IOWA CITY, Iowa — Every NFL draft is full of surprise and disappointment. Unfortunately for Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson and center James Daniels, each player endured both emotions on Thursday night.
Both Hawkeyes, who left school after their junior seasons, were projected as first-round picks but neither were selected among the first 32 selections. They’ll likely land early in the second round on Friday night, but it doesn’t ease the immediate discouragement.
Jackson, a Dallas area native, attended the draft and planned to wave to the UI Children’s Hospital when he walked across the stage. Now he’ll have to wait one day to do so. Daniels stayed home in Warren, Ohio, to celebrate with his family. Their party extends to a second day.
In one of the most impressive seasons in school history, Jackson led the country with 8 interceptions and 26 passes defensed. Jackson tied former teammate Desmond King, Nile Kinnick and Lou King for the school’s single-season interception record. Following the season, Jackson was named a unanimous first-team All-American and was runner-up for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
Daniels is only 20 years old and hadn’t received many accolades, but he’s clearly an athletic technician with a bright future.
The disappointment will linger for both players until Friday night, when they are expected to be selected. Other former Hawkeyes have felt that sting, too. Last year, King — a two-time All-American cornerback — expected to become a second-round pick. Instead, he was the 21st cornerback taken and lasted until the fifth round.
King had a viewing party at Kinnick Stadium with a BTN crew embedded with him for the draft. Most analysts had him as the first pick among Iowa’s draft selections. Instead, he was the fourth and final one.
“It was pretty challenging knowing that the expectation that you thought was going to happen didn’t happen the way you wanted it,” King told me last summer. “But at the same time, you’ve got to stay humble, stay calm and just blessed when you get the opportunity.”
There are many others who have tumbled down the draft stairwell. Defensive tackle Carl Davis expected to be a top-40 selection in 2015. Instead, he was picked 91st overall by the Baltimore Ravens.
“I’m so motivated right now because I was expecting to go [first or second round],” Davis said that night. “I feel like I’m one of the best defensive tackles in this year’s draft. And I saw a lot of guys get picked ahead of me, and that’s a chip on my shoulder. I feel like especially when I have a chip on my shoulder, there’s nobody that can stop me. I just feel like I’m that much of a dominant player.”
Others fell harder and faster. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt was named the Big Ten’s top wide receiver in 2011 with single-season school records for catches (82, tied with Kevin Kasper), yards (1,315) and touchdown receptions (12). Like most players, McNutt had a draft party and until the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the sixth round, he wanted to hide.
“It was probably the worst best day of my life,” McNutt told me in 2016. “It’s like you go from one extreme to the other. You’re looking at things, ‘I should be here, I should be there, I can prove myself.’ But then when a team does give you a chance, it makes you feel like, ‘OK, somebody’s there who believes in me.’”
Then there are those who surprisingly fall out of the draft altogether. In 2008, defensive tackle Mitch King was the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year but wasn’t drafted in 2009. A medical issue kept talented linebacker James Morris from getting picked in 2014. Wide receiver Keenan Davis had people over at his family home and the draft pressure was intense until it concluded. Finally, he fielded free-agent offers and picked Cleveland.
“It was a weight off my shoulder,” Davis told me in 2016. “My dream was actually to sign with a team and be able to wear an NFL logo on a helmet.”
All of those former Hawkeyes can commiserate with Daniels and Jackson. Their current struggle will dissipate Friday night, but the lonely pain of disappointment throbs now for those players.