116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — How often do you get the opportunity to draft a first-team All-American in the fifth round? The Big Ten Conference’s top defensive lineman, no less.
It seemed like a draft drop for the 6-foot-3, 313-pound tackle, who emerged as a dominant defender this past fall for the Hawkeyes. The Wisconsin native led the Big Ten in tackles for loss and was fourth in sacks, his 71-yard fourth-quarter interception return for touchdown against Penn State perhaps the most indelible moment of the season.
Initially, Nixon was considered a potential second- or third-round pick but the most recent “expert” predictions prior to the draft had him as a potential fourth- or fifth-rounder. Turned out it was later than that.
Whether it was an underwhelming Pro Day, inconsistency prior to his 2020 breakout or some sort of off-field incident in 2018 that nearly chased him away from Iowa, Nixon lasted until the 14th pick of the fifth round. He was No. 158 overall.
“It came as a total shock, honestly,” Nixon told media Saturday. “I had no idea who was gonna pick me. But I’m really excited to be here. Personally, I feel like you guys are getting the best defensive tackle in the draft. A guy who’s fought through a lot of trials and tribulations to get here.”
Nixon wasn’t even the first Iowa player to be drafted in Saturday’s final four rounds of the draft. Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was plucked one spot ahead of Nixon, 157th overall, by the Minnesota Vikings.
Smith-Marsette is the first Hawkeyes receiver to be drafted since Marvin McNutt in 2012. The New Jersey native had 25 catches and four touchdowns in the truncated 2020 season, the signature game of his career coming in the 2020 Holiday Bowl against USC, when he scored on a catch, a run and a kickoff return.
He could aid the Vikings in that latter way, as could Iowa State’s Kene Nwangwu, whom the team picked in the fourth round. Nwangwu was a career backup as a running back at ISU who overcame a torn Achilles tendon to be a contributor, especially on kickoff returns and special teams as a whole.
“I feel as though I was the best player in the draft when it comes to returning the ball,” Smith-Marsette told the Vikings official website. “That’s another strong suit of mine. I feel like I’m coming in there, and I’m going to make an immediate impact in the return game and then work my way into the offense.”
Nwangwu boosted his draft stock by running a 4.29-second 40-yard dash at ISU’s Pro Day in March.
“I think my agent, we sat down and looked at depth charts for multiple teams, even looking at the scheme, the running backs coach, even the possibility for kick return/punt return, any type of special team needs,” Nwangwu told the Vikings official website. “We circled the Vikings as a high place where I could go there and have a role as a kick returner and special teams player, and I would fit their scheme in the outside zone scheme in the run game.”
Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann was the first pick of the sixth round, 185th overall, to the Los Angeles Chargers. He’ll join his brother, Ben, in the NFC West.
Ben Niemann plays linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Tested like one of the best athletes at LB in this class,” CBSSports.com wrote about Nick Niemann. “Didn’t quite see that type of short-area quickness and speed on film. Diagnoses in a flash and plays very under control. Minimal ball production but does have the smoothness to develop in that regard.”
The first guy from a state school to get picked Saturday was Northern Iowa defensive end/edge rusher Elerson Smith. He’s a late bloomer from the Twin Cities who didn’t see the field his first two years in the Panthers program and didn’t start until 2019, his junior year.
Smith decided not to play college football this spring for UNI, opting to prepare for the draft. Smith was the 116th overall pick.
“Tall, well-built EDGE with a nice arsenal of pass-rushing moves,” CBSSports.com wrote. “Could add more weight and pop to his frame. And coming from lesser competition. Giants needed EDGE help.”
Guys drafted Friday on the second day of the three-day NFL Draft were Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston (third round by Dallas Cowboys) and Northern Iowa offensive tackle Spencer Brown (third round by Buffalo Bills).
It was reported early Saturday evening that Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith will sign as a free agent with the Cowboys, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson with the Los Angeles Rams, offensive tackle Coy Cronk and defensive lineman Jack Heflin with the Green Bay Packers, guard Cole Banwart with the Tennessee Titans, tight end Shaun Beyer with the Denver Broncos., and running back Mekhi Sargent with the Tennessee Titans.
Beyer is a Cedar Rapids Kennedy grad. Another former Metro prep, Cedar Rapids Washington grad Landen Akers, is signing a free-agent deal with the Rams, it was reported.
Akers was a wide receiver at Iowa State. Jackson not being drafted was particularly head scratching, since he was a four-year starter for Iowa.
Former Hawkeye defensive back Manny Rugamba said on Twitter he is signing with the Cleveland Browns. Rugamba transferred to Miami of Ohio.
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