Iowa's Tyler Nielsen's resiliency key to NFL draft hopes

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tyler Nielsen battled through numerous injuries at Iowa and found a way to stay on the field.

As a junior he suffered a broken neck and was lost for the season’s final month. As a senior he had midseason surgery to repair a broken hand. Just days after his Hawkeye career ended, Nielsen had ankle surgery. Six weeks later, he tested his ankle at the NFL Scouting Combine in front of scouts and player personnel.

“I feel good enough to come out here and there’s no reason not to,” Nielsen said before his workout at Lucas Oil Stadium in February. “I’ve been running for four or five weeks now and I don’t want to say it’s absolutely 100 percent, because it’s not yet but it’s close to, and I feel confident I can come out and run a decent time.”

Nielsen, a Humboldt native, did more than decent. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.74 seconds. He also competed in all running drills and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. Three weeks later at Iowa’s Pro Day, he ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds. Nielsen’s fastest time at Iowa was 4.57 seconds. The only drills he did not complete in Indianapolis were in the jumping category.

Nielsen stands 6 feet, 3 1/2 inches and weighs 238 pounds. Nielsen recorded 73 tackles — including four for loss — last year for Iowa. He missed one game because of his hand injury but returned to earn honorable mention all-Big Ten honors.

He played multiple linebacker positions at Iowa, but appears set as a strongside (Sam) linebacker in the NFL. He started his first five games at outside linebacker before moving inside for his final seven starts last year.

“I can see him being a late pick,” said Dan Shonka, national scout and general manager for Ourlads Scouting Services. “He does do some good things. There’s not too many true Sam 4-3 linebackers, and he’s got some experience covering stuff. So I think he’ll get drafted late.”

Nielsen, like most aspiring prospects, would volunteer for any position with an NFL club.

“Outside is where I feel most comfortable, but I played inside for the last half of last year,” Nielsen said. “I’d be happy with wherever they put me.”

In his annual scouting guide, Shonka described Nielsen as a “faceup tackler who used his hands well covering the slot receiver. Plays on or off (the) line of scrimmage. Has the speed to cover backs and tight ends. Rarely blitzes but has caused quarterbacks to speed up their delivery. Smart player who understands the whole defense.”

Nielsen is projected as a late-round selection or priority free agent. He said he’s prepared for whatever happens but “realistically, later rounds, free agency ...”

“You’ve just got to take whatever comes at you,” Nielsen said. “You can’t come into it expecting that you’re going to make it on a team and get drafted in the top three rounds. It’s a process and things can change any minute.

“I could be in a car accident tomorrow and break my leg and never play football again, so it’s humbling to have this opportunity to actually be in this position and be here and compete in the combine but it’s humbling to know it could be taken away from at any minute.”

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