While the Big Ten and PAC-12 won’t be playing football this fall, the NFL is planning to move forward with their season as previously scheduled. That means Iowa fans will still have an opportunity to enjoy rooting for former Hawkeyes this fall.
In total, there are 36 former Hawkeyes on 20 different NFL rosters this training camp, including 15 on offense and 21 on defense. There have been some new names in new places, but also some big time holdovers in familiar settings.
Here’s our early look at the former Hawkeyes playing offense in the NFL ahead of the 2020 season.
CJ Beathard, QB
San Francisco 49ers
Former Iowa QB CJ Beathard is in his 4th season with the 49ers after being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Beathard has gotten some run during his first three seasons in the league due to injuries in front of him. Entering the 2020 season, the Tennessee native will compete with Nick Mullens for the primary backup job behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
Austin Blyth, C
LA Rams center Austin Blythe is entering his fifth season in the NFL. After making it just one season in Indianapolis, who drafted Blythe in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Blythe has caught on in LA. He was claimed off of waivers in spring of 2017 by the Rams and was a reserve most of that season, before logging one start. He hasn’t looked back since, becoming the Rams’ starter at right guard in 2018. Entering the 2020 season, Blythe is projected as LA’s starting center.
Ike Boettger, G
Former Iowa offensive tackle Ike Boettger is entering his third year in the NFL and his third season with the Buffalo Bills. After going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, Boettger was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs and spent time on the active roster before ultimately being waived and picked up by the Bills. In Buffalo, Boettger has earned time in four games in 2018 and two in 2019, both at guard. Entering the 2020 season, the Cedar Falls native projects as the third string left guard in Buffalo.
Bryan Bulaga, OT
Former Iowa star Bryan Bulaga has some new digs in 2020. The 2010 first round pick has spent his entire career in Green Bay, but entering the 2020 season he’ll be enjoying some warmer winters as he starts his first season with the LA Chargers. The Chargers, of course, are being featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks and Bulaga has made a few notable appearances with some high quality bits of wisdom for rookie QB Justin Herbert and some thoughts on play selection in the film room. Bulaga is expected to start at right tackle in his 11th NFL season.
James Daniels, C
Center James Daniels is entering his third season in the NFL after being drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 2018. Daniels has asserted himself as a mainstay in the middle of the Bear’s offensive line, earning 26 starts over the last two seasons at center and guard. Entering 2020, Daniels again figures to be the starting left guard in Chicago, but maintains flexibility to slid into the center role as he did for eight games a season ago.
Noah Fant, TE
Second year tight end Noah Fant is looking to have a breakout campaign in 2020. After being a first round pick in 2019 by the Denver Broncos, Fant hauled in 40 catches for 563 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead all rookie TEs in yardage. In year two, Fant is expected to be locked in as a starter in Denver and may emerge as one of the best at his position as the year progresses.
TJ Hockenson, TE
Like Fant, former first round pick T.J. Hockenson is looking to break out in 2020. The #8 overall pick in 2019 was injured a good part of the season and spent the final four games on injured reserve after tallying 367 yards and two touchdowns on 32 catches through 12 appearances. Hockenson has said his ankle is getting closer to 100% entering the season. If healthy, look for Hockenson, like Fant, to make a leap in year two as the starter in Detroit.
George Kittle, TE
San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of guys that have made the leap, the people’s tight end, George Kittle, is arguably the best in the game. Entering just his fourth season in the NFL, the former fifth round pick has taken the league by storm over the last two seasons earning back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances and a fat new contract.
George Kittle's rank among TEs since entering the NFL in 2017:— PFF (@PFF) August 13, 2020
92.3 PFF grade - 1st
45 missed tackles forced - 1st
76.3 run-blocking grade - 3rd pic.twitter.com/4hkoYUyllN
It’s obviously well deserved as outlined by the Pro Football Focus numbers. From a pure statistical perspective, Kittle is an absolute beast. In 2019, he topped 1,000 receiving yards for the second straight year at 1,053 and scored five TDs yet again. In 2020, look for the budding star to build on the success of the last two years amassing pancake blocks and crazy receiving stats.
Matt Nelson, OT
Former Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson has undergone a transformation as he looks to make a living in the NFL. At 6’8” and 295 pounds as a senior defensive end, Nelson was a cog on the Iowa defensive line. But he went undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft and ultimately signed on in Detroit. As an offensive tackle. Entering his second season in the league, Nelson is now listed at 313 pounds and at his height he still looks lean and nimble. Despite the impressive weight gain, Nelson is still in a tough spot from a numbers perspective. He’s listed as the fourth right tackle on the Lions’ depth chart, making him the fifth tackle on the roster. Even if he doesn’t make final roster cuts early in the year, look for Nelson to hang around in a season that is sure to see plenty of call ups and roster moves.
Riley Reiff, OT
Speaking of roster moves, Riley Reiff is a potential surprising one in Minnesota. The 2012 first round draft pick spent five seasons with the aforementioned Lions before moving within the division to the Minnesota Vikings in 2017. Despite starting nearly every game in both Detroit and Minnesota since his rookie season, Reiff appears to be a potential salary cap casualty in 2020. Despite being the presumptive starter, the former Hawkeye is owed almost $11M this season - a number the Vikings don’t want to pay.
Riley Reiff isn't blinking (yet); he's telling teammates he expects to be cut in lieu of accepting Minnesota's offer for a reduced salary https://t.co/Iw1IBx4GAI— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 31, 2020
If the Vikings don’t want to pay Reiff, someone else surely will. Left tackles are at a premium in this league and several suitors are likely to emerge. The Philadelphia Eagles have already been rumored to have interest.
Ross Reynolds, G
San Francisco 49ers
Former Iowa guard Ross Reynolds is entering his second season in San Francisco. An undrafted free agent in 2019, Reynolds has yet to log any game action with the 49ers. Despite the limited experience, Reynolds is projected as the backup left guard to Laken Tomlinson in San Francisco. The Niners have notable depth at center and right guard, which could pressure Reynolds come roster cut down time.
Brandon Scherff, G
Washington Football Team
Former first round pick Brandon Scherff is entering his sixth season with the Washington Football Team. As with each of the last five years, Scherff is the presumptive starter at right guard. However, if the Football Team (lol) has a string of injuries at QB, the former high school quarterback appears to still have it.
Want to see Brandon Scherff play QB? pic.twitter.com/NommAiDXYf— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) August 24, 2020
Nate Stanley, QB
Speaking of quarterbacks, Iowa’s departing QB is entering his rookie campaign for the Minnesota Vikings. The 7th round pick is in an interesting situation in Minnesota without a star QB or any real big names on the depth chart. That said, Stanley is currently listed 4th behind starter Kirk Cousins and backups Sean Mannion and Jake Browning. Hawkeye fans know what Stanley can and cannot bring to the table at the position and he seems qualified to land somewhere as a backup in the league, even if Minnesota goes in another direction.
When Mike Zimmer was asked about backup QBs:— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) August 30, 2020
“I think Nate Stanley shows a lot of promise. He’s got a big arm, instinctive. There was one play where the defense blitzed him and he kind of rolled away from the blitz and then hit the receiver in the flat." #Vikings
Nate Wieting, TE
Tight end Nate Weiting makes it four former Hawkeyes in the league at the position. Unlike Kittle, Hockenson and Fant, however, Weiting is not poised to be a superstar. Instead, the undrafted free agent is on his second roster since April’s draft. Now with Miami, Weiting is fighting for a roster spot. He’s not currently listed among the Dolphins’ four tight ends on the depth chart, bringing into question his ability to make the team.
Tristan Wirfs, OT
Tampa Bay Buccanneers
And finally, the number 12 overall pick from this spring’s NFL Draft, Tristan Wirfs is entering his rookie year with the
New England Patriots
I asked #Bucs rookie RT Tristan Wirfs what is different technique-wise about his pass sets and run blocking in Tampa Bay compared to Iowa, and he gave a pretty terrific, detailed response: pic.twitter.com/SQxt1t0SUi— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 28, 2020
Of course, as much as things change, some stay the same.
#bucs ran a screen to Gronk and rookie T Tristan Wirfs was out in front and exploded S Jordan Whitehead in the open field.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 27, 2020
Kid’s going to be just fine.
That’s it for the offense. We’ll check in next week with the former Hawkeyes playing defense at the next level. The NFL season officially kicks off next Thursday, September 10th.