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If the NFL draft were a stock market — and you know what, it kind of is — Iowa tight end George Kittle might’ve cost you less than a buck to invest in ...
... back in January.
Since then, the 6-4, 247-pounder ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash and landed an 11-footer in the standing broad jump. That put a charge in the stock. Then there was Iowa’s pro day in late March. Kittle caught passes and ran a few agility drills. Every so often on social media, one of the internet draft army will come up with a clip of Kittle digging out a defensive end on the line of scrimmage and sing his praises.
One of those tweets last week said, paraphrasing, “Oh my goodness, George Kittle, that’s someone’s son.”
Kittle is a blue-chip stock now. He could be the first Hawkeye taken in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday night with the first round and then the second and third rounds on Friday night and rounds four through seven on Saturday morning.
“I got a little more interest,” Kittle said in response to his profile post-NFL Combine. “I had a couple of coaches tell me after that they’d be at my pro day, and this was after they didn’t talk to me the whole week I was there. I got a little more interest here and there, a few more phone calls. It was nice. I had a couple of coaches tell me they had no idea I was going to do that. They said they thought I’d run a 4.8 40. Well, I’m not going to do that.”
Maybe a Hawkeye makes it into Thursday night’s first round. Maybe it’s Kittle. Maybe it’s cornerback Desmond King. Or maybe it’s defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. Quarterback C.J. Beathard won’t be a first rounder, but will he be drafted?
Maybe a better question in regard to Beathard is will he be the first Iowa quarterback to throw a pass in the NFL since Dan McGwire went 0-for-1 in 1995?
Here are some takes, questions and thoughts on Hawkeyes going into the draft.
Key question: What in the heck happened to Iowa’s passing game in 2016?
Of course, you know the answer. It was a little bit of everything. NFL execs knew the answer, too, but they wanted to hear what Beathard had to say on the topic.
“I can’t thank coach (Kirk) Ferentz and (former Iowa offensive coordinator Greg) Davis enough for the things they taught me and for the things they asked out of me at Iowa,” Beathard said. “Talking with these coaches and offensive coordinators, they know I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had to make Mike points and change protections all of the time. That’s all we did at Iowa. It’s really prepared me.”
Pro Football Focus rankings: No. 10 at QB; No. 219 overall
PFF positives: “Shows the ability to throw guys open in tight man-to-man coverage.”
PFF knock: “Questions if he can change speeds on the ball or if everything is a fastball.”
Ourlads Scouting Services positive: “A good ball-control passer with crosses, hitches, screens and check downs.”
Ourlads knock: “Beathard held on to the ball waiting for inexperience receivers to separate and ended up giving up coverage sacks.”
Projection: Late rounds, maybe sixth or seventh.
Key question: What type of defense fits Johnson the best? Is he a 3-4 DE? A 4-3 DT/3 technique?
This will be dictated by the team that drafts Johnson, who at 6-3, 316 has the body type to play somewhere on someone’s defensive line.
One thing is for sure, Johnson wants to be turned loose a little more than he was at Iowa.
“I feel like as an individual, not playing in a defense where it’s read run first and then pass (Iowa’s defense), I feel like I was able to go out and work on things from a pass rush standpoint (at the Senior Bowl) as opposed to reading a key and then going,” Johnson said. “I felt like I had a lot more freedom to really work as a player and more as a football player.
“Yeah, that’s how our defense is. That’s how it’s always been. It’s never going to change. Me being done with that scheme and that style of defense and working on more of a pass-first type of deal, I felt like now is a way I can show I can stop the run at Iowa and, in the Senior Bowl with what I did against the pass, I think I showed I can do both very well.”
Pro Football Focus rankings: No. 11 at DT; No. 112 overall
PFF positives: “Exceptional capacity to convert speed to power, uses his momentum to jack up blockers.”
PFF knock: “Attacking play style makes him slow to recognize plays he is intentionally being let upfield.”
Ourlads Scouting Services positive: “Plays with country strength and power.”
Ourlads knock: “Lacks desired length and will get locked onto by quality run blockers.”
Projection: Third/fourth round.
Key question: Is King a corner, a nickel corner or a safety?
Bottom line, he doesn’t really care. From everything he’s said pre-draft, King just wants to get to it.
“The big question is what position do I want to play, is it corner, nickel or safety?” King said. “I’m not certain what I’m going to play, but I feel like I can play any position in the secondary. I feel like I have versatility and can go out there and make plays.”
What position does the NFL think King will play?
“A lot of teams are saying safety, a lot of teams are saying nickel,” King said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes and play whatever position to contribute to the team.”
This absolutely includes special teams. This is where King had a better 2016 than ‘15. As a junior he finished second in the B1G in punt returns and fourth in kick returns. Last year, it was second in kick (27.78 yards per return) and third in punts.
Pro Football Focus rankings: No. 14 at CB; No. 64 overall
PFF positives: “Plays the run better than any other cornerback in this draft class, registering 11 tackles resulting in a defensive stop in that regard this past season.”
PFF knock: “Much better in zone than man. Looks much more comfortable with the play in front of him than when he has to turn and run. Completely lost the ball on a 19-yard touchdown against Penn State for that reason.”
Ourlads Scouting Services positive: “Makes an impact weekly in the running game. Very aggressive. Quick to react. Excellent lower body balance and strength.”
Ourlads knock: “The farther in space he gets, the more he struggles.”
Projection: Second/third round.
Key question: Injuries were a thing for Kittle during his career. A mid-foot spring limited Kittle in almost half of 2016.
Right here, right now, he’s good.
“I’m learning what it feels like to be healthy again,” Kittle said. “It feels really nice recovering from five years of football. I’m feeling good and I’m having a great time actually.”
Pro Football Focus rankings: No. 5 at TE; No. 70 overall
PFF positives: “Iowa utilizes a run-first offense, but Kittle still produced the seventh-highest yards per route run average (1.91) over the last two years from the TE draft class.”
PFF knock: “Durability concerns — injuries forced him to miss seven games over the last two seasons.”
Ourlads Scouting Services positive: “A good athlete with the speed to threaten the safety area in Cover 2.”
Ourlads knock: “Could use a little more weight to thump and pop the defensive end.”
Projection: Third/fourth round.