20 For 20: The Best NFL Players of the Kirk Ferentz Era -- Part 3

By RossWB on July 6, 2018 at 10:07 am
Diesel gotta eat.

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Our countdown of the best Iowa players in the NFL over the last 20 years hits the top ten and we're starting to see some separation. These are guys who have really had some standout performances in the NFL and been celebrated among the best of the best at their respective positions. 

Previously: 20-16 | 15-11

BONUS: COLIN COLE (2004-2015)

SPOILER ALERT: Colin Cole did not make the Top 5 of this list. But, uh, he should have made it elsewhere on this list! Whoops. That was an oversight. (Those responsible for the error have been sacked.) So let's give him a little love here. I don't think he quite cracks the top 10 of the best Iowa players in the NFL during the KF Era, but he's not too far outside of it, either. Cole was one of the less-heralded stars of Iowa's early aughts defenses, a force in the middle of the defensive line who did a lot of dirty work to enable guys like Matt Roth, Chad Greenway, and Abdul Hodge to put up flashier numbers. He's also one of the few undrafted free agents of the KF era to not just stick in the NFL, but really carve out a solid role for himself. Cole bounced around the practice squads of the NFC North (Detroit, Minnesota) before landing an active roster spot with Green Bay (you'll be seeing them a lot in this post) in 2004. Cole played in just three games as a rookie, but quickly earned more action, playing in all 16 games (starting four) in 2005. He stuck with Green Bay for another three seasons and while he never became a regular starter, he was a regular presence in their defensive line rotation. Cole finally became a regular starter in his sixth season in the league, after moving to Seattle; he started 26 of 27 games for the Seahawks in 2009 and 2010. Injuries limited him for two seasons after that, but he rebounded to see significant action with Carolina, starting 23 games in 2013 and 2014. Cole never put up big stats in the NFL -- in 10 seasons of action he recorded a total of 266 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 13 passes defended -- but that wasn't really his role. Cole did  the dirty work on the defensive line for a decade (and change) in the pros, and he did it well. 

10) BRANDON SCHERFF (2015-present)

Is this high for a guy with only three years of service in the NFL? Perhaps. But they've been three very good years, too. Scherff is Iowa's most recent first draft pick (selected #5 overall in 2015 by the Washington Redskins) and he's gone about living up to those lofty expectations so far -- albeit at right guard, not at tackle. Scherff was a dominant left tackle at Iowa, but he's remained a dominant force while transitioning to the interior (where he started his Iowa career, in fact). Whether Scherff ultimately returns to tackle or not, he seems poised to be a force on the interior of the line for several years to come. He was named to the All-Rookie team in 2015 and he's already made two Pro Bowl teams (2016, 2017). Pro Football Focus graded him the eighth best guard in football last year. Scherff is poised for one hell of a career (assuming good health) -- and it's already gotten off to a very good start. 

9) MICAH HYDE (2013-present)

Micah Hyde's story just keeps getting better. He came to Iowa a lightly-recruited (to put it mildly) 2* prospect but four years in Phil Parker's Defensive Back Finishing School turned him into an All-Big Ten first team performer and the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2012. (He was one of the few bright lights in the darkness that was that season.) He turned that into a fifth round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2013 NFL Draft and his pro career has shown the same steady improvement that he displayed in Iowa City. After seeing limited action as a rookie in 2013, Hyde became a regular presence in the Green Bay secondary after that, appearing in 47 of the next 48 games and starting 30 of them. He racked up 173 tackles and eight interceptions during that span, while also showing out as a return man. Hyde returned three punts four touchdowns in 2013 and 2014, while averaging over 13.6 yards per punt return. His return duties have fallen to the wayside as he's aged, but he's only gotten better as a defensive back. He had his best season yet last year with Buffalo, recording 82 tackles and a career-best five interceptions. His strong play earned him second-team All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl appearance. If he keeps this up, there's no way Micah will be able to Hyde from the spotlight. 

8) MIKE DANIELS (2012-present)

Speaking of former 2* recruits done good -- as well another Green Bay defender (no NFL team has prospered as much as Green Bay has by selecting Hawkeyes in the NFL Draft) -- we come to Big Mike Daniels. Daniels, whose only college offer was Iowa (Daniels said he had an offer from Villanova at one point, but that they had pulled it by the time he made a visit there), was an afterthought in recruiting and in his first few years in the Iowa program. But by his junior season he was an indispensable part of the defensive line and by his senior season he was flat-out excellent, earning second-team All-Big honors. Still no one figured him for a future NFL star at that point. The Packers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and it didn't take him long to make an impact. In limited action Daniels racked up 12 tackles and two sacks as a rookie in 2013. He still wasn't a starter in 2014, but he managed to accumulate 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks all the same. That was the last time Daniels wouldn't be an NFL starter. He's started almost every game over the past two seasons (only missing two games last year due to injury) and been a consistently excellent presence in the middle of the Green Bay defensive line, averaging 44.5 tackles and almost five sacks per season. He's been a fixture on the NFL's Top 100 Players lists over the past few seasons and he earned his first Pro Bowl nod last year after being a Pro Bowl alternate the three years prior. It's all richly-deserved recognition for a player who's been defying the doubters for a decade-plus now. 

7) JONATHAN BABINEAUX (2005-2016)

To the best of my knowledge, no Iowa player in the last 20 years has had a longer NFL career than Jonathan Babineaux's 12-year tenure in the league. (Marshal Yanda has a chance to tie that 12-year tenure this season and surpass it if he continues playing beyond the 2018 campaign.) And those are 12 full years, too -- Babineaux played in 185 of a possible 192 games during that stretch, including starting 133 of them. Not bad for a guy who came to Iowa as a fullback. Babineaux was the engine behind some beastly Iowa defenses in the early aughts and he parlayed that into getting selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Remarkably, he spent his entire 12-year career with the Falcons, too. Babineaux amassed 393 tackles, 27 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 23 passes defended, four interceptions (?!), and two touchdowns in that lengthy career. (Seriously: a defensive tackle with four interceptions?!) Babineaux was never one of the absolute best defensive tackles in the league and he didn't make any Pro Bowl teams or All-Pro squads, but he was consistently very good for a very long time in a league that typically chews up players and spits them out in a few years. 

6) AARON KAMPMAN (2002-2011)

Aaron Kampman feels like a slightly overlooked figure in Iowa history and no doubt that has a lot to do with the era when he was a Hawkeye. His tenure in Iowa City overlapped with the end of the Hayden Fry era and the very beginning of the Kirk Ferentz era, which is to say: he played on a whole lot of pretty bad teams. Iowa won as many games in his senior season (seven) as they had in his three previous seasons combined. Kampman graduated after the 2001 season, which means he missed out on the glorious 2002-04 period. But despite toiling on some less-than-stellar teams, Kampman was very very good and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2001. The Green Bay Packers (there they go again!) drafted him in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft and, suffice to say, they got plenty of value out of that selection.

Kampman saw limited action as a rookie and recorded 24 tackles and 0.5 sacks. He gradually got more playing time, becoming a full-time starter at defensive end in 2004 and recording 67 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He followed that up with 81 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2005 but he was just getting warmed up. Kampman had his two best seasons in 2006 and 2007, recording 89 tackles and 15.5 sacks and 64 tackles and 12 sacks, respectively. He made the Pro Bowl both seasons and was second-team All-Pro as well. He was an absolutely monstrous pass-rushing force those two years. Kampman's numbers declined to 62 tackles and 9.5 sacks in 2008 (still quite good!), before injuries began to take their toll on his career. He played in just 17 games over the next two seasons with Green Bay and Jacksonville, before wrapping up his career in Jacksonville with three games in 2011. Still, the career that Kampman was able to put together was superb and at its peak reached heights few former Hawkeyes have hit in the NFL. 

NEXT: The absolute best of the best. 

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