Iowa Football

NFL draft was daft when it came to ex-Hawkeyes Desmond King and George Kittle

King and Kittle had TDs in Week 5, continue great starts to pro careers

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of the Niners’ 31-3 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of the Niners’ 31-3 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — The National Football League, as NFL people and their toadies always call it to make it sound majestic, is mostly hooey.

The NFL’s billionaire team owners are, to use Tom Wolfe’s words, the Masters of the Universe. Like nearly all Masters of the Universe, they aren’t the salt of the earth. They get what they want when they want it. It’s a fluke if it’s good for anyone else or society in general.

I’ve covered Super Bowls in five different cities, and it was always striking to see how much slicker everything was at those sites in those weeks, from traffic flow to security to party planning. It made me appreciate cities in normal times, where things don’t necessarily work quite right, but at least life isn’t so sterile and full of pro football nonsense.

The players are the NFL’s saving grace. Now, not all of them are angels or role models. It’s hard to be a Renaissance man when savagery is the essence of your vocation.

However, there are always many players to admire and enjoy amid all the greed and gluttony and head injuries. I, and I’d bet many of you, love the fact former Iowa players Desmond King and George Kittle have made so many NFL talent evaluators look so boneheaded.

King, who merely won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in his junior year, wasn’t drafted in 2017 until the 151st pick, a fifth-rounder. Why? He was considered too small at 5-foot-10. His speed was underwhelming. Blah blah blah.

“(Former Iowa defensive back/NFL vet) Micah Hyde is probably in the same category,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “Not quite big enough, not quite fast enough. … Micah and Desmond, they end up being middle-round type players because they didn’t quite have the measurables.

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“I get that and understand that and appreciate that, but they both are doing really well at that level.”

King was the 36th defensive back taken in the ’17 draft. Sunday against Denver, he gave the Los Angeles Chargers their only touchdown of the game with a 68-yard punt return. The week before, he had 2.5 quarterback sacks against the Miami Dolphins.

 

Last year, he was a first-team All-Pro defensive back and second-team All-Pro punt returner as a second-year player. If NFL people had just stuck to watching King’s game film from his Iowa days, they might have gotten themselves a heck of a player.

Kittle had injury issues at times during his Iowa career, but when the tight end played, he played. He averaged 15.4 yards per catch as a Hawkeye, had 10 touchdowns, and blocked as if defenders in front of him had swiped his lunch money.

He tested and timed well at the 2017 NFL Combine, but still lasted until the fifth round at pick No. 146, five spots ahead of King. It wasn’t a major insult, since not everyone needs a tight end each year. Kittle was the ninth tight end taken, so that really wasn’t a slap, either. But he has made fools of many scouts.

“George, to me, is a different story in that he keeps on blooming and developing,” Ferentz said. “In George’s case, where he got drafted probably was not off the target. Then he just keeps getting better and better.

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Monday night, Kittle had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown for the San Francisco 49ers, rushed once for 18 yards, and ran over Cleveland Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie on Matt Breida’s 83-yard touchdown run in the unbeaten 49ers’ 31-3 romp.

Kittle already has career numbers of 154 catches, 2,127 yards and eight touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season. He has become a genuine sensation.

 

Nobody in the NFL saw that coming. The scouts file through the Iowa football complex and other college compounds all season to watch tape, get a feel for things. They have their Senior Bowl and their Combine and their pro days and their one-on-one interviews with players. They pick the brains of the players’ coaches.

Then they draft Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback in 2017 ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Then they leave Kittle and King on the draft board until the third day.

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If the 2017 draft were redrafted, King and Kittle would be first-rounders. And we take this stuff seriously for some reason.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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