By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Thoughts, observations and a few gripes and predictions about the 2020 NFL Draft.
Nice work under surreal circumstances by everyone involved with the three-day virtual event, from the players to the production crews to the coaches and NFL executives, you made the most out of an incomprehensible situation caused by a global pandemic.
The seven-round draft helped to raise over $100 million to fight COVID-19, and it also created a nice diversion because it was the closest thing to live sports that we’ve had in over a month.
It was temporary relief from a horrible new normal, and hope for the future.
Iowa had five players selected in the draft and that makes 75 players overall that have been picked since Kirk Ferentz became head coach in 1999.
Tight end Jonathan Hayes was the only player with eligibility remaining under Hayden Fry to be selected in the NFL draft, going in the second round to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1985, while eight Iowa players with eligibility remaining have been picked since 2018, including three this year.
Times have certainly changed.
Defensive back Geno Stone was picked in the seventh round on Saturday by the Baltimore Ravens, and I feel confident in saying that Geno will prove to be much better than a seventh-round pick.
The Pennsylvania native, who declared for the draft as a junior, certainly isn’t Bob Sanders, but has some of the same measurables, literally and figuratively.
Geno is undersized, as was Sanders, but Geno compensates with great instincts, toughness and preparation, as did Sanders, who is also from Pennsylvania.
Stone and Sanders also had just one power five scholarship offer coming out of high school, and that was from Iowa.
Stone always seemed to be in the right place at the right time as a Hawkeye, and that was due to coaching, of course, but also due his mental and physical ability.
The Ravens got a steal with Stone in the seventh round.
Nate Stanley won't have to travel far from his hometown of Menomonie, Wis., to play for the Minnesota Vikings, who selected him in the seventh round and with the 244th pick overall.
Stanley is the third Iowa quarterback selected in the NFL Draft since 2011, the others being Ricky Stanzi by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round in 2011 and C.J. Beathard by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round in 2017.
Iowa didn't have a quarterback taken in the NFL draft from 1993 to 2010.
Matt Rodgers was selected in the 12th round by Buffalo in 1992.
Stanley started 39 consecutive games at Iowa and was 3-0 against Iowa State, Nebraska and Minnesota, and was 3-0 in bowl games. He ranks second in career touchdown passes at Iowa with 68 and second in career passing yards with 8,302.
Stanley grew up as a Bears fan despite living in Wisconsin, but the NFL Draft has a way of switching family allegiances.
Iowa has had 75 players taken in the NFL Draft in 21 seasons under Kirk Ferentz. Iowa had 62 players selected in 20 seasons under Hayden Fry, including 16 that were picked after the seventh round. Ferentz's NFL pipeline just keeps flowing.
It just seems odd that one 40-yard dash time apparently has more influence than three years of A.J. Epenesa on film, capped by a beat-down against a 2020 first-round draft pick from USC in the 2019 Holiday Bowl, and an endorsement from Kirk Ferentz.
That isn’t to say that Epenesa is being doubted or disrespected, because he was picked in the second-round, which is a worthy accomplishment.
But it's how Epenesa dropped that is unfortunate, and a head scratcher.
He basically had bad day at gym class, and paid a heavy price from a financial standpoint.
Epenesa’s dominance on the field helped to keep him in the second round, but his less-than-inspiring performance at the NFL combine took him out of the first round.
Epenesa was a coveted recruit coming out of high school, so this disappointment with the draft is new to him.
It will serve as motivation because Epenesa now has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
Buffalo not only added a great defender and person, but also somebody who is on a mission to show that he is better than his place in the draft would suggest.
From an unheralded two-star recruit coming out of high school in Michigan to a third-round draft pick, defensive back Michael Ojemudia is yet another example of Iowa’s success as a developmental program under Kirk Ferentz.
Identify talent and potential where others don’t see and then develop it over time; that’s been Iowa’s formula for success under Ferentz.
Indiana was the only other power five school that offered Ojemudia a scholarship coming out of high school.
Ojemudia and Stone were the 15th and 16th defensive backs taken in the draft under Ferentz, and the ninth and 10th defensive backs taken since 2010. That speaks volumes about Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who has coached defensive backs in 20 of the 21 seasons with Ferentz as head coach.
The one exception was in 2012 when Parker was promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator, and he chose to focus solely on being the coordinator.
But then Iowa finished 4-8 in 2012, and as part of the bounce back from that decline. Parker took on the dual responsibility of being the coordinator and defensive backs coach, and he and his defensive backs have thrived since then.
Ojemudia and Stone both made second-team all-Big Ten this past season, and they are the latest in a long and distinguished list of defensive backs that have earned all-conference honors under Parker.
It started with the legendary Bob Sanders making first-team All-Big Ten in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and continues with Ojemudia and Stone. Ojemudia helped his cause by running the 40 in 4.55 seconds..
The other defensive backs who have made first-team All-Big Ten under Parker are Jovon Johnson, Tyler Sash, Shaun Prater, Micah Hyde, B.J. Lowery, Desmond King, Josh Jackson and Amani Hooker.
Most of the defensive backs who have achieved stardom under Parker at Iowa were lightly recruited in high school . Parker has a knack for seeing talent and potential where others don't and then he develops it.
Even a first-round draft pick can have a chip on his shoulder, as is the case with Tristan Wirfs.
The Mount Vernon native was picked 13th overall in the draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Sports Trac estimates the total value of Wirfs’ first NFL contract to be $16.2 million with a $9.3 million signing bonus.
Wirfs also now gets to protect future Hall of Fame quarterback and six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and Tampa Bay traded up in the draft in order to pick Wirfs.
So Wirfs has plenty to be happy about. But he is also a proud competitor and it was disappointing that three offensive tackles were taken before him the first round.
“It was different, for sure, seeing those three other three tackles go before me,” Wirfs said. “But it was kind of nice. I’d almost rather have it like that then ultimately being the first tackle off the board.
“I’m a competitive person and it was stinger for a little bit. But being able to go the Bucs and be in the situation I’m in now, I’d 100-percent rather have it this way.”
One of the highlights to the virtual draft was seeing pets in the background, and most notably Bill Belichick’s dog.
When the camera cut to Belichick’s draft room under quarantine on Thursday, it seemed fitting that New England’s head coach was nowhere to be found, given his relationship with the media. But his dog, Nike, was sitting at the computer when it was time to announce New England’s first-round selection.
The Patriots chose Lenoir-Rhyne defensive back Kyle Dugger, and then moments later, Belichick returned to the room and gave Nike a treat.
Nike is an Alaskan Klee Kai, which resembles a skinnier Husky.
While we all strive and hope for a time when social distancing is behind us, there is one advantage to having a virtual draft, and that is the intimacy that comes with it.
From living rooms to basements to family rooms, the 2020 NFL Draft brought viewers up close to the players and their families, and some of the moments were powerful.
The story about former Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos really stood out as he overcame the death of his father and older brother to be picked in the second round by the Carolina Panthers.
His father died in a boating incident while trying to save infant Yetur from drowning. And then when Yetur was 10, his older brother died from a lightning strike while they were playing baseball.
To have the courage, resolve and determination to have overcome two unthinkable tragedies says a lot about Gross-Matos’ character, and it felt so good to watch him share a special moment with his family.
The virtual draft also raised money for six different charities in order to help those most impacted by COVID-19.
Defending national champion Louisiana State had 14 players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. That is the most over seven rounds since Ohio State had 14 players taken in 2004.
The Southeastern Conference led all conferences with 63 players selected in the draft. The Big Ten was second with 48 players taken, followed by the Pac-12 with 32, the Atlantic Coast Conference with 27 and the Big.12 with 21.