A Look Back at Recent Iowa Hawkeyes in the NFL Draft
The 2022 NFL Draft is set to kick off on Thursday, April 28th. It's a weekend-long event where players' dreams come true and their hard work is validated. They graduate from being college athletes to professionals in the National Football League.
The Iowa Hawkeyes have been prolific in churning out one prospect after another. While we don't know yet where some of last season's roster will end up, we do know what's come of Iowa players who have been first round picks in the last several years. I dove into four and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Bryan Bulaga (Offensive Tackle, 23rd overall pick to the Green Bay Packers in 2010):
Barrington, Illinois native Bryan Bulaga was selected by the Green Bay Packers following a stellar stint at Iowa. He was a stalwart tackle after moving from left guard at the end of his freshman year. Bulaga would go on to be part of the Packers squad that won the Super Bowl over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, his rookie season.
Bulaga was named to the NFL All-Rookie team that year and even became the youngest player to start in a Super Bowl (at 21 years, 322 days old). Despite an ACL tear in 2013, he rebounded in 2014 to have one of his best seasons. He served on a Packers offensive line that gave up its fewest sacks since the 2007 season (only 30).
Bulaga enjoyed ten seasons with the Packers before signing a three year, $30 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. He started 10 games with the Chargers in 2020 and was placed on injured reserve for much of the 2021 season before being released last month. He's currently a free agent.
Brandon Scherff (Guard, fifth overall pick to the Washington Redskins in 2015):
Brandon Scherff was snatched up by the Washington Redskins in the 2015 NFL Draft. A 315-pound guard for the Hawkeyes, he was ranked as the best offensive tackle in the draft by a number of analysts. Scherff went on to prove it early, starting all 16 regular season games, playing 752 snaps, and helping the Skins finish first in their division was a 9-7 record.
Scherff was a consistent bright-spot for Washington through a lot of down years. His seven-year career with the team resulted in five trips to the Pro Bowl and a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2020. This offseason, Scherff signed a three-year, $49.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he'll be protecting sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Scherff has played hard his whole career. Now, he's secured the bag, and when all's said and done, he might even have a case for the Hall of Fame.
T. J. Hockenson (Tight End, eight overall pick to the Detroit Lions in 2019):
T. J. Hockenson was one of two tight ends for the Hawkeyes to hear their names called on the same night in 2019. Hockenson was awarded the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football in 2018. His leadership abilities coupled with his ability to gain tough yardage helped him amass over 1,000 yards in just two years.
Hockenson was drafted eighth overall to the Detroit Lions in 2019. Despite some injuries in 2019 and 2021, 2020 saw him make the Pro Bowl after starting all 16 games, nabbing more than 700 yards, and catching six touchdowns during the season.
Hockenson is now part of a rebuild in Detroit, which might make things interesting. The Lions intend to exercise his fifth year option, which would keep him with the team through 2023. Should he hit free agency, there's no question a team would throw him a sizable deal.
Noah Fant (Tight End, 20th overall to the Seattle Seahawks in 2019):
Hockenson wasn't the only Iowa tight end selected in the first round in 2019.
Noah Fant shined in a Hawkeye uniform. A tight end amassing 19 touchdowns over his three-year college career, Fant was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 20th pick in 2019. His three years in Denver were defined by his ability to be a trustworthy slot receiver, in so many words, catching balls from a variety of quarterbacks: everyone from Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Terry Bridgewater, and more in between.
Fant's name has been in the headlines this offseason as he was part of a monster trade package Denver sent to the Seattle Seahawks in order to get quarterback Russell Wilson. Fant was shipped to Seattle along with two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, Lock, and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
It'll take some getting used to seeing Fant in new colors. That said, he's already less than 100 yards away from reaching the 2,000 yard milestone. Furthermore, with limited offensive pieces him in Seattle, he should get an opportunity to flash relatively quickly. And maybe a new contract soon enough too.
We'll find out what comes of some of the Hawkeyes' newest stars — including offensive tackle Trevor Penning and center Tyler Linderbaum — come the end of this week. But the track record for the Hawkeyes transitioning to the NFL has been pretty exceptional, at least for the first round.