In February at the NFL combine, the 40-yard dash was a topic of conversation for the five Hawkeyes invited to compete at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
Offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs just kind of smiled, like he knew he was going to uncork a 4.85-second 40 and blow the football world’s mind. Defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa said he didn’t think he’d be slow. Quarterback Nate Stanley did OK for himself, but there was a betting service that listed odds for Stanley having one of the slowest 40s at the combine.
Safety Geno Stone hoped for a 4.55 and didn’t get it. Cornerback Michael Ojemudia said he would run fast. He didn’t put a time on it, but he seemed confident.
Ojemudia put down a 4.45. Fast forward to the third round of the NFL Draft on Friday night, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said that 40 probably helped put the Farmington Hills, Mich., native at No. 77 to the Denver Broncos.
“I think what really got everybody’s attention was the 4.45 speed that he showed in conjunction with all of that physical and athletic talent,” Kiper said on the draft broadcast. “... When you look at Ojemudia, the combine workout probably pushed him up 20 to 25 slots, in my opinion. I didn’t see him being a third-round pick, based on tape. I had him at a fifth-round grade and bumped him up a little bit after that.”
Ojemudia, 6-1, 200 pounds with 32 1/4-inch arms, will take it. At No. 77, Ojemudia is in line for a $4.5 million, four-year contract with a $1 million signing bonus, according to Spotrac.com, a website that tracks sports salaries. Ojemudia will graduate in May with a mechanical engineering degree. He said at the combine his ambition to design automobiles will go on hold for his NFL career.
Iowa doesn’t test the 40 with its players. The philosophy is that it doesn’t measure what Iowa wants to get out of its players, which makes sense if you consider the different demands for particular position groups. Of course, the rest of the football world sees it a different way.
After Epenesa ran a 5.04 at the combine, draft predictions wavered from mid-first round to the second. He went in the second (No. 54) to the Buffalo Bills on Friday night. If there were question about Epenesa’s 40, those question didn’t matter to the Bills.
With the 40 being such a popular metric for football success, of course Hawkeye football players think about it.
“Going through Iowa, you really do want to know,” Ojemudia said. “You know a lot of times, it really doesn’t equate, so we concentrated on short distances. Just as an athlete, you want to know how you compare to other people.”
Ojemudia led the Hawkeyes with three interceptions and nine pass breakups last season. Ojemudia earned third-team all-Big Ten last season.
“It really is a dream come true,” Ojemudia told DenverBroncos.com on Friday night. “When I saw the (Colorado) area code pop up on my phone, my heart dropped because I feel like that’s the perfect place for me. Just all the stars aligned with this pick.”
Ojemudia is the 15th defensive back that Iowa defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker has put in the NFL, that’s second behind offensive line (18). (With Epenesa going in the second round to the Bills, 13 defensive linemen in the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa have now been drafted. That’s No. 3 among position groups.) Ojemudia is the 13th Hawkeye taken in the third round under Ferentz.
“I plan to be just a hard-nosed, physical guy,” Ojemudia told the Broncos website. “A guy who makes plays. A guy who’s going to set the tone every time he’s out there. I’m definitely going to bring some grittiness to that DB room.”
Stone and Stanley should be picked Saturday when the draft resumes with rounds four through seven.
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