IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa football consistently outpunches its weight class when it comes to sending players to the NFL draft.
Spanning the last 10 years, the Hawkeyes have had 37 draft picks to rank third among Big Ten teams. Only Ohio State (55) and Michigan (39) have had more.
With as many as nine prospects with draft potential, Iowa has a chance to move up a spot in the next 10-year block. Cornerback Josh Jackson and center James Daniels both declared for the NFL draft, which will be held April 26-28. Jackson, a unanimous All-American, is considered a first-round selection while Daniels is rated among the top three centers.
As for the seniors, running back Akrum Wadley, linebacker Josey Jewell, guard Sean Welsh and outside linebacker Ben Niemann seem likely draft picks. Offensive linemen Boone Myers and Ike Boettger were considered mid-round prospects before injuries robbed them of their senior year. Running back James Butler, linebacker Bo Bower, fullback Drake Kulick, wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, long snapper Tyler Kluver and safety Miles Taylor all have chances of heading to training camp with an NFL club.
Here’s my way-too-early projection for Iowa’s NFL draft prospects:
CB Josh Jackson, first round, Chicago Bears
The Bears need help at multiple positions, especially wide receiver and cornerback. Jackson (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) could make an immediate impact on a decent defense that needs an upgrade in the secondary. Bears general manager Ryan Pace scouted the Iowa-Wisconsin game in Madison, and Jackson intercepted 2 passes for touchdowns and forced a fumble. Jackson would be a starter in Chicago four seconds after his name was announced.
C James Daniels, third round, Cleveland Browns
Injuries have limited how people view Daniels’ Iowa career, but his upside is limitless. He’s one of the program’s best athletes to play along the offensive line, and he moves in space better than any interior lineman. The Browns could use a long-term answer at center, and Daniels (6-4, 295) has that potential. Cleveland has six selections in the first three rounds. Daniels is an Ohio native, and it’s always a plus for NFL teams to build those local ties.
LB Josey Jewell, third round, Detroit Lions
When it comes to the tangibles, Jewell (6-2, 236) will get dinged by scouts and some team personnel in draft preparation. He’s not quite big enough, quick enough, fast enough. It’s the same thing he heard coming out of high school. Then there will be a team that will see his production, tenacity, toughness and leadership qualities. In my opinion, it’s a greater mistake to let that type of player with those intangibles slip away than drafting him one round too early. Detroit could use another slam-ball linebacker to pair with Jarrad Davis, and they would make for a great tandem.
RB Akrum Wadley, fourth round, Dallas Cowboys
Running backs are devalued when it comes to the NFL draft, and that’s what might hurt Wadley (5-11, 195) on draft weekend. Teams will continue to select no-brainer all-stars like Saquon Barkley high in the draft, but the league’s emphasis remains on using mid-round picks on running backs. The Cowboys have one of the NFL’s best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott. but they always could use one to operate in tandem. Wadley showed in the Pinstripe Bowl he’s capable of excelling on special teams. He already proved for the last three years he can do anything on offense.
G Sean Welsh, fifth round, Indianapolis Colts
As an interior player, Welsh (6-3, 295) is technically proficient and powerful. He’s not overly large but he’s a plug-and-play performer who can compete at multiple positions. Guard is his best spot. Chances are, Welsh becomes at least a top-eight lineman for a team as a rookie and eventually will start.
LB Ben Niemann, sixth round, Denver Broncos
As a healthy performer, Niemann (6-3, 230) showed he can compete at a high level in Iowa’s hybrid outside linebacker/safety role. He also moved inside to play middle linebacker for one game. At the next level, Niemann probably fits in as a full-time special teams player and a sub-package performer on defenses where he either covers tight ends or moves inside as a dime linebacker. Considering the NFL uses sub-packages more often than traditional alignments, there’s a home for Niemann somewhere.
OL Boone Myers, sixth round, Minnesota Vikings
It’s a shame Myers (6-5, 310) suffered a right, high-ankle sprain in August that limited his effectiveness early in the season and eventually resulted in surgery. Myers had All-Big Ten potential, and losing his senior season robbed him of a third- or fourth-round grade. But somebody will see his power, versatility and technical proficiency and want that for their offensive line. Myers is best suited at guard but can play tackle.
OL Ike Boettger, seventh round, Houston Texans
Boettger (6-6, 307) lost almost his entire senior year with a right Achilles tendon tear in Iowa’s second game. That likely gives teams pause, but late in the draft, personnel executives often take chances on two types of players: developmental projects or injured players with upside. Boettger started two full seasons at Iowa and was considered a mid-round pick before his injury. The Texans employ gap blocking a little more regularly than other teams, which could benefit from Boettger’s girth. Boettger could slide inside and hold up as a guard or stay at right tackle.
RB James Butler, seventh round, Indianapolis Colts
This is a projection based on Butler’s production as a junior at Nevada, when he gained 1,717 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. Butler (5-9, 210) transferred to Iowa, battled through a brutal right elbow dislocation that cost him four full games. He finished with 443 total yards but showed he was capable of competing at a high level. Butler has Frank Gore-type ability and some team will be thrilled to have him, whether that’s late in the draft or as a free agent.
DT Nate Bazata, free agent, New Orleans Saints
Reaching the NFL won’t be easy for an undersized defensive tackle like Nate Bazata (6-2, 287). But Bazata has shown he’s tough, tenacious and surprisingly athletic. Finding a spot that runs a 4-3 defense could give him a shot at making a team or a practice squad.
LB Bo Bower, free agent, Green Bay Packers
Bower (6-2, 235) started for three years at Iowa, which means he’ll get a shot at the next level. His best option might come as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 base scheme or moving to fullback.
WR Matt VandeBerg, free agent, Green Bay Packers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes everyone look good around him. If receiver Jordy Nelson moves on and VandeBerg (6-1, 195) returns to his pre-injury form, he has a chance to compete for the roster or practice squad.
LS Tyler Kluver, free agent, Detroit Lions
Few teams draft long snappers, and by design, they remain anonymous throughout their careers. Kluver (6-0, 220) remained that way at Iowa until he caught a pass on a fake field goal against Ohio State. Kluver was reliable, consistent and will get an opportunity.
FB Drake Kulick, free agent, Minnesota Vikings
Kulick (6-1, 240) is tough and physical and should head to camp with a team. Minnesota has only one fullback on its roster, and it will need a few more entering training camp.
S Miles Taylor, free agent, Washington Redskins
Taylor (5-10, 203) had 169 tackles and was a three-year starter at Iowa. Players such as that usually receive an opportunity to at least compete in training camp. Taylor’s health will determine whether he can do that.