Ferentz’s Hawkeyes find success in NFL

Iowa doesn’t land highly touted prospects, yet the Hawkeyes boast a plethora of current NFL players.


San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) prepares to make a pass against the New York Giants during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers won, 31-21. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

There are certain teams in college football that consistently grind out NFL-caliber talent. Alabama had a record-setting 12 players picked in the 2018 NFL Draft, for instance. The Crimson Tide have a mind-boggling 59 former players currently on NFL rosters. Ohio State has 53. Miami has 55. Florida has 52. The list goes on and on.

But the Iowa football program is a dark horse when it comes to sending players to the next level. Currently, there are 36 former Hawkeyes in the NFL — all of whom are products of Kirk Ferentz’s system.

To put that number into perspective, that’s three players fewer than Clemson and Notre Dame and one player fewer than Wisconsin, Stanford, and Texas have in the NFL. Iowa has more players on NFL rosters than seven AP Top-25 teams (No. 6 Washington, No. 16 TCU, No. 17 West Virginia, No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 20 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Central Florida, and No. 22 Boise State).

“General managers throughout the NFL say, ‘Hey, this is a Coach Ferentz kind of guy,’” said Nate Kaeding, a third-round pick in the 2004 Draft. “You know what you’re going to get out of him, and [there are] a lot fewer unknowns during the draft process [than what] might come out of other programs.”

Such teams as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State — the usual suspects atop the college-football world — consistently reel in historic recruiting classes. Ferentz’s bread and butter has been finding diamonds in the rough — under-the-radar recruits — and developing them into NFL-caliber individuals.

“If you notice, Iowa doesn’t get any five-star recruits, but they get guys drafted every year,” said Drew Tate, who had a brief stint with the St. Louis Rams before a nine-year Canadian Football League career (which included the 2014 Grey Cup championship win). “The way that they do things — the commitment and the development part, no one does it better in the country. It’s a mindset, and that starts with Coach Ferentz.”

From 2010-2018 (nine recruiting classes), Iowa has never had a class rank higher than 26th in the country (2011), according to 24/7 Sports. In that nine-year recruiting period, Iowa’s average class rank has been 51.6.

Iowa has landed one 5-star recruit during that same time, while getting commitments from 198 3-star recruits, 24/7 Sports says.

“I don’t know how they do it, but they have an amazing way of finding guys that have some publicity to them — most of the guys are average rank as far as national [rankings] are concerned — and developing them into unbelievable players,” said Erik Jensen, a former-Hawkeye tight end drafted by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2004.

At some universities, coaches and other football staff are with players 24/7, monitoring them and making sure they’re up-to-date on grades, making meetings and practices on time, and meeting their goals.

The transition to the NFL can be a major shock, because it’s a different beast from college. But at Iowa, Ferentz and his staff engrain this sort of hard work ethic into the Hawkeyes, and NFL teams have taken note.

“Once you get dropped off, and you get drafted, and you end up at the doorstep of the NFL, no one’s there to hold your hand and tell you when to show up, or where to be, or how hard to work, or how much you need to study your playbook, or how to handle adversity, and all those sort of things,” Kaeding said. “You have to figure that out on your own, and that’s a hallmark of an Iowa football player — someone who can come in and be a really valuable, high-character guy. That word spreads quickly to the NFL.”

Sean Considine, an eight-year NFL vet, was one of the many Hawkeyes to play at the next level. He seconded Kaeding’s notion of word spreading quickly about Ferentz; he said general managers in the NFL regard the Iowa coach highly.

“One of the things I learned as I carved out my eight-year NFL career was just how respected Coach Ferentz is by all general managers in the NFL,” Considine said. “Almost every general manager I was around for my eight-year career would go out of his way to come up and ask how Coach Ferentz was, and to tell me how impressed they were with how he runs his program, and how his guys come out of the University of Iowa ready for the NFL … everybody knows that Coach Ferentz does not cut corners — he holds his guys accountable.”

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