20 For 20: The Best NFL Players of the Kirk Ferentz Era -- Part 1

By RossWB on July 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm
Christian Kirksey points the way.

© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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One of the enduring themes of the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa has been development. The ultimate expression of that development -- at least on an individual level -- is  getting to play in the NFL. The Iowa-to-NFL pipeline has been a strong one during Kirk Ferentz's two decades in charge, producing 66 NFL draft picks. And several more players have earned roster spots as undrafted free agents. The hardest part of this exercise was narrowing that list down to the 20 best players to make it in the NFL during the KF era at Iowa. And just to be clear: this is about their performance and production in the NFL, not their Iowa careers. 

So without further ado...

20) BRANDON MYERS (2009-2016)

Over the course of 20 years and 66 draft picks, Iowa has had players selected from every position (except punter, alas), but some positions have been more fruitful than others. One of those, of course, is tight end, which has produced eight draft picks. Brandon Myers is a solid part of that lineage, drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Myers played four seasons with the Raiders, including the best season of his pro career in 2012, when he started 16 games and had 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns. He also tied a Raiders franchise record with 14 catches in a game against the Cleveland Browns. His other notable season came with the New York Giants in 2013, when he started 14 games and caught 47 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns. Myers spent the final three seasons of his career in Tampa Bay; all told, he accumulated 199 receptions for 1954 yards and nine touchdowns in his career.

19) ROBERT GALLERY (2004-2011)

Gallery is probably the most infamous NFL Draft pick from Iowa of the past 20 years. He's the highest drafted player of the Ferentz era (taken #2 overall in 2004) and the second-highest drafted player ever from Iowa. Only Randy Duncan, drafted #1 overall in 1959, was selected higher than Gallery. Unfortunately, a high draft pick begets high expectations and Gallery struggled to live up to those very lofty hopes. He was drafted by the Raiders as a left tackle, to be the bookend of their line for the next decade. He started out as a right tackle and after two season there, Oakland moved him to left tackle, but he was never able to solidify his spot there. The constant churn in Oakland's coaching staff during Gallery's tenure there didn't help his odds of success, but ultimately he was never able to recapture the form that made him one of the most dominant linemen we've ever seen during his Iowa tenure. Ultimately Gallery transitioned to left guard and spent five years there, four with Oakland and one with Seattle. He was a solid left guard and an 8-year pro career is nothing to sniff at, even if that's not what you're hoping to get with the second pick in the draft. 

18) CHARLES GODFREY (2008-2015)

Alongside tight end and offensive line, defensive back has been one of the most successful Iowa-to-NFL pipelines, producing a whopping 13 draft picks. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that you'll be seeing a few more of secondary standouts on this countdown. Godfrey went from a two-star recruit to multi-year starter at Iowa and he parlayed that into being drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. Godfrey immediately stepped in as Carolina's starting free safety, starting all 16 games as a rookie and 59 tackles, five passes defended, a forced fumble, and an interception. He started at free safety again in 2009 but had his best years as the Panthers' starting strong safety in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, Godfrey recorded 83 tackles, eight passes defended, and a career-high five interceptions. He followed that up in 2011 with 80 tackles, seven passes defended, and an interception. Godfrey spent another two and a half seasons with Carolina, but his production steadily declined. He spent his last season and a half with the Atlanta Falcons, appearing in 13 games. Godfrey put together an eight-year NFL career and was a regular starter for five very solid seasons, racking up 376 tackles, 34 passes defended, 11 interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and three sacks over that career.

17) CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY (2014-present)

Kirksey figures to rank even higher on this list if we re-do it in a few years, but for now he's done enough in his first four seasons in the NFL to crack the Top 20. Kirksey was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns and while the Browns have been the sorriest franchise in the NFL (by some margin) over those four seasons, it hasn't been through any fault of Kirksey, who's been one of the only bright spots for the team. Kirksey has played in all 64 games since he's been drafted and started eight games as a rookie, racking up 81 tackles, three passes defended, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He saw more limited action in 2015, but emerged as a regular starter over the past two seasons. In 2016 he was one of the league leaders with 143 total tackles, to go along with three passes defended, and 2.5 sacks. Last year he had 138 tackles, five passes defended, and 3.5 sacks. He's become one of the best players on the Browns' defense and should be one of the key players (hopefully) leading them out of their present misery and into future success. Not bad for a guy who's only 1 foot, 2 inches

16) LADELL BETTS (2002-2010)

Betts was the first fairly high draft pick of the Ferentz era and he's still the highest-drafted running back to come out of Iowa in the last 20 years. Betts was drafted in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and he spent almost his entire career with Washington (8 of 9 seasons). For most of his career he was a backup (most notably to Clinton Portis) or part of a running back platoon. His standout season came in 2006, when he was able to start nine games and ended up running for 1154 yards on 245 carries (4.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns; he also caught 53 passes for 445 yards (8.1 yards per catch) and a touchdown. Betts also served as one of the team's primary kickoff returners in 2002, 2004, and 2005, 75 kickoffs for 1839 yards (24.5 yards per return) and a touchdown. For his career, Betts ran for 3326 yards and 15 touchdowns on 821 carries and caught 188 passes for 1646 yards and three touchdowns. 

NEXT: It's lineman time as we give some of Iowa's big uglies their due for their NFL success.

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