NFL Draft guide | When and where Iowa’s prospects are projected to go

Former Hawkeye defensive lineman and projected first-round pick Lukas Van Ness headlines Iowa’s group of pro prospects.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness dives for South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski during a football game between Iowa and South Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Jackrabbits, 7-3.

Matt McGowan, Sports Reporter

It didn’t take long for former Iowa football defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness to get noticed. For Hawkeye special teams coordinator LeVar Woods, the defensive linebacker made heads turn during Iowa’s 7-3 season-opening victory over South Dakota State on Sept. 3, 2022.

“Well, we put [Van Ness] on kickoff coverage the first game, he went down and tattooed a guy,” Woods said at a press conference on April 20. “Just smoked him.”

Van Ness followed up that performance by tying a school record by recording two blocked punts the next week against Iowa State. Throughout the 2022 season, the 6-foot-5 272-pounder amassed 6.5 sacks along with 11 tackles for loss, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.

Now, the Barrington, Illinois, native looks to join Adrian Clayborn as the only Iowa defensive lineman to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in the Kirk Ferentz era. Draft experts currently place Van Ness as high as No. 6 overall — the highest pick for Iowa since T.J. Hockenson went No. 8 in 2019.

The 2022 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 27, in Kansas City, with the first round starting at 7 p.m. Coverage will air on ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. Rounds two and three will be held on Friday night, then the draft will conclude with the final four rounds taking up most of Saturday.

Van Ness joins other former Hawkeye standouts as draft hopefuls, and The Daily Iowan went ahead to see when and where Iowa’s prospects are projected to be taken, as well as what experts have to say about them.

Lukas Van Ness

Even though Van Ness never started a game during his two playing seasons with the Hawkeyes, draft experts say he has enough potential to garner a first-round selection.

Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports said he believed the Detroit Lions will take Van Ness at No. 6 overall, as the Lions’ current defensive ends — Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris — are entering the final years of their contracts. Wilson said the chance to pair Van Ness with former Michigan standout and No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson is too good to pass up.

Danny Kelly of The Ringer predicted Van Ness will wind up with the Green Bay Packers at No. 15 overall, while analyst Chad Reuter tabbed the Pittsburgh Steelers as the likely suitors two picks later.

Kelly has Van Ness as the fourth edge rusher taken off the board and said the 21-year-old reminds him of current Packer Rashan Gary. He said he is another strong and highly versatile player. Yet Kelly, as well as NFL analyst Lance Zierlein, maintain that Van Ness has room to grow, specifically with his pass rush discipline and technique beyond the typical bull rush.

Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News claimed Van Ness will just barely slip out of the first round, at No. 33 overall to the Houston Texans. Iyer said new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans needs Van Ness to be a more disruptive player for his front.

Jack Campbell

The former Iowa linebacker ended his four-year stint with Hawkeyes by earning first-team All-American honors and the Dick Butkus Award for the nation’s best linebacker in 2023. According to the NFL’s Next Gen stats, Campbell ranked first among participating linebackers in his total combined score.

Even with all the accolades, Campbell is still projected to be a second to third-round pick. Wilson has him going No. 42 overall to the New York Jets, while Reuter and Iyer called for the Cedar Falls, Iowa, native to be selected by the Houston Texans at No. 73 and by the Cleveland Browns at No. 74 overall, respectively.

Iyer said Campbell could be the “instinctive cleanup man in the middle” for the Browns. In new Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme — which emphasizes the front four — Campbell would not have to worry about heavy man coverage.

Joe Marino of Draft Network compared Campbell to 2020-selection Logan Wilson, who is the starting linebacker of the Cincinnati Bengals. For Marino, the former two-sport athlete in high school defines himself as “a mostly secure tackler with good hitting power … rarely out of position while playing with good control.”

Marino pointed out Campbell’s high hips as a concern for his ability to change direction. At Iowa’s pro day in March, Campbell said he assumed analysts will frame him as unathletic, but doesn’t let his draft projection affect his demeanor.

“If I go with the first overall pick … or if I’m Mr. Irrelevant, or if I’m undrafted; I’m going to take the same approach,” Campbell said. “I’m going to step in the building ready to go, ready to learn, ready to build relationships with my new teammates and get a winning culture wherever I go.”

Sam LaPorta

Former Hawkeye tight end Sam LaPorta’s Next Gen Draft Model total score of 82 ties him with Campbell as Iowa’s highest grade. The Highland, Illinois, native looks to become the first Hawkeye tight end drafted to the pros since Hockenson and Noah Fant were selected in the first round in 2019.

Wilson argued that the 2022 first-team All-Big Ten player will join Van Ness on night one, with LaPorta being taken No. 26 overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Even though Wilson ranks LaPorta the 38th overall prospect, his No. 4 ranking at his position warrants America’s Team giving him a shot after last year’s starter Dalton Schultz departed to Houston in the offseason.

“There was a lot of buzz around the league after his pro day that he could go much higher than conventional wisdom might suggest,” Wilson wrote, noting that Iowa’s offensive reliance on the running game made LaPorta’s tape more impressive.

Reuter said LaPorta will fall out of the first round and into the hands of the Miami Dolphins at No. 51 while Iyer thought the Fins will grab the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder at No. 81 overall.

In terms of strengths, Zierlein highlighted LaPorta’s ability to create leverage with route breaks, separate himself from defenders with the stiff arm, and stay after his in-line blocks with inside hands. Yet the analyst also pointed out the tight end’s lack of catch success on contested balls, not to mention his inconsistent angles when blocking in space.

Riley Moss

Zierlein’s fourth-round projection for Moss matches both Reuter and Iyer’s predictions. Reuter has the former Hawkeye corner slotted in at pick No. 128 to the New York Giants, while Iyer eyed the league coaches’ 2022 All-Big Ten first-teamer as the potential suitor for the Atlanta Falcons at No. 113.

Wilson pushed Moss’s selection back to the fifth round, where he is projected to go at No. 146 overall to the New Orleans Saints.

Likening Moss to former Duke product Ross Cockerell, Zierlein called Moss a corner whose “ball-hawking instincts and soft hands are a big part of his game, as is his physicality at the catch point as a tackler.”

Collecting 11 interceptions, 37 pass deflections, and 5.5 tackles for loss in his Hawkeye career, Moss fits the bill for a third or fourth-string cornerback in a zone defense, according to Zierlein.  Zierlein also saw Moss as a versatile asset who could contribute on special teams.

This could be the case in Atlanta, as the Falcons recently traded for former Ohio State Buckeye and 2020 No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah, who was a unanimous All-American selection at corner in 2019.

Kaevon Merriweather

While not featured on Reuter’s board, the former Hawkeye safety and first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus in 2022 slid into the fifth round on multiple mock drafts. Wilson circled Merriweather as a New York Giant at pick No. 160, while Iyer pinned him at pick No. 154 for the Seattle Seahawks.

With an average Next Gen Stats score of 63 and a prospect grade of 5.9/10, Merriweather’s  6-foot, 205-pound frame is adequate for the NFL, per Zierlein, but his below average route anticipation would make it challenging for him to keep up with pro pass-catchers.

Zierlein’s best fit for the Belleville, Michigan, native would be playing in a short zone as a dime safety.

Other Hawkeye hopefuls

Even though they are not widely projected to be drafted, linebacker Seth Benson, defensive lineman John Waggoner, and fullback Monte Pottebaum are all players expected to be priority undrafted free agents.

These players, and perhaps other Hawkeyes who are not selected, will likely hear from teams and sign contracts after the draft.