Howe: Who’s Next? Looking at Future NFL Draft Picks from Iowa Football

April 28, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Five Iowa Football players heard their names called during the NFL Draft this past weekend. Tristan Wirfs, A.J. Epenesa, Michael Ojemudia, Geno Stone and Nate Stanley all realized their childhood dreams.

The five selections were the most for the program since six guys were chosen in 2012. Nine Hawkeyes have been taken in the last two drafts.

Iowa could be heading into a stretch like ’10-12, when NFL teams picked 18 of its players. There’s plenty of talent on next season’s roster for making a big run a reality.

Here’s a look at some guys positioned for the pros following next season:

Alaric Jackson, RS SR, OL – The Detroit native likely would have been selected had he come out this year. Instead, he decided on returning in hopes of cleaning up his game and his health.

Jackson (6-6, 320) will end up being a four-year starter at left tackle for one of the nation’s premiere offensive line programs. Him following Wirfs as a first-rounder is not a stretch if he takes the necessary steps. Going in thee top three rounds seems probable either way.

Chauncey Golston, RS SR, DL – Like fellow Detroit product, Jackson, I think Golston would have been an NFL draft pick this year. He showed explosiveness off the edge and held up well against the run as a first-year starter in ’19 when he produced 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, five pass break-ups and seven QB pressures.

Golston (6-5, 270) offers versatility as well, having broken into the Hawkeye rotation as a tackle. With expected improvement in his fifth year, he can push himself into being pick in the Top 3 rounds.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, TR SR, WR/KR – The New Jerseyan could have come out early this year and maybe heard his name called. He instead cited unfinished business as a reason for returning.

Smith-Marsette (6-1, 183) led Iowa in receiving yards (722) and touchdown receptions (5), while ranking second in receptions (44) last fall. He also averaged 29.6 yards on 17 kickoff returns with two scores, and rushed 11 times for 108 yards and three TDs.

NFL teams like players capable of helping in multiple ways with 53-man rosters. That’s Smith-Marsette.

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Brandon Smith, TR SR, WR – Injuries derailed a breakout season for the Mississippian, who missed almost five games after undergoing leg surgery. He still finished with 37 receptions for 439 yards and five touchdowns, including a circus catch against Penn State.

Smith (6-2, 218) offers NFL teams size and speed, although he’s not a burner. He also excels in the run game as a blocker.

Matt Hankins, TR SR, DB – The Texan could have tested the waters this year and found an NFL opportunity. He started all 18 games in which he was healthy enough to play the last two seasons.

Hankins (6-0, 185) mixes well his abilities to cover and tackle in space. If he can become more consistent and tighten up technique, he might be the next Hawkeye defensive back drafted into the league.

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Nick Niemann, RS SR, LB – For a number of reasons, Niemann hasn’t produced consistently during his Iowa time. And that’s not been his fault. He’s faced injuries and scheme changes.

Niemann (6-4, 235) possesses the NFL characteristics like his brother, Ben Niemann, who won a Super Bowl with Kansas City in February after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa. Nick’s ability to play multiple linebacker positions and special teams works in his favor as well.

Cole Banwart, RS SR, OL – The native Iowan lost the the majority of last season with an injury. He has started every game when available health wise the last two campaigns, however.

Banwart (6-4, 300) has a chance to make his mark as a senior. With that, he can improve his draft stock.

Shaun Beyer, RS SR, TE – Like Banwart, this Cedar Rapids (IA) Kennedy graduate has been slowed by injury throughout his college career. When healthy, he’s shown signs of being able to impact games.

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Beyer (6-5, 244) should move into Nate Wieting’s role as Iowa’s main blocking tight end next season. He has the athleticism and hands to contribute as a receiver as well.

Coy Cronk, RS SR, OL – The graduate transfer from Indiana hasn’t taken a snap with the Hawkeyes but started 40 games at left tackle with the Hoosiers. His ’19 campaign was cut short by a serious ankle injury that required surgery.

Cronk (6-5, 320) boasts NFL size. He’ll line up at right tackle or inside this season, which will show his versatility to pro scouts.

Daviyon Nixon, RS JR, DL – If you’re looking at the most likely Iowa underclassman to leave school early for the ’21 draft, Nixon is your guy. The Wisconsin product will move into the starting lineup next season and a breakout is quite possible.

Nixon (6-3, 309) boasts a unique combination of power and speed. He can slide outside as he showed in ’19 when the Hawkeyes flipped he and Epenesa on occasion. He’ll turn 22 in December and will be four years out of high school.

Tyler Linderbaum, RS SO, C – Calm down, Calm Down. I’m not saying the Solon native will be exiting after next season. I do think he could if he chose to do so, however. He’ll be in the league at some point

Linderbaum (6-3, 286) battled some inconsistency and growing pains as a first-year starter in ’19. That could expected after flipping over from the defensive line during the previous year’s bowl prep. When he was good, though, he was scary, dominant good.

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