It’s time to look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft. Beathard took the honor of first Hawkeyes player drafted this year. Who will it be next year? There are three likely options. Let’s break down each.
RB Akrum Wadley
Akrum Wadley considered leaving for the NFL draft after rushing for 1,081 yards last season. He returned and underwent left knee surgery in January. Iowa limited his activity in spring practice for precautionary measures so that he will be ready for preseason camp.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Wadley is expected to be healthy for the season, where his speed, athleticism, elusiveness and ability to make plays in space will draw the attention of NFL scouts. He might return punts and kicks in the fall, adding to his versatile skill set. Wadley will be the centerpiece of Iowa’s offense, and the Hawkeyes will showcase his ability throughout the season. That could help to enhance his draft position, though some already were high on Wadley entering this offseason. Earlier, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he would have rated him the No. 6 running back had he entered the 2017 NFL Draft.
Wadley’s athleticism is a bonus in the draft process. He likely will test well. Former running back LeShun Daniels already guesses Wadley will post a 4.4-second 40-yard dash next winter leading up to the draft. Posting strong numbers at the NFL combine or at Iowa’s pro day can make teams take a longer look at a prospect. It helped Kittle gain traction late in the draft process this year.
Wadley’s main drawback is his size. He lacks the prototypical frame of an every-down NFL running back.
His durability will be a question mark, but his ability to contribute in the passing game could help to offset this concern.
LB Josey Jewell
Josey Jewell will check off most boxes NFL scouts look for.
Production. Jewell was a Butkus Award finalist last season, leading the Hawkeyes with 124 tackles.
Leadership. The Hawkeyes selected Jewell for the leadership council as a sophomore and named him a permanent team captain as a junior.
Smarts. His football IQ is strong. So is his work ethic. He found a way to improve this spring with limited reps by watching the footwork of teammates during drills.
Intangibles. Jewell is a first-to-arrive, jumping-to-the-front-of-the-line-for-reps kind of player teams seek in the draft.
There is a lot to like about Jewell. It’s why he’s already ranked the No. 5 inside linebacker for 2018, according to CBSSports.com.
Jewell possesses a nose for the football. He’ll need to convince NFL teams his athleticism and pass-coverage skills will translate to the next level.
OG Sean Welsh
Iowa will start three senior offensive linemen in the fall: Ike Boettger, Boone Myers and Sean Welsh. All could be drafted, but Welsh is the one, as of today, likely to be selected the highest. NFL scouts will watch him after a breakout junior year that included second-team All-America honors from USA Today.
The 6-3, 295-pound Welsh was Iowa’s most consistent lineman in a group that won the Joe Moore Award for the Most Outstanding Offensive Line Unit. He is athletic and could play center or guard at the next level. He split time between the two at Iowa. If Welsh builds off last season, his draft stock could rise for 2018. Playing for a program known for churning out offensive line prospects won’t hurt his status, either.
Like Wadley, his size is a drawback. The typical NFL interior lineman is north of 300 pounds. The best way for Welsh to combat questions about his size is by what he puts on film.
The field is wide open and the 2018 NFL Draft is a long way off, but Wadley is the favorite to be selected first. A big senior year helps any prospect, and no Iowa player could have a bigger one in store. The offense needs a strong season from him to reach its potential. Look for Iowa to feature Wadley early and often during the season. That will help him inch past Jewell and Welsh as the first Iowa player off the board in 2018.