Five Iowa players will be headed to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine later this month, one of the major steps that eventually ends with players hearing their names called at the NFL Draft, which this year will take place in Arlington, Texas, from April 26-28. You could probably guess which five Iowa players were selected to attend the combine -- Josh Jackson, James Daniels, Josey Jewell, Akrum Wadley, and Sean Welsh.
Jackson is the highest-rated Iowa prospect on NFL.com, rated at 6.18. The ratings run from 4.50 (chance to be in an NFL training camp) up to 9-10 (once-in-a-lifetime player). Players in the 6-6.49 range are described as "should become instant starters."
It's always interesting to see how outsiders assess Iowa players, and the rundown of Jackson's strengths should look familiar to anyone who watched him play this year:
Had mind-blowing ball-hawking season with 27 passes defensed including eight interceptions. Tall with long arms. Allowed 41.3 percent completion rate. Made a play on 25.7 percent of his targets. Makes his own fortune. Instincts are top-notch. Plays the ball and not the man. Flashed supreme ball skills. High-point winner with ability to pull down the one-hand grab.
As for weaknesses, they ding him for his lack of experience (only 14 career starts) and his ability to be beaten by release fakes at the line of scrimmage and quality routes.
There's no draft projection for Jackson, but based on his rating, it's fair to slot him in as a potential first round pick, I'd say.
Daniels is the second-highest rated Iowa prospect on NFL.com, rated at 6.0. That gives him a second round draft projection and an overall assessment that "he needs to get stronger, but he's a plus run blocker and pass protector with a chance to become a Pro Bowl starter."
The discussion of his strengths focus on his fluid movement and quickness:
Elite movement talent for the position. Smooth, fluid and flexible. Good snap to step quickness. Initial contact is balanced and well-timed. Outpaces defenders laterally and reaches three-techniques all day long. Slides feet into position and swivels hips to secure the block. Easy second-level climber with agility for high connection rate. Takes smart angles. Can beat inside linebackers to the spot and get them sealed. Has reactive athleticism to open hips and redirect against slants on his backside.
He gets dinged for his size, mainly.
Played lighter than he needs to be as a pro. Has to continue to add functional mass to his frame. Power at the point of attack is average. Bull-rushers make him work overtime to maintain his anchor. Will struggle to recover if nose guards get hands on him first.
Jewell is graded a 5.65 by NFL.com, which translates to "chance to become an NFL starter." They compare him to Sean Lee and project him as a third or fourth round pick. Lee has been very good when he's been healthy (which, unfortunately for him, hasn't been all that often), so an NFL career like that would be pretty excellent for Jewell if it happened.
Among his strengths, Jewell gets praised for his ability to read and diagnose plays and his tackling ability:
Eyes work fast. Initial play diagnose and trigger to the ball is immediate. Film junkie who recognizes blocking schemes and adjusts accordingly. Always flowing downhill looking to make plays near line of scrimmage. Quick recovery against play-action and misdirection. Plays ahead of work-up blocks. Flashes a strong burst to the ball and can close out runners if he's in the area. Pac-man tackler who owns a board full of high scores. Discipline, technique, and patience help him avoid missed and broken tackles. Launches compact build through target points and imposes force on ball-carrier.
He gets downgraded for size and some of his quickness and athleticism attributes:
Doesn't have long limbs and loose frame. Lateral agility, change of direction and overall reactive athleticism is just average. Has some straight line speed but his short area foot quickness in mirroring play is nothing special. Gets lost behind defensive line when finding the football at times. Ducks head into initial take-on blocks. Can get engulfed by size and stuck on blocks.
Wadley is graded 5.52 by NFL.com, which is on the low end of the "chance to become an NFL starter" range (5.50-5.99). He gets compared to Marlon Mack and is also projected as a third or fourth round pick. Wadley gets praised for his quickness, pass-catching skills, ability to make opponents miss, and overall versatility, but his lack of size/strength and some indecision as a runner could hold him back.
In terms of strengths, Wadley earns praise for his athletic ability, his stellar footwork, and his ability to make yards through jump cuts and spin moves (which we remember fondly from plenty of highlight videos).
Premium athletic ability. Feet are light and electric. Has the talent to elude sudden penetration into the backfield. Move-stacker. Improv ability in open field is star quality with tight-quarters footwork of a European soccer star. Often finds yardage for himself with sudden jump-cuts, spin moves, and a variety of head and shoulder fakes that leave tacklers on the turf. Can get to top speed quickly after changing directions. Glider who can easily outpace would-be tacklers around the edge with his "go" gear. Flashes big-play potential through the air as well.
His weaknesses are, as noted, his size and strength, as well as some problems with patience and decisiveness.
Thin lower body will turn off some teams. Lacks frame to carry desired weight of an every-down back. Vision and patience can be hit-or-miss. Makes plays that are in front of him but may not have feel to anticipate developing rush tracks. Gets hung up in a state of stutter-steps and shakes if clearly defined point of entry isn't there. Needs to do better job of committing once he gets to second level.
Welsh is graded 5.32 by NFL.com, which translates to "NFL backup or special teams potential." He gets compared to Austin Blythe (hey, I remember him!) and is slotted as a potential fifth or sixth round pick. Welsh is praised for his technique and his versatility and likely ability to switch from center to guard (or vice versa) if necessary, but his size and strength figure to hold him back as a prospect.
As noted, Welsh's strengths focus on his technique and versatility.
Good lower body thickness with broad waist. Low center of gravity provides solid base and contact balance through the rep. Possesses adequate athletic ability to transition from guard to center. Well-schooled and works well in double teams. Comes out low and maintains quality pad level with initial quickness to execute reach blocks with leverage and proper positioning.
His weaknesses focus on his size and strength/overall athleticism.
Undersized by NFL standards as an interior lineman. While initial quickness is solid, his athletic ability is nothing special when asked to get into space as a blocker. Lacks pop behind his pads as drive blocker and pull blocker. Athletic defensive tackles can leave him on his face with sudden arm-over moves off the snap.
Click on the link in each guy's name to see the full NFL.com scouting analysis. We'll have full coverage of their performance at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month.