Monday, April 22, 2024

The 5 best NFL first-round picks in Iowa Hawkeye history since 2000


These Hawkeyes made a name for themselves in Iowa City before becoming icons at the next level.

By Jacob Harrison | Apr 15, 2024

New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages


The Iowa Hawkeyes have produced some incredible talents for the NFL over the years. Many of those players went overlooked and were drafted a bit later than maybe they should have been.


But that doesn't mean the Hawkeyes only produce hidden gems. Iowa has seen 26 players selected in the first round all-time. They'll look to add one more at the 2024 NFL Draft as Cooper DeJean projects to be selected on Day One.

Many of those 26 players have gone on to have fantastic careers, but a surge of great talents this side of the millennia has been particularly special. Half of those first-round picks have come since 2000 and nearly all of them have produced as advertised. A select few have been even better.

In ranking the five best Iowa first-rounders, we'll look at the contributions of the former Hawkeyes both as an individual and in helping bring team success.

No. 5 Chad Greenway

Linebacker Chad Greenway was the 17th-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He spent his entire career in Minnesota and, from a national perspective, was a woefully underappreciated player throughout his nine-year career.

This is largely because the Vikings weren't very good for most of his career. The two Brett Favre years in Minnesota allowed for some team success, especially in 2009 when the Vikings reached the NFC Championship.

However, in six of his seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings posted a .500 record or worse.

This hampered his ability to garner much national recognition as he scored two Pro Bowls in his career. A lot of media attention instead went to the Vikings' impressive defensive line, led by Jared Allen.

For his career, Greenway posted 1,103 total tackles, 62 for a loss with 18 sacks. He also forced eight fumbles and recovered 11 of his own. Greenway also scored on two of his 11 career interceptions.

Off the field, Greenway was the recipient of the 2014 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award given annually to a player who goes above and beyond to perform community service in his hometown and team city.

No. 4 TJ Hockenson

When fans think of why Iowa is called TE-U, it's often because of George Kittle, but truthfully it has a lot to do with TJ Hockenson. Hockenson was selected No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2019 NFL Draft. A few picks later at No. 20 TE Noah Fant was also selected out of Iowa.

Hockenson has lived up to the billing of a top-10 selection in the draft in his first five seasons. He's easily regarded as one of the top five players at his position in the league.

Still, team success has eluded Hockenson since joining the NFL. The Lions were terrible throughout his run in Detroit and he was shockingly traded to the division rival Minnesota Vikings during the 2022 season. Detroit has since surged into one of the best teams in the NFC while Minnesota has fallen from grace after a strong season in 2022 was thwarted in the Wild Card round.

Hockenson will move forward as one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. Still, there's a giant question mark as to who will be throwing him the ball in 2024 and beyond. Nonetheless, despite the Vikings' disastrous season in 2023, Hockenson posted career highs in receptions with 95 and yards with 960.

For his career, Hockenson has caught 341 passes for 3,547 yards and 23 touchdowns. That has earned him two Pro Bowls early in his career, and he should earn a few more with time.

No. 3 Brandon Scherff

Brandon Scherff has long been one of the best guards in football since going No. 5 overall to the Washington Commanders in the 2015 NFL Draft. During the lead-up to that year's draft, there was talk that Scherff could be the No. 1 overall pick as a tackle.

But landing at guard may have been the best for him as he's carved out a strong career for himself.

Through nine seasons, Scherff has been named to five Pro Bowls, the most of any player on this list. He was also named First-Team All-Pro in 2020. Before the offensive guard market was turned on its head in the 2024 offseason, Scherff was one of the highest-paid players at his position.

Unfortunately, team success has not followed Scherff in the NFL. In five of his seven seasons with Washington, his teams finished with a losing record, and only made the playoffs in his rookie season. In two years with Jacksonville, he's since won his first playoff game, but the team took a step back in 2023 leaving a bold question mark moving forward.

Still, Scherff's contributions in both years in Jacksonville have shown that even at 33 years old, he's still got plenty in the tank. If he continues to play at a high level for a handful of years longer, he could find himself as a fringe Hall of Fame candidate based on his play alone.

No. 2 Tristian Wirfs

Tristian Wirfs instantly became one of the NFL's best right tackles once he was selected 13th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 NFL Draft.

With the Bucs signing plenty of weapons for Tom Brady, Wirfs was brought in to help keep the legend upright and he performed even better than what could reasonably be expected. Tampa Bay won Super Bowl LV with the rookie Wirfs leading the charge in the running game and pass protection.

In 2021, Pro Football Reference indicates by its Approximate Value score that Wirfs was the best player on the team for the Buccaneers. He was gifted the first of his three Pro Bowls to date and his first All-Pro selection as a result.

Wirfs hasn't even signed his second contract yet, but when he does it will most likely be the most expensive right tackle contract in the NFL. With such a strong start to his career, the best may be yet to come for this Hawkeye.

No. 1 Dallas Clark

As if there could be another selection. Dallas Clark was drafted 24th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2003 and quickly became one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets in an offense that was already stacked with weapons.

Clark played in the NFL Playoffs in each of his first eight seasons. Manning's neck injury in 2011 led to Clark's final season in Indy to be largely forgettable and his one-season stints in Tampa Bay and Baltimore weren't enough to get those teams into the postseason.

Still, Clark is likely a Hall of Famer one day. Despite just one Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection to his name, Clark was a star for the Colts' prolific offense that reached two Super Bowls, including the win over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.

For his career, Clark caught 505 passes for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns.

While it took a decade and a half after his selection for Iowa to earn the distinction of TE-U, it all got started with Clark in 2003. His impressive career makes him easily the best first-round pick since 2000 for Iowa. All-time, likely only Alex Karras had a better career as a first-round Hawkeye in the NFL.


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