Iowa’s undrafted free agents look to stick around NFL

In addition to the four Hawkeye draftees, four players will attempt to stick around in the NFL after signing as undrafted free agents.


Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Four former Iowa football players heard their name called in the 2019 NFL Draft. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were selected by the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos, respectively, in the first round, Anthony Nelson was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth, and the Tennessee Titans chose Amani Hooker nine picks later.

But there were another four players who weren’t part of the 254 picks of this year’s draft but will try to continue their football careers in the NFL.

Wide receiver Nick Easley signed a deal with the Buffalo Bills, defensive lineman Matt Nelson will join Hockenson in Detroit as a member of the Lions, and offensive linemen Ross Reynolds and Keegan Render signed with the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.

Undrafted free agents such as current NFL players Chris Harris, Jason Peters, Adam Vinatieri, and Antonio Gates have played big roles at the next level recently, so The Daily Iowan will take a look at which former Hawkeyes have a solid chance to follow suit.

WR Nick Easley, Buffalo Bills

Easley should have a decent chance to stick around in the NFL.

The Newton, Iowa, native showed incredible route-running ability in his two years in the Black and Gold as well as soft hands that can make some difficult catches look easy.

The Bills took two pass catchers in the draft in Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney, but both are tight ends who do not project to play in the slot as Easley would.

Buffalo lured away slot receiver Cole Beasley — who was an undrafted free agent himself in 2012 — from the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason, and it boasts Zay Jones and John Brown. Outside of that trio and Robert Foster, no other Buffalo wideout caught more than 20 passes last season.

RELATED: Hockenson, Fant make NFL Draft history with first-round selections

DL Matt Nelson, Detroit Lions

Nelson has exhibited a lot of versatility with the Hawkeyes, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle.

That will come in handy for Nelson — the Des Moines Register reported that Nelson signed with Detroit as a project on the offensive line.

The biggest challenge for Nelson will be learning a new, difficult position in a short amount of time.

Standing 6-8 and weighing 295 pounds, Nelson certainly has the size to make the transition. He should have a chance, too.

The Lions picked up a defensive end and a defensive tackle in their draft but didn’t address the offensive line.

OL Ross Reynolds, San Francisco 49ers

Reynolds has the potential to be a really good signing for San Francisco.

He will likely be comfortable in the Bay Area, where he joins former Hawkeyes George Kittle, C.J. Beathard, and Greg Mabin.

Reynolds shines in the running game, where the 49ers need contributions without exceptional playmakers in the backfield.

He can also hold his own in the passing game. San Francisco will put a premium on protecting Jimmy Garoppolo — its quarterback of the future who missed 13 games in 2018 with a torn ACL — next season.

OL Keegan Render, Philadelphia Eagles

Render finished the 2018 season with a spot on the All-Big Ten third team as voted by the conference media and rode that momentum to an undrafted free-agent spot with the Eagles, who are just two years removed from a Super Bowl victory.

The Eagles possessed only five draft picks and took offensive tackle Andre Dillard in the first round without selecting an interior offensive lineman.

Philadelphia center Jason Kelce is one of the best in the NFL, but backup Isaac Seumalo is also a starting left guard, so there isn’t a lot of depth on the Eagles, perhaps opening up the door for an undrafted free agent such as Render.