Iowa Hawkeyes boast ability to mold seniors into NFL talent

·3 min read

The Iowa Hawkeyes are no strangers to delivering NFL-caliber talent year in and year out. They are doing so at a clip unseen by many college football teams. This gives credence to their ability to bring in under-recruited, undersized, and overlooked prospects and turn them into stars.

With the NFL draft now only two days away, the Hawkeyes have a handful of prospects that will be taking their talents to new homes across the country. True to Iowa fashion, most of these prospects have spent multiple years in Iowa City developing, getting stronger, and turning into high-quality prospects.

As tweeted by the official Iowa Hawkeyes Football account, 87% of their senior starters over the last 20 years have gotten their shot in the NFL via the draft or signed as a free agent.

At a program like Iowa, where the model is to spend the first year redshirting and developing, their starters are very senior heavy. Just last year alone, the Hawkeyes had eight senior starters across the three units.

This year should be no exception. Three former seniors waiting to find out their new home are defensive back Matt Hankins, defensive back Jack Koerner, and defensive end Zach VanValkenburg.

Hankins, a five-year player for Iowa, gives NFL teams instant depth at defensive back. Coming from a proven defense and experience in the form of 37 straight starts, he becomes a great plug-and-play piece for a team needing help in the secondary.

Projecting as a day-three pick, Hankins is going to likely be a solid contributor early on for the team that snags him on Saturday. He is the type of player that when drafted, teams know what they are getting. In a late-round pick, that is a gem of a selection.

Koerner is another in a long line of Hawkeye safeties that is going to get a shot at the next level. Being a four-year player and seeing time in 36 games, Koerner has found a way to succeed and that is due to his willingness to contribute in run defense.

He will add size once an NFL team gets their hands on him and that will only help him excel. Koerner projects as an undrafted free agent and is going to push incumbents for a spot on the depth chart.

VanValkenburg really came on last year for Iowa down the stretch. The defensive end improved his draft stock in his final game at the Vrbo Citrus Bowl with 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks against Kentucky.

While he doesn’t show the athleticism of some of the first-round talents, he more than makes up for it with his relentlessness to always find himself in a position to make a play. VanValkenburg will likely sign as an undrafted free agent but is one that can make a roster and be a contributor for a rotational defensive line with his toughness and Iowa defensive pedigree.

Iowa continues to churn out quality prospects year after year and the 2022 NFL draft should be no exception. While center Tyler Linderbaum, safety Dane Belton and running back Tyler Goodson are all expected to hear their names called, these seniors who were part of an experience-rich foundation for Iowa will also have their chance to continue the Hawkeyes’ way of producing NFL talent.

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