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Hawks’ 2011 draft success underscores disappointing season

[ 4 ] May 8, 2011 |

If we learned anything from six Iowa players getting selected in last month’s NFL draft, it’s that the 2010 Iowa team had no business finishing 8-5 overall, or losing to hapless Minnesota, for that matter.

Just be happy that the 2010 Hawkeye squad is the exception to the rule under coach Kirk Ferentz, at least where the NFL draft is concerned.

Of the five Iowa teams that have had at least five players taken in the NFL draft under Ferentz, the 2010 squad is the only one that failed to win at least 10 games.

More times than not, the NFL draft helps to explain why Iowa either flourished or struggled during the previous fall.

Since 2000, Iowa has had 45 players taken in the NFL draft to rank 18th overall and sixth among Big Ten schools, which now includes Nebraska.

But look closer, and you’ll see that 39 Iowa players have been taken since the 2003 draft, or in other words, since Ferentz rebuilt the program.

That’s an impressive average of more than four players selected in each of the past nine NFL drafts dating back to 2003.

The 2011 squad is poised to meet that average, with junior-to-be offensive tackle Riley Reiff and senior-to-be receiver Marvin McNutt both already appearing as locks to be taken in the draft.

In fact, Andrew Perloff from Sports Illustrated.com did an early mock draft on the 2011 first round and had Reiff being picked seventh by the Cincinnati Bengals.

“At a school known for producing offensive linemen, Reiff might be the best of the last decade,” Perloff said. “He’s got a nasty attitude and will be NFL-ready.”

It’s hard to say if that’s a more rousing endorsement for Reiff or for the Iowa program.

What’s not hard is finding somebody connected to the NFL to gush about the assembly line that Ferentz has built at Iowa.

Consider what Wes Bunting, who is the director of college scouting for NationalFootballPost.com., said when asked if he would rank Iowa among his top 10 schools for developing NFL players.

“Oh, absolutely,” Bunting said without hesitation. “They would be right on the fringe of the top five, to be honest, considering what they have to work with and the development these guys do.”

That seems to be how almost everybody perceives Iowa; the program where two- and three-star recruits become NFL-caliber players at a higher rate than most programs.

You’d think that in this age of recruiting overkill, where kids start being evaluated before they start having acne, that it’d be hard for a school to find so many hidden gems.

But the Ferentz-led Hawkeyes continue to defy the odds with defensive lineman Karl Klug and offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde the latest examples of players who have gone from being lightly recruited coming out of high school to being taken in the NFL draft.

It’s also worth noting that Iowa is the only Big Ten program to have a player taken in the first round of the NFL draft in each of the past two seasons.

One of the few areas where Iowa has struggled under Ferentz is at receiver, where only two players — Kevin Kasper in 2001 and Kahlil Hill in 2002 — have been taken in the NFL draft, with both going in the sixth round.

Ferentz’s crew makes up for it in the trenches, where at least one Iowa offensive lineman has been selected in seven of the last nine NFL drafts.

Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to have a clear advantage over Iowa with regard to having players taken in the draft. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, because the Buckeyes usually sign more heralded recruits than Iowa does.

As long as Iowa stays respectable and Ferentz stays put, the program’s formula for producing NFL players should stay intact.

“They have one of the best coaches, if not the best college coach in Kirk Ferentz,” Bunting said when asked why Iowa is so highly regarded in NFL draft circles.

Bunting then went into more detail about what makes Iowa so attractive to the NFL decision makers.

“They run a pro-style system,” Bunting said of Iowa. “(Kirk) works those kids hard. They don’t get a ton of five-star recruits. They get their lunch pail and go to work each day. You don’t get too many prima donnas coming out of the (Iowa) program either.

“Coaches know what they’re getting with these Iowa kids. They trust Kirk and they constantly take into consideration his evaluations. They know they’re a little more NFL ready and they know they’re a little more technically sound.”

Hearing that doesn’t make last season feel any better, but it should make you feel better about next year’s NFL draft. And if that goes well, chances are the 2011 season will have gone well, too.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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