Where Hawkeyes are projected to go in the 2021 NFL Draft

Five Iowa football players were selected in last year’s draft, and the program could top that mark this weekend.


Katie Goodale

Iowa Defensive Tackle Daviyon Nixon raises his fist as the Hawkeyes take to their home field for the first time in the season during the Iowa v Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 21-20.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa football program has had a player selected in the last 42 NFL Drafts. From Thursday through Saturday, the Hawkeyes will bump that up to 43.

The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio, with the first round of selections. Rounds two and three will follow on Friday, and the draft will conclude Saturday with rounds four through seven.

At least a handful of Hawkeyes are expected to hear their names called this weekend. Here’s when those players might come off the board.

DT — Daviyon Nixon, 6-foot-3, 313 pounds

Nixon declared for the draft after a consensus All-American junior season. Once ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.’s top defensive tackle and No. 10 overall prospect at the end of the 2020 season, Nixon is now likely to be drafted on day two. Kiper Jr. does not list Nixon in the latest version of his first-round mock draft.

Nixon is currently ranked as the No. 9 defensive tackle in this draft by Pro Football Focus, and the No. 6 prospect at his position per Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Ourlands Scouting Service has Nixon as the No. 3 defensive tackle in 2021.

Pro Football Focus projects Nixon to be drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Bengals, while Brugler sees Nixon as a third-round pick to the New York Giants. Ourlands predicts Nixon will go in the second round.

The 2020 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Nixon tallied 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in eight games last season.

DE — Chauncey Golston, 6-foot-4, 269 pounds

Golston was a first team All-Big Ten performer on the defensive line for the Hawkeyes last season. But he may have to wait his turn this weekend.

The two-year starter at Iowa is The Athletic’s No. 16 edge rusher prospect, and the No. 13 defensive end according to Ourlands. Golston is projected to go in the fourth round by both of those publications, and Pro Football Focus sees him as the No. 166 overall prospect, equivalent to a fifth-round pick.

LB — Nick Niemann, 6-foot-3, 234

Niemann’s breakout senior season (77 tackles in eight games, third-team All-Big Ten) may have worked his name into the draft. His brother, Ben Niemann, went undrafted in 2018 but has played for the Kansas City Chiefs the last three seasons.

Niemann was given a sixth-round grade and was projected as the No. 19 linebacker in this class by The Athletic. He was given a sixth/seventh-round grade by Ourlands and was the outlet’s No. 17 outside linebacker.

The Athletic has Niemann going in the sixth round, while Ourlands projects Niemann to go in the seventh round. Pro Football Focus does not project Niemann to be drafted.

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WR/KR — Ihmir Smith-Marsette, 6-foot-1, 181 pounds

One of the most dynamic playmakers in recent Hawkeye history, Smith-Marsette is now looking to run back kicks and catch passes in the NFL.

Smith-Marsette is projected to go anywhere from the fourth to seventh round this year. So day three of the draft will be an interesting one for the New Jersey native.

Pro Football Focus sees Smith-Marsette going in the fourth round. Smith-Marsette is Ourlands’ No. 26 wide receiver prospect and projected as a sixth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Athletic sees Smith-Marsette as the No. 37 receiver in the draft and gave him a seventh-round grade.

Smith-Marsette finished his Iowa career with 110 receptions for 1,615 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also ran for four touchdowns and averaged 28.8 yards per return as Iowa’s kick returner, scoring on special teams in back-to-back games to close the 2019 season.

OT — Alaric Jackson, 6-foot-5, 321 pounds

Jackson started four years at left tackle for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Despite those accolades, Jackson is the No. 20 offensive tackle prospect according to The Athletic, which projects him to go in the seventh round to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ourlands has a fourth/fifth-round grade on Jackson, and projects him to go in the fourth round.

WR — Brandon Smith, 6-foot-1, 218 pounds

Smith was injured for a portion of his junior season and underused at times as a senior, but when he was thrown the ball, he was one of the best red zone threats in the Big Ten. Smith caught 91 passes, including nine touchdowns, as a Hawkeye and consistently made receptions in traffic.

Ourlands graded Smith as the draft’s No. 25 wide receiver and projects him to go in the sixth round to the Los Angeles Chargers. Smith is the Athletic’s No. 53 wide receiver prospect, and the outlet sees him as a priority undrafted free agent.

Mekhi Sargent, Keith Duncan, Barrington Wade, Cole Banwart, Jack Heflin and Shaun Beyer

The six players above, according to most outlets, are not expected to be drafted this weekend.

However, the expectation is that Beyer (No. 20 tight end prospect according to The Athletic), Banwart (No. 25 guard), Sargent (No. 42 running back), Heflin (No. 26 defensive tackle), Duncan (No. 7 kicker), and Wade (No. 46 linebacker) would all sign free agent contracts with NFL teams if they were not drafted.

The Athletic lists Beyer, Banwart, and Heflin as priority free agent targets if they are not selected.