“Pro-ready” Hawkeyes enduring different process for NFL opportunities during pandemic

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Why the Iowa pedigree could matter even more this year for UFDA candidates

Only 255 players are selected each year in the NFL Draft.

Hundreds more are signed in rookie free agency, which usually includes a number of Iowa seniors looking to make a professional roster.

The evaluation process for the under-the-radar prospects has changed because of the Coronavirus.

“If a guy’s got an NFL opportunity. We’re gonna do all we can to let people get good exposures to our players and show what they have,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz via Zoom conference. “Us not having pro day was a big, big, big, big deal. It hurt the players a little bit, some of the guys that haven’t had a chance to train.”

Catching the eyes of teams this spring has been a challenge for some of the Hawkeyes more unheralded prospects.

Kirk Ferentz said he’s having more discussions with NFL personnel because teams were unable to workout or meet with players ahead of the draft.

“There is more phone activity with me or with Chris Doyle or other guys on our staff just reaching out to get more insight and information on players,” Ferentz said. “Things that they normally would have done if they were in the building.”

Hundreds of Hawkeyes who’ve played for Ferentz have gotten a shot in the pros without being drafted. The push to sign Iowa players might be higher than ever this year amidst the pandemic.

“What you’re getting is a pro-ready player,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen at the NFL Combine. “I’m not talking about athletic traits. I’m not talking about 40 times. I’m not talking about any of that, I’m talking about pro ready in terms of time management, accountability, being a professional athlete and contributing where you can.”

Bowen said those intangibles entice teams to give Iowa players an opportunity in the league.

Kristian Welch leads this year’s group of potential free agents. The linebacker is one of at least three seniors who will likely get a chance with NFL teams after this weekend’s draft.

“Being an undrafted free agent and having that Iowa background, I think that has more pull than people think,” said Bowen, a former Hawkeye who was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. “I think NFL teams want you on their roster, want you to compete for a final roster spot.”

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