Iowa Football

So many ex-Hawkeyes in NFL exceeding others' expectations

Monday Night Football was a bit of an Iowa showcase

San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) scrambles for a first down while pursued by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during the Packers’ 33-30 win Monday night at Lambeau Field. (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) scrambles for a first down while pursued by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during the Packers’ 33-30 win Monday night at Lambeau Field. (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — With clarity that comes from hindsight, it seems an Iowa football player gets selected too low in the NFL draft almost every year.

Here are examples: Marshal Yanda, 3rd round. Mike Daniels, 4th round. Micah Hyde, 5th round. Anthony Hitchens, 4th round. Austin Blythe, 7th round. Desmond King, 5th round. Josey Jewell, 4th round.

At the time, some seemed like they slipped in the draft while others seemed about right. Now, all look like bargains.

“I guess they don’t quite fit the parameters,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.

“They don’t all fit the mold maybe. I think what we see is they end up being really good players.”

Ferentz is connected to the NFL. Pro scouts are frequent visitors to the Hawkeyes’ football complex. They respect Ferentz greatly, are keenly aware of the track record his players have established in their league. Yet … King in the fifth round?

In the Los Angeles Chargers’ 38-14 win at Cleveland Sunday, second-year pro King intercepted two Baker Mayfield passes, returned two punts for a total of 36 yards, and had a 27-yard kickoff return.

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“He had such a big junior year for us (eight interceptions),” Iowa safety Jake Gervase said. “He decided to come back for us and played really good football as a senior. I know his numbers weren’t nearly as high as far as turnovers, but they threw away from him all year.

“There was never a doubt in my mind, our coaches’ or anybody else in this building, that he was going to be successful at the next level.”

Monday night was a Hawkeyes showcase when the San Francisco 49ers played the Green Bay Packers. The Niners started quarterback C.J. Beathard and tight end George Kittle, and used defensive back Greg Mabin. The Packers started offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and defensive end Mike Daniels, and used rookie cornerback Josh Jackson.

Beathard completed long throws to Marquise Goodwin for 67- and 30-yard touchdown passes in the first half, which ended with the Niners ahead 24-20.

The game, like so many others involving the Packers, became Aaron Rodgers’ show in the fourth quarter. But Beathard gave a good account of himself in San Francisco’s 33-30 loss.

Beathard was one of the few Iowa products who was a surprise by getting drafted as early as he did, in the third round. But he has been a surprise in how fast he has adjusted to the NFL game and responded when he has been replaced an injured starter.

“That was the C.J. I know,” said Iowa senior center Keegan Render. “He scrambled up the middle (for 11 yards on third-and-9 late in the first half) and instead of sliding he dives forward. That’s just the guy we knew here.”

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley was a freshman understudy to Beathard in 2016. He remains an unabashed fan.

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“Just the way he carried himself every single day,” Stanley said, “in the meeting room, out at practice. I could definitely tell he was a special player who had all the attributes to be able to play in the NFL.

“He always put in probably more time than anybody else on the team. Seeing the way he went about preparing kind of shaped the way that, with the help of the coaches and other guys that prepare extremely well, I go about preparing for a game week.”

Gervase said “I knew C.J. was going to be an NFL quarterback. We saw it not only in games, but in practice. He would make throws, make plays that not necessarily all college quarterbacks can do.

“Coach (Phil) Parker said the same thing, ‘(No.) 16 is a special player, a special guy.’ ”

The list is long of Hawkeye successes in the pros. Look at Blythe, a third-year pro who was fighting to stay in the league not long ago. He became the Rams’ starter at right guard because starter Jamon Brown began this season with a two-game suspension. Blythe has played way too well to bench. He played all 74 snaps in his team’s 23-20 win at Denver Sunday, moving from right guard to left guard in midgame when Rodger Saffold left with a knee injury.

“It doesn’t really matter how you get there,” Iowa senior starting guard Ross Reynolds said. “It’s when you get there and what you do with it.

“You have to have that Iowa mentality. You’re maybe not the most physically gifted. You need to work for what you want and always know there’s something you can improve on.”

“All those guys we’re talking about,” said Ferentz, an NFL assistant coach for six years in the 1990s, “they understand what it is to show up and work every day. That sounds pretty mundane and boring. Six years in the National Football League, it was amazing how many guys didn’t understand that concept. They got by because they had great ability, great this and that. At some point that road ends.

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“I think our guys do a good job of giving themselves a chance to stay alive, be productive for the team they’re with.”

The Rams play the 49ers next Sunday. Beathard, his Iowa tight end, George Kittle, and former Hawkeye cornerback Greg Mabin on one side, Beathard’s senior-season center Blythe on the other. They’re a long way from Iowa, and yet the Iowa never goes away.

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

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