IOWA CITY, Iowa — For maybe the hundredth time in recent memory, an NFL scout left the practice facility near Kinnick Stadium and openly said why the pros like Iowa football players.
This particular NFC team scout casually brought up that Iowa and Wisconsin produce the kind of players for which teams are looking. Why? Because the Hawkeyes and Badgers don’t employ spread offenses and NFL teams don’t have to teach their linemen how to block in training camp.
The proof is in the draft. In the last 10 seasons, the Hawkeyes and Badgers are the top two Big Ten producers in NFL offensive linemen. Wisconsin has 10 draft picks since 2008, while Iowa has nine in the same span. It’s likely the teams will flip-flop positions after the 2018 draft. Iowa sent two offensive linemen to the NFL combine, while Wisconsin failed to do so. The Hawkeyes also two potential draft picks fighting for their piece of NFL turf after injuries robbed them of their senior seasons.
On Monday, offensive linemen Ike Boettger and Boone Myers completed their pro day workouts with little effects from their in-season surgeries. Boettger (6-foot-5½, 313 pounds) and Myers (6.4½, 309 pounds) worked in nearly every category Monday. Now they’re making a case for why teams should draft them in late April.
“I think any team that takes a chance on me, they’re going to get a versatile guy, he’s going to learn the offense, he’s going to learn how to play multiple positions,” Boettger said. “When I get thrown in the fire, I’m going to know how to react, and I’m going to know how to do my job out there.”
Myers said he was nervous at first.
“But once you go through the drills and the instincts take over,” he said.
Both linemen had aspirations for last fall, which was their third season as starters. Myers then suffered a brutal ankle sprain that left him limited through the early season and ultimately resulted in surgery. Boettger barely make it to his second game before he ripped his Achilles tendon. Their injuries had major consequences for the Hawkeyes offense. Myers was slated to start at left tackle, Boettger at right. Myers worked a little at left guard but lacked any of the explosion that made him one of the NFL’s best drive blockers.
Collectively, that was 46 career starts between the two wearing walking boots for most of the fall. Freshmen replaced both players in the starting lineup and the run game was inconsistent because of it.
“That’s frustrating for anybody to have to go through that, but it’s life,” Myers said. “You have to live with it and make the best of it.”
Boettger had surgery in September and spent five months rehabbing his leg before starting to run again. He competed in every drill but the broad jump on Monday.
Myers worked in every drill and said his ankle “felt good.”
Both have had conversations with NFL team officials. Boettger said he has spoken with three teams and has other visits planned in the coming weeks. Myers also has his conversations and phone calls with NFL teams.
They both were considered likely draft picks before their injuries. Now, they’re on the draft/free agent border.
“I could see somebody taking them late because this year for offensive tackles is awful,” said Dan Shonka, national scout and general manager for Ourlads Scouting Services. “There’s so many holes in those top tackles. The offensive linemen at Iowa are coveted of the way the technique is taught, the zone-blocking scheme and so people that want zone blockers, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, why don’t we take this guy from Iowa that’s 6-6 and 300 pounds. He didn’t play this year but at worst we’ll salt him away.’ That’s what they did at New England with [Cole] Croston and he ends up making their 53.”
Croston’s situation mirrors both Boettger and Myers. Croston, also a tackle, started just eight games in 2016 because of injuries and like both Boettger and Myers, he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine. Croston was impressive at Iowa’s pro day last year and New England signed him minutes after the draft. Croston stuck with the Patriots for the entire season.
As difficult as both Myers’ and Boettger’s recovery from injuries, they both look at Croston as motivation.
“You’ve got to decide in your mind, ‘Are you going to do this or not?'” Boettger said. “You look at guys like Cole, they set their mind to it and accomplished it. You think, ‘He did it. Let’s see if we can do it.’”
It’s possible both players are drafted late or agree to terms within 30 minutes of the draft’s conclusion. At that point they’re on equal footing with other rookies entering training camp. But with their experience and pedigree, they might have a better shot of making a team than their fellow teammates.
“Those offensive linemen at Iowa, they’ve got a chance,” Shonka said. “At worst, they’re going to be in a camp as a free agent. You might as well roll the dice late and see what a guy can do.”