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Andrew Logue: Undrafted free agents will be Iowa’s true measuring stick

[ 0 ] May 10, 2014 |

It was just another Saturday until James Morris’ phone lit up.

The calls came later than the former Iowa linebacker wanted — a few minutes after the 2014 NFL draft had ended — but the right people were trying to contact him.

“It feels good to have another organization, another goal in front of you,” Morris said after agreeing to a free agent deal with the New England Patriots. “I’ve kind of been a player without a team.”

Three Hawkeyes were drafted this weekend — tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and linebackers Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens — and they’ll receive most of the fanfare.

It’s undrafted free agents such as Morris who will show how talented Iowa’s 2013 team really was.

The NFL draft typically serves as a mirror, reflecting a college program’s recent results.

Two years ago, six Hawkeyes were selected, capping a four-season span in which Iowa posted a 35-17 record.

A year ago, just one player was selected (Micah Hyde, in the fifth round by Green Bay) after the team lost its final six games and finished the 2012 season 4-8.

Hitchens became the third Iowa player taken this spring when the Dallas Cowboys took him in Saturday’s fourth round.

Fiedorowicz (Houston Texans) and Kirksey (Cleveland Browns) were picked Friday in the third round.

Morris, meanwhile, followed a leisurely itinerary.He spent Saturday wedding planning with his fiancée, ate lunch and took a stroll through Coral Ridge Mall.

Once all 256 selections were made, Morris went to work.

“My agent and I had gone over a lot of different scenarios,” he said. “Prior to the draft, I had gone through and made a list of places I thought would be the best fit for me.

“As those calls started coming in, I tried to bounce ideas off my agent and figure out what is actually going to be the best place.”

Other post-draft signings Saturday include: right tackle Brett Van Sloten with the Baltimore Ravens, left guard Conor Boffeli to the Minnesota Viking and Casey Kreiter to the Cowboys.

“I’m really excited to sign with a team that’s so close to Des Moines,” said Boffeli, who played at West Des Moines Valley. “I know my family is definitely excited about me staying close, so they could come see the games.”

Skeptics will write them off as long shots, but since 2006 every draft class has produced at least one unsigned free agent who went on to earn Pro Bowl honors.

And success in the NFL is the best way to punctuate a bounce-back season. Morris, who grew up in Solon, Ia., recorded 107 tackles during Iowa’s 8-4 run to the Outback Bowl.

Whatever he accomplishes at the professional level will only add to the legacy of Iowa’s departing linebacker trio.

When the Cowboys picked Hitchens, the talking heads on NFL Networked discussed whether Morris was actually a better prospect.

That’s as close as Morris, a two-time Iowa high school Gatorade player of the year, came to hearing his named called.

“It was a long day, but the opportunity is there for him,” Morris’ father, Greg, said. “And James has never shied away from an opportunity.”

The Hawkeyes have had 272 players selected all-time by pro teams, counting 244 in the NFL Draft, 21 in the old AFL of the 1960s and seven in the post-World War II All American Football Conference.

Hitchens was the second Iowa linebacker chosen, following Kirksey, who was picked Friday in the third round by the Cleveland Browns.

“Anthony Hitchens is a guy who’s got some size … and has a whole lot of production at Iowa,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah told a national television audience. “I thought Kirksey gave you more athleticism than Hitchens. But Hitchens kind of surprised me. He ended up running a half-way decent 40 time, jumped well.

“When you watch him on tape, to me, I thought probably a little further down the board.”

While Hitchens went sooner than expected, the talking heads debated whether Morris was actually a better prospect.

That’s as close as the former Solon High School star came to having his name called.

Coaches and scouts tend to be fickle and trendy.

This draft set a record for having the longest wait until a running back was selected – the Tennessee Titans ended the drought by taking Washington’s Bishop Sankey with the 54th overall pick.

Meanwhile, a dozen receivers heard their names called in the first two rounds.

It’s all about finding a fit and making an impression. That’s what Morris and Boffeli will try to do.

Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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