wasn’t the only Hawkeye we watched slide for, uh, questionable reasons. Center James Daniels, who was expected to be the first center taken in this class, watched a pair of other centers go ahead of him.
I’m sure Frank Ragnow and Billy Price will do just fine in the NFL, but there’s a reason James Daniels was the top-rated center in the class. It is absurd for him to have been taken third. Supposedly, there were concerns over a “medical issue.” That’s BS. The “issue” was a concern over Daniel’s knee, which caused him to miss time last season.
That’s not a new injury. That’s something that was a known quantity months ago. That’s something that should have been baked into that top overall grade. It’s an excuse. It cost James Daniels a bunch of money and it cost a couple teams a better player than the one they got. Good on the Bears for finally getting a Hawkeye with the 39th pick overall.
On a slightly higher note, one Hawkeye didn’t watch his name slide down draft boards over the weekend. Josey Jewell went roughly where we thought he might go. He was taken by the Broncos with the 106th pick overall (that’s the 6th pick in the 4th round). That made him the 4th inside linebacker to be taken in the draft. Even there though, we see a tremendous player passed up by a few teams because he doesn’t check all the boxes for measurables like height and weight and arm length and 40 yard dash time and on and on.
Some of the reasons Iowa players end up at Iowa as 2- and 3-star players are the same reasons they slide in the NFL draft. Sure, they get taken. Iowa does a tremendous job of identifying those guys without the measurables and developing them, teaching them the techniques to take advantage of their abilities - teaching them to be football players.
You hear the same NFL GMs who passed on these guys talk about those traits instilled in the former Hawkeyes they’ve drafted. They gush over their work ethic, their professionalism and their technique. And yet they get enamored with the measurables and pass on the football players.
Perhaps there’s no better example of this than former RB Akrum Wadley. We all know him as perhaps the most dynamic rusher we’ll watch at Iowa. But we also know him as a bit slight in stature - he measures in at 5’10” and only 194 lbs. It’s that weight that seems to have everyone concerned about his durability. It didn’t stop Wadley from rushing for a thousand yards each of the last two seasons at Iowa or from completely embarrassing a plethora of Big Ten defenders who are now in the NFL.
But it did stop him from being drafted. Wadley, who ESPN had pegged as the 12th best RB prospect in this year’s draft (he’s still listed as the best available FWIW), watched as 21 (TWENTY-ONE!) other backs were drafted and his name was not called. The list included backs from Louisiana Tech, Fordham and D-II Virginia State, but nobody had a spot for Akrum Wadley. These GMs may never learn.
Fortunately, Wadley, and Welsh and a number of other former Hawkeyes will get their shot to make a name for themselves in training camps as undrafted free agents. You can check out the full list of who signed where here.
As for all of us, we can sit here and wait for the moment somewhere in the middle of next NFL season to talk about how we all knew these guys were steals and these GMs clearly put way too much stock in things like running 40 yards in a straight line without pads on or what the prototypical weight is for a running back or the perfect height for a linebacker or how an injury a year ago might creep back up some time down the road.
It’ll all just be déjà vu all over again.
Until then, anyone know where I can apply for one of those GM jobs?
Happy Monday, ya’ll. Congrats to all the former Hawkeyes who are starting their NFL careers. If you aren’t starting your first day in a million dollar-plus job, just remember Friday is only four more work days away.