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Hawks in the NFL: Roster Cuts & Other Stuff

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All you need to know about your favorite Hawkeyes in the league...

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It’s Wednesday, September 1st, which means we are one day removed from the annual NFL roster slaughter that is the NFL roster cut deadline, as teams trim their rosters down from 80 players to 50.

The unfortunate reality is that amongst the wave of those roster cuts, there’ll undoubtedly be some former Hawkeyes who receive the heartbreaking call that they have been released.

That said, there’s a flip side and that flip side happens to contain many former Hawkeyes who we all continue to root for.

The Survivors

Although the Iowa Hawkeyes happen to have many alumni who are solidified in their roles on NFL teams, there’s an equal if not greater number of former players who are considered as being “on the bubble” with their football futures potentially being on the line.

The players we’ll spotlight here first are the ones who made the team…

Mekhi Sargent

Considered by many as a “dark horse” to make the Tennessee Titans 53-man roster, the former Iowa walk-on and undrafted free agent took advantage of his opportunity this preseason displaying excellent balance, good vision, decisiveness and the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. With Tennessee desperately looking for a compliment to their bell cow running back, Derrick Henry, they may have found one in the form of Sargent.

Jack Heflin

Next on the list is current Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Jack Heflin who came to the Hawkeyes last season via graduate transfer from Northern Illinois. Despite going undrafted, Heflin immediately impressed as a member of the Packers’ defensive front. Flashing his ability to anchor and plug running lanes while delivering a level of hustle that Iowa fans became accustomed to last season. Following game two of the preseason, he had all but solidified his status as a player to make the 53-man roster and that became official on Tuesday.

Alaric Jackson

The NFL Draft process proved to be a brutal one for Alaric Jackson as a lackluster performance at the Senior Bowl followed by poor athletic testing numbers made many scouts and teams wonder whether or not Jackson had the athleticism and talent to play at the next level. That said, if there’s any position the NFL is short on, it’s offensive lineman and when you put together a preseason that displays quality pass protection ability coupled with above average ability as a run blocker … the result happens to be a spot on the Los Angeles Rams 53-man roster.

Parker Hesse

You may be unaware, but former Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse is continuing to stick around the NFL … as a tight end. Although this comes with the caveat of having been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Hesse remains a legit candidate to make the Atlanta Falcons 53-man roster, as they only have three tight ends currently on the roster. Iowa just knows how to churn out tight ends I suppose. Even when that’s not where they lined up in college.

Josh Jackson

It may come as a shock to see Jackson’s name listed here. However, the NFL struggles for the former Iowa defensive back standout have been well-documented, as Jackson struggled mightily in coverage during his tenure in Green Bay. However, it’s possible that a change of scenery after being traded to the New York Giants could’ve made a world of difference, as Jackson was able to impress in limited preseason action. Jackson’s playmaking ability and aggressiveness are two traits that will never fade and I’m eager to see how he performs under the bright lights of New York City.

Kristian Welch

It’s possible many of you have forgotten about former Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch, as he only started one season for the Hawkeyes back in 2019. That said, Welch has successfully parlayed that one season of starting into what has the chance to be a viable NFL career, as he found himself on the 53-man roster for the Baltimore Ravens along with former Iowa counterpart Geno Stone. Although Welch was aided by the unfortunate season-ending injury of starting linebacker, L.J. Fort, Welch has an opportunity to make a serious impression on the Ravens given his ability as a blitzer — something the Ravens love to do — and turn his previous undrafted free agent status into a starting NFL linebacker role.

Carl Davis

At this point in former Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis’ NFL journey, it’s fair to call him a journeyman as the New England Patriots mark his fifth different team since being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015. That said, Davis’ strength at the point of attack and ability to be steady on the interior have allowed him to stick around a bit longer, as he officially made the Patriots 53-man roster on Tuesday.

Matt Nelson

If you’re a Hawkeye fan (I have to imagine that’s why you’re here) you may remember Matt Nelson as a very tall defensive lineman during his time at Iowa. That said, in the NFL Nelson has become somewhat of a project for the Detroit Lions, as they’ve worked on converting him to play right tackle. Although it’s unlikely that Nelson will see regular season action barring injury or a blowout (let’s be real, it’s the Lions), Nelson has obviously shown enough development to find himself on the 53-man roster over the past two seasons.

Those Who Missed The Cut … Barely

This is the harsh reality of the NFL game. Not every player who shows potential or has the ability to play in the league is going to make the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason for what can be a variety of different reasons.

That said, not every player who ends up being cut is saying goodbye to the league forever, as many players will wind up on some team’s practice squad. That especially rings true this season, as the NFL has decided to carry over it’s COVID-era policy of allowing up to 16 practice squad spots, as opposed to the traditional 10, as well as allowing six of those spots to be held by players who have accrued two or more season, which hadn’t been implemented prior to last season.

That alone lends hope to many of the names you’re about to see appear.

Shaun Beyer

Following week three of the preseason, it was relatively clear that a spot on the Denver Broncos’ 53-man roster wasn’t likely for rookie tight end Shaun Beyer, as the target share and playing time limitations indicated that a handful of players were listed above him on the depth chart. That said, Beyer showed a number of flashes in the preseason for the Broncos and given his versatility as a run blocker as well as his ability in the passing game, it’s very likely that Beyer will find himself on some team’s practice squad for the upcoming season.

Cole Banwart

Former Iowa offensive guard Cole Banwart not making the Tennessee Titans 53-man roster may come as a shock to many of you, as his wildly impressive athletic testing numbers coupled with impressive flashes this preseason indicated that a spot on the 53-man roster may be imminent. It’s unfortunate, but teams have their reasons and whatever that reason happened to be, led Tennessee into releasing the undrafted rookie on Tuesday. That said, much like Beyer, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Banwart end up on a practice squad somewhere when it’s all said and done.

Brandon Smith

This may have been the move that shocked me the most as far as roster cuts involving former Hawkeyes are concerned. This preseason, rookie wide receiver Brandon Smith showed many flashes — too many to ignore. Although the Dallas Cowboys have a lot of quality depth at receiver, it seemed as though Smith had done enough to earn a spot on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster. That said, the bottom two wide receivers on most NFL rosters typically are rewarded to the guys who hold some sort of special teams value and it’s entirely possible that Smith was beaten out in that area. As the week goes on, I fully expect Smith will receive an invitation to the Cowboys’ practice squad assuming another team doesn’t swoop him up and place him on their 53-man roster, as his athleticism, size and aggressiveness at the catch point are all valuable traits that can be hard to find in a receiver.

Nate Stanley

Although it isn’t surprising that former Hawkeye signal caller Nate Stanley was released from the Vikings on Tuesday, seeing as head coach Mike Zimmer is steadfast in his belief of only keeping two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, it’s still important to note that Stanley was able to hold on to spot throughout the preseason despite not playing a snap throughout its duration. Much like the previously aforementioned players in this section, Stanley is a prime practice squad candidate assuming everything is positive health-wise for him.

Casey Kreiter

All this time later and former Hawkeye long snapper Casey Kreiter is still hanging around the NFL. Emphasis on the word “still” as it’s expected that, despite his release on Tuesday, he’s expected to be re-signed by the New York Giants to their 53-man roster assuming he passes through waivers.

Barrington Wade

Barrington Wade may be an interesting name to see appearing on this list. However, entering his second season in the NFL, Wade has displayed quality ability on special teams as well as upside as a potential rotational option at linebacker given his athleticism. Although Wade failed to make the Denver Broncos 53-man roster, it’s expected that Wade will be added back to the practice squad assuming he’s able to pass through waivers.

Jaleel Johnson & Mike Daniels

It sort of fits to include these two in a section together, as both are considered veteran NFL players at this point and both have served as starting defensive tackles for more than one season in their professional careers. In regards to Johnson and Daniels, it’s expected that both players will land somewhere once they pass through waivers, as both guys still have plenty to offer an NFL team, whether that’s as a starter or a depth option.

The Uncertain

So far, we’ve shown the spotlight on the players who made the 53-man roster and the players who came up just short. However, not every player who was cut leading up to Tuesday’s deadline will be getting another opportunity in the NFL. At least, for the time being (things are always changing).

Here are the rest of the former Hawkeyes whose NFL careers are now unfortunately clouded in uncertainty:

Nate Wieting, TE

Greg Mabin, CB

Cedrick Lattimore, DL

Ross Reynolds, IOL

Jake Gervase, DB/LB

Coy Cronk, OT

James Ferentz, IOL

The Best of The Rest

Let’s end on a positive note, as there’s a lot of former Hawkeyes we haven’t touched on in this that you may be wondering about. I’ll stay away from the notables here like George Kittle, Micah Hyde, Tristan Wirfs, etc., because although we all know and love them, this week is about the under the radar, non-solidified NFL guys.

Ike Boettger

If you would’ve told me that former Iowa offensive tackle Ike Boettger following an injury riddled college career would still be around the NFL in 2021, I wouldn’t have believed you. That said, not only is Boettger still around the league, he’s also happened to be making some waves, as his performance with the Bills has put him in the conversation as a potential starter at right guard over former second round pick, Cody Ford. It’s no secret that Boettger is a quality athlete and his NFL journey has gone through some adversity, but he seems to be making the most of it in Buffalo.

Daviyon Nixon

Surprising to no one who watched even a snap of the Hawkeyes’ defense last season, Daviyon Nixon has made his impact felt with the Carolina Panthers in his first preseason. Whether it’s splash plays in practice or displays of athleticism in game action, Nixon has made quite the impression on Panthers coaches so far, including defensive coordinator Phil Snow who had this to say about the 22-year-old rookie:

“When we drafted him, we knew we were gonna get a big, athletic guy. He’s got really long arms. And, so, we’re excited about him. He’s getting better every day. He’s been fun to coach. So I think he’s got a bright future here.”

Nick Niemann

Los Angeles Chargers rookie linebacker Nick Niemann, has been making waves this preseason with the team, as his production on the field in game action has been very notable in addition to receiving from the Chargers coaching staff. I refuse to shamelessly plug the analysis video I did for him leading up to the NFL Draft, but … I told you so *shrugs*

C.J. Beathard

The days of “Sunshine” C.J. Beathard might be long over following his decision to cut the flowing golden locks that we all fell in love with as Hawkeye fans. However, Beathard’s NFL career just keeps on chugging and at this point, Beathard is poised to have a lengthy NFL career as a backup or spot starter in the NFL. Beathard’s performance as the newest member of the Jacksonville Jaguars was impressive this preseason and his showing almost certainly led Jacksonville into dealing last year’s starter, Gardner Minshew, to the Philadelphia Eagles clearing way for Beathard to take firm control of the number two spot on the Jacksonville depth chart.