Draft Day looks Hawkeye-dry

Iowa+players+carry+Floyd+the+big+off+the+field+during+the+Iowa-Minnesota+game+at+Kinnick+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+14%2C+2013.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Golden+Gophers%2C+40-35+to+stay+perfect+on+the+season.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FFile+photo%29

Iowa players carry Floyd the big off the field during the Iowa-Minnesota game at Kinnick on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2013. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 40-35 to stay perfect on the season. (The Daily Iowan/File photo)

 

When Desmond King decided to return to Iowa for his senior season in January, it left the 2016 list of Hawkeye NFL hopefuls without a superstar prospect.

Iowa has had a player picked in every NFL draft since 1978 and even without King, there’s still a very good chance the streak continues another year. Austin Blythe, the Hawkeyes starting center last season, could be the best prospect of the class.

He started in 45-straight games (49 total, played 50) and received second-team All-Big Ten honors his final two seasons. Blythe is a tough, durable athlete with plenty of tape for teams to pore over.

“I think he offers a ton as a run blocker, and he was one of our highest-graded run-blocking centers in the class,” Pro Football Focus senior analyst Mike Renner said. “The issue is that he’s undersized, which shows up in his pass blocking a lot.”

Blythe had the smallest arm length of any offensive lineman at the NFL combine and came in at 6-2, 291 pounds. On NFL.com’s scouting report, he’s called “undersized by every standard that NFL teams use for centers.”

“It is what it is; people can say what they want,” Blythe said when asked about his size. “What I’ve put on tape is there, you can’t fake that, and I think if you can play football, you can play — your stature doesn’t really matter.”

Most scouting sites list him as a fifth- to seventh-round selection, but Blythe has earned favorable comparisons with Matt Paradis, the Denver Broncos’ starting center. Picked in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, he spent a year on the Bronco practice squad before winning the position in training camp before the 2015 season.

Paradis is now a Super Bowl champ, and with the right team, Blythe might also get a serious shot at playing time. Considering his stature and his pass-protection limitations, he would probably fit best on a team that uses zone blocking — the same scheme Kirk Ferentz has in place at Iowa.

The pass-blocking issues are also, if anything, because of his size, not his technique.

“As a pass blocker, he’s got good anchor ability and will sink his hips and create leverage versus bull rushes,” Hawkeye Gamefilm said. “He’s also lined up at guard in his career, which is a plus … gives him some swing value.”

Iowa allowed 30 sacks last season — the second-worst mark in the Big Ten — but there are a variety of factors that came in to play. Breaking in two new offensive tackles and the general shuffling of the line did not help matters. Certain sacks could also be of the coverage variety.

The sack number shouldn’t hold Blythe back too much, especially when it’s considered one of his perceived weaknesses to start with.

The former center is far from the only Iowa graduate who will end up in an NFL training camp this year. Outside of offensive linemen, there’s another position the Hawkeyes are famous for putting in the NFL — tight ends.

Hawkeye seniors Henry Krieger Coble and Jake Duzey were both standouts at the position during their time in Iowa City, though only one of them will enter the draft this season. Duzey battled a patellar tendon injury through the 2015 season, before re-injuring the knee prior to the Rose Bowl. He’s currently rehabbing and hopes to have a shot in 2017.

“I’ve talked to a couple teams, just seeing how I’m doing, and they said if I can get back to what I was, I have a chance,” Duzey said. “It’s just a matter of if I can or not.”

Duzey — who had 36 catches during the 2014 season — was among the best tight ends in the conference and was expected to play a huge role in the offense. However, the injury derailed those plans, pushing Krieger Coble and George Kittle to the forefront of the depth chart.

Hauling in 35 passes for 405 yards, Krieger Coble’s reliability in the passing game shot him on the draft radar and earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl.

“He’s a really natural pass-catcher, and that was the first thing that stood out to me,” Renner said. “He looks like a receiver — catches the ball extremely well, soft hands, can catch outside the frame of his body — stuff like that.”

However, Renner also sees a few problems in his game that might cause NFL teams to hesitate to pull the trigger on drafting him.

“He’s not quite the athlete you’d expect at the NFL, and when you combine that with the fact he’s a little undersized,” Renner said. “I don’t see him holding up as a run blocker. He’s probably a No. 2 tight end at best.”

He went on to point out Krieger Coble had been well-coached — which showed up on film — but lacks the physical tools to dish out punishment as a run blocker. Hawkeye Gamefilm made a comparison with former tight end Allen Reisner, who has bounced around on several NFL teams and is currently a free agent.

Listed as the 11th-best tight-end prospect by NFLdraftscout.com, it’s likely he gets a long, hard look from professional teams. Krieger Coble wasn’t invited to the combine, but impressed observers during Iowa’s pro day.

“A lot depends on their impression of you and the way you carry yourself,” Krieger Coble said. “You get prepared [for the workouts] and just do what you’ve already done.”

If Krieger Coble doesn’t hear his named called on draft day, he’ll join a host of other Hawkeyes who will descend on NFL training camps.

Injured defensive end Drew Ott, wide receiver Tevaun Smith, and offensive guard Jordan Walsh can all be found on various draft lists, but are all slated toward the later rounds. Ott is perhaps the biggest story of the bunch; he fought tooth and nail to come back to Iowa for a fifth year after tearing his ACL against Illinois.

The NCAA denied his request for a medical-hardship waiver on April 13, which means he got a very late entry into the draft. He wasn’t able to hire an agent until the process was completed, which puts him behind other potential draftees.

His injury to his knee was also quite serious, and that might scare some teams away. It also prevented him from putting much on tape. Ott was in the process of having a monster year and had 5 sacks and 3 forced-fumbles in six games — several of which he was extremely limited in.

“When he did play, he graded out extremely well — he was Iowa’s highest-graded pass rusher, and that was just in, I think, 132 pass-rush snaps this season,” Renner said. “I think he’s a good enough athlete at the professional level, but you really wish he could have played more snaps this year.”

Ott is far into his rehab, and while he might not make a roster right away, there could be a place for him on a practice squad as he gets back to game shape.

Smith and Walsh may also end up on a practice squad or roster if they perform well at an NFL training camp. While they might wind up going in the late rounds, it seems more likely they will receive an undrafted free-agent status and a minicamp tryout.

If the NFL doesn’t pan out for Smith, he could end up in the Canadian Football League. Smith was born in Canada and is the second-best prospect in the CFL draft, according to CFL.ca, the official league website.

After running a 4.38 40-yard dash at Iowa’s pro day (a time that would have been third-best at the NFL combine) it’s not hard to see why.

“He’s got the ability to track the deep ball in flight with ease, and that is a rare skill,” Hawkeye Gamefilm said. “He’s also got the straight line speed to run by all but the fastest CBs in the NFL.”

There should be some hope among Iowa fans they’ll see a player drafted over the next three days. A lot of stock is put into the Hawkeye program by NFL teams, and players are often thought to come in ready to play right away.

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