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Pat Harty: Ferentz makes Iowa proud with NFL pipeline

[ 0 ] May 11, 2014 |

With all due respect to his two Big Ten titles and four double-digit win seasons, Kirk Ferentz’s NFL pipeline is his most impressive accomplishment as the Iowa football coach.

This weekend did nothing to change that.

Iowa had three players selected in the seven-round draft, led by tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was taken by the Houston Texans with the first pick of the third round, and was the 65th overall pick.

Linebacker Christian Kirksey also was picked in the third round by the Cleveland Browns, while fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens was taken in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys.

It marked the 11th time in 15 years under Ferentz that Iowa has had at least three players selected in the NFL draft. Iowa has had at least one player taken in each of the 15 NFL drafts in which Ferentz has been the coach, beginning with the 2000 draft.

To put that in perspective, defending Big Ten champion Michigan State had only one player selected in this year’s draft, which ended on Saturday, while Illinois and Northwestern didn’t have any.

Iowa entered the draft tied with Ohio State for the most Big Ten players selected since 2009 with 23. That’s impressive by itself. But then you factor in the level of recruit that Iowa usually signs compared to the mighty Buckeyes, who attract four- and five-star recruits on a regular basis, and Ferentz’s pipeline looks even better.

The combination of identifying what might not seem like obvious talent and then methodically developing it is at the heart of Ferentz’s NFL pipeline.

It hasn’t always produced positive results on the field, considering Iowa lost 17 of 29 games during a stretch from late in 2010 season through the 2012 season. But Ferentz’s NFL pipeline has made a lot of young men wealthy and has changed the course of many lives.

Ferentz has credibility when he looks recruits square in the eye and explains how he can help them achieve their goals. And he has the names to prove it, names such as Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson, Derek Pagel, Bob Sanders, Sean Considine, Jonathan Babineaux, Brandon Myers and Scott Chandler, among many others.

Iowa has had 55 players selected in the NFL draft under Ferentz, and countless others who have signed as free agents, including at least six more this year. Six players from Iowa were selected in each of the three drafts from 2010-12, including three in the first round. Iowa also had a three-year stretch from 2003-05 where it had five players selected in each of the three drafts.

NFL executives already admired Ferentz, who spent six seasons as an assistant coach in their league, when he took over at Iowa shortly after the 1998 season. They respect and admire the way Ferentz runs the Iowa program. His players have a reputation for being fundamentally sound and focused on the task at hand when they enter the NFL.

Should Iowa win two or three more Big Ten titles under Ferentz, I’d call that his greatest accomplishment. But that’s a big if, whereas his NFL pipeline is firmly in place.

Brandon Scherff is well on his way to becoming Iowa’s fourth offensive left tackle to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft under Ferentz. He might have achieved that milestone Thursday if he hadn’t chosen to return for his senior season.

Senior-to-be defensive tackle Carl Davis also seems destined to be an NFL draft pick next spring.

Iowa fans probably would prefer a few more Big Ten titles in exchange for fewer NFL draft picks. It was maddening for fans to watch the 2010 Hawkeye squad unravel down the stretch and then have six players selected in the 2011 draft. Ferentz’s reputation suffered from the failed expectations in 2010 and from the 2012 squad’s 4-8 record, and having only one player selected in the draft — defensive back Micah Hyde taken in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers.

More times than not, though, Iowa has been successful under Ferentz on the field and well represented in the NFL draft.

If a kid’s dream is to play in the NFL, as is the case with so many these days, the Iowa program is worth a closer look.

Just ask Hitchens or Kirksey. They both came to Iowa as two-star recruits, according to Scout.com, and now will leave as part of Ferentz’s NFL pipeline.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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