NFL Draft Preview: Iowa

Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe looks at Iowa's prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - It's a nervous and exciting time for former college football players across the country. The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night with these athletes hoping to realize a dream they've worked years to realize. Among them stands a group of Hawkeyes on which analysts can't agree.

Linebacker James Morris might be the most polarizing. Some scouts see him as a tackling machine with built-in toughness to succeed in the world's most challenging league. Others view him as an undersized, slow product of a strong Iowa defensive system.

Like many areas of life, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. In the NFL, getting a chance requires just one team to like you. Morris and his Hawkeye teammates are banking on it happening for them.

Earlier this week, we wrote about tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and Christian Kirksey, a linebacker (you can find those profiles linked at the bottom of this story). The Iowa standouts were invited to the Senior Bowl and most projections have viewed them as the Hawkeyes most likely to be drafted. The outlook for Morris, Anthony Hitchens, Conor Boffeli, B.J. Lowery, Tanner Miller, Mike Meyer, Brett Van Sloten and others appears much more cloudy.

Recent history should help the Iowa hopefuls rest easier. The Hawkeyes rank second to Ohio State among Big Ten schools in players drafted during the last decade. They're tied for third with six first-rounders.

Let's look at the draft eligible Iowa players beyond Fiedorowicz and Kirksey to see what people are saying:

James Morris: As mentioned above, opinions are all over the board for the Solon native. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tabs Morris as the No. 10 inside linebacker in the draft and the 283rd-ranked prospect overall. There are 256 players drafted. projects Morris to be selected in the seventh round or be a priority free agent. This analysis from Comcast Chicago views Morris as a sixth- or seventh-rounder.

Rob's Projection: Morris performed well enough at the combine and Iowa's pro day to back up his extensive success on tape. A team will take him as a special teams/back-up linebacker who can play inside or out rather than risk losing him to another franchise in free agency.

Round 7, Pick 232 - Indianapolis Colts

Anthony Hitchens: At 6-foot, 240 pounds, Hitchens will have a lot to prove in training camp. He can help a franchise on special teams but that won't be enough to earn him a paycheck. Fringe players must be able to contribute in multiple areas.

Miller rates Hitchens as the No. 30 outside linebacker in the class and No. 361 overall. Like Morris, projects the WLB as a seventh-rounder or priority free agent.

Rob's Projection: Hitchens probably is in the same boat as Morris. It will come down to a team needing to believe in him overcoming his lack of prototypical NFL measurables at his position. He was too productive in college not to get a shot somewhere, however.

Round 7, Pick 236 - Green Bay Packers

Conor Boffeli: Boffeli received a surprise invite to the combine after one season as an Iowa starter. His performance in Indianapolis drew mixed reviews.

Similar to Morris and Hitchens, Boffeli must hope a team values his skills. The Central Iowa native offers a versatile package that can move along the interior of the line. projects Boffeli as a priority free agent. That might be a preferred outcome to being drafted late as he can pick his spot on the open market.

Rob's Projection: Pro teams trust Iowa offensive linemen. After five years in the program, there's more than one franchise out there wanting to get Boffeli in camp.

Round 7, Pick 244 - New England Patriots

Brett Van Sloten: A two-year starter at right tackle for Iowa, Van Sloten will get a chance. He's got the size (6-5, 301). It's a matter of showing that he's athletic enough to play on the next level. An ability to move inside could benefit him.

Ourlads Scouting views Van Sloten as the No. 18 offensive tackle in the class. He's at No. 25 for Optimum Scouting.

Rob's Projection: I like Van Sloten and feel he is being undervalued. Teams will line up to get him as a free agent if he slips through the draft.

Priority Free Agent - Kansas City Chiefs

B.J. Lowery: Cincinnati product was named first-team all-Big Ten for his on-field production last year. His off-season workouts have failed to boost his rating. At 5-10, 192 pounds, he ran a 4.75, 40 and declined the bench press. Still, he made plays in college. Someone will want to see if he's just poor at testing.

Priority Free Agent - Pittsburgh Steelers

Tanner Miller: Don't laugh. He suffered through his share of obvious mistakes with the Hawkeyes but he started three years and is a solid combination of athleticism and smarts. And some of those miscues could be attributed to a nonexistent pass rush. The Kalona product ran a 4.59 at his pro day.

Priority Free Agent - Minnesota Vikings

Others to watch: Mike Meyer, Casey Kreiter, Don Shumpert, Jordan Cotton, Nolan MacMillan, Dominic Alvis.


C.J. Fiedorowicz Draft Projection

Christian Kirksey Draft Projection

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