Hlas: Reversal of NFL draft fortunes for C.J. Beathard, Desmond King

Neither Hawkeye star went when expected in NFL draft

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For all the 2017 NFL mock drafts and stories about draft prospects, no one told you Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard would go in the third round and be the first Hawkeye taken.

And did anyone hint Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King would go as low as the fifth round and be the fourth Iowa player selected?

Beathard going late in the third round to the San Francisco 49ers and being the sixth quarterback taken in the draft was a big surprise to outsiders like, well, us. He was projected to be a late-round pick. But really, we don’t know.

The Niners traded up to get the 104th pick. They may have felt a couple teams drafting shortly after that pick were strongly interested in Beathard, too. They wanted Beathard to be their No. 3 QB behind Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who aren’t San Francisco’s next Joe Montana/Steve Young.

“We weren’t going to play scared,” first-year Niners general manager John Lynch said. “When we saw something we liked, we were going to go for it.”

For those who thought Beathard didn’t progress last season after quarterbacking Iowa to a 12-2 record in 2015, new Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan suggested you weren’t seeing the real picture.

“I just saw him battle through adversity,” Shanahan said at a press conference. “You look at the numbers and they weren’t the same as the previous year. But numbers are something I very rarely look at.

“Just because there’s an incompletion, just because you don’t get the touchdown, it doesn’t always mean it’s the quarterback’s fault. You got to watch to make sure people are getting open, how the rhythm of the offense is, the protections and the receivers. Are guys separating for him? And what are they asking him to do?

“I think he does his job very well. I think he gives his team a very good chance to win. I think he showed that a lot more in 2015 when his team had a lot more opportunities to win.”

While Iowa has touted its 2016 Joe Moore Award given to the nation’s top offensive line, Beathard got pressured a lot. Plus, his receiving corps was a ghost town compared to what Beathard had alongside him the year before.

“I was surprised that C.J. went in the third round, but he went to the right place because Shanahan will play to his strengths,” said Cedar Rapids-based NFL talent-evaluator Dan Shonka of Ourlads.com. “C.J. is a Kirk Cousins type but with better arm-strength. Playing in a pro-style offense under center (at Iowa) helps him.”

Around here, we saw Beathard play with pain — probably more pain than we’ll ever realize — over much of the last two seasons. Yet, look at all the plays he made, games he won, and memorable moments he created.

Will he be an NFL success story? Will he ever even start a game? Really, we don’t know. But it wouldn’t be prudent to rule it out.

As for King, one can only imagine the disappointment the new Los Angeles Charger experienced by watching the draft creep by while a torrent of defensive backs had their names called.

Why? Was it because he is under 6-foot-tall and possesses speed considered ordinary for an NFL defensive back? Apparently.

We’re biased toward King in Iowa, having seen him start since the second game of his freshman season. He’s as good a cornerback as Iowa has had. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2015 and was a first-team All-America in 2015, and probably was better in 2016.

Everyone now assumes King would have been a much-higher pick last year had he left Iowa after his junior season. The assumption seems correct.

But the NFL College Advisory Committee didn’t tell King he was a sure first-rounder after his junior season. They told him he needed to improve on his speed, and he focused on that in the offseason.

King wasn’t great at the Senior Bowl, and had an abdominal strain when he was at the NFL combine. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at Iowa’s pro day a few weeks after the combine. That’s nothing special, nothing horrible for NFL defensive back prospects.

While we saw a pass-intercepting, shut-down cornerback with first-rate kick-returning skills in the college game, NFL people apparently saw someone with physical limitations who needs to improve his coverage and tackling skills.

But a fifth-rounder? Count Shonka among the surprised.

“Desmond will start for a team,” Shonka insisted. “It is simply measurables, height, arm-length, speed that have kept him from being drafted higher. King is a player.”

It isn’t necessarily useful to compare players, but Micah Hyde was an Iowa cornerback (and fellow Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year) and kick-returner who moved to safety in the NFL after getting picked by Green Bay in the fifth round with the 159th selection. King went eight picks sooner this year.

Last month, Hyde signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with Buffalo.

Thirty-five defensive backs were picked ahead of King. Thirty-one were picked ahead of Hyde four years ago. Do you think Hyde would have gone in the fifth round if the league redrafted the 2013 rookies?

Well, good luck to King, to Beathard, to Iowa teammates fourth-round pick Jaleel Johnson of the Minnesota Vikings, to fifth-round pick George Kittle of the 49ers, to Drake tight end Eric Saubert (fifth round, Atlanta Falcons), and to everyone else who just joined the NFL. Pro football, no matter how much it pays, is rough stuff.

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