The NFL draft commences tonight, and it's always exciting for football fans for multiple reasons. NFL fans get to watch their team's future unfold in a matter of days, experiencing a wide range of emotions from round (WHY THE FUCK DID WE DRAFT COLIN KAEPERNICK) to round (YEEESSSS! WE GOT JIMMY CLAUSEN!).
So yeah, the draft is an inexact science. But while NFL fans have to wait at least a year to find out the results of their team's draft, college fans get instant gratification. If your favorite team has players drafted, you're happy. If they fall out of the draft, you curse the gods/corrupt front offices that overlooked such clearly talented players.
But just because a player from your favorite school isn't picked in the draft, that doesn't mean their career is over. There's always free agency, which proved extremely beneficial for Leonard Johnson and David Sims last year. And unfortunately, Iowa State doesn't have the pedigree (yet) to get looks from a bevy of NFL teams based on reputation alone, so most Cyclone seniors will have to try their luck in free agency.
This year, Iowa State only has one almost-certain lock to be drafted. Which is unfortunate, because since Paul Rhoads took over in 2009, Iowa State has only had two players selected in the NFL draft (Kelechi Osemele in 2012, Reggie Sanders in 2010). Simply put, the Cyclones need to get better developing NFL connections and getting the talent they have ready for the NFL by graduation. But that won't happen this year, so let's take a look at the NFL prospects for Iowa State's graduating seniors.
AJ Klein: Half of one of the best linebacking duos to ever play at Iowa State, AJ Klein has seen his draft stock rise after a solid performance at the East-West Shrine Game. Klein has the versatility, intelligence and strength to start in the NFL, but concerns about his speed linger, even after he ran a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Concerns that Klein lost all of his football skill after he cut his Samson-like locks remain unfounded.
Klein is almost guaranteed to be drafted, but probably won't hear his name called until Saturday when the fourth round gets underway. This year's draft is incredibly deep, so players from schools without an excellent football pedigree are likely to slide to the later rounds.
NFL.com: The NFL's official website praises Klein for his toughness, intelligence and knowledge of the game, but doesn't project where he might fall in the draft.
CBS Sports: Fourth best inside linebacker, projected in the 3rd-4th rounds.
National Football Post: Rising stock, projected to the third round, 82nd overall pick to the Dolphins.
Draftek: Projected to the fifth round, 134th pick to the Chiefs.
NFL Draft Scout: Fourth best inside linebacker, projected in the fourth round, 109th overall pick to the Saints.
WalterFootball.com: Sixth best inside linebacker, projected to the 3rd-5th rounds.
Jake Knott: It hasn't been easy for Jake Knott in his football career. An unheralded two-star prospect from Waukee, Knott accepted the only football scholarship offer he received to play at Iowa State. He's battled through injuries that would have derailed a less-dedicated player's career and turned himself into an NFL prospect through a combination of hard work, grittitude and tough-guyocity. While those last couple attributes might not technically be "real words," they should be, because Knott is basically the living embodiment of what Paul Rhoads wants in Iowa State football.
Although Knott's NFL future looked quite a bit more secure before he suffered a season-ending injury at Oklahoma State this year, Jake cemented his legendary status in Cyclone fan's minds by ignoring his doctor's advice and suiting up the next week against Baylor. Despite playing with only one arm, Knott racked up 11 tackles, forced a fumble and was named the Big 12 defensive player of the week. His history of injuries has scared some NFL teams away, but Jake is still projected anywhere from the 5th-7th rounds by most scouts.
NFL.com: Praising him for his strength, speed and leadership, NFL.com projects Knott as a mid-round selection.
CBS Sports: 20th best outside linebacker, projected sixth round, 185th pick to the Cowboys.
WalterFootball.com: 19th best outside linebacker, projected anywhere from sixth round to free agency.
National Football Post: Falling stock, projected to the fifth round, 137th pick to the Lions.
NFL Draft Scout: 20th best outside linebacker, projected sixth round, 185th pick to the Cowboys.
Draft Countdown: Projected in the later rounds or free agency.
NFL Draft 101: 17th best outside linebacker, projected sixth round pick.
Carter Bykowski: Bykowski came to Iowa State in 2008 as a tight end, but quickly converted to offensive tackle, where his height (6'6") and reach (33 3/4" arms) made him a valuable asset at keeping defenders away from the quarterback. Carter is unlikely to be drafted, but could find his way to a team through free agency or catch on with a team's practice squad.
NFL.com: Gives a quick blurb about his performance at ISU's pro day, but doesn't project a draft spot
NFL Draft Scout: 31st best offensive tackle, 410th best prospect overall, projected anywhere from the third to seventh round.
Jake McDonough: Central Iowa's freshest beatmaker and most intimidating bouncer was also the guy with the most to prove at Iowa State's pro day. The first team All-Big 12 defensive selection didn't get an invite to the NFL combine or any other postseason showcases, so Jake McDonough flipped a metaphorical middle finger to the talent scouts by putting up 37 bench press reps, a number that would have placed third at the NFL combine.
McDonough is projected to be a nose tackle at the next level, which means if he catches on with an NFL team it will likely be one that employs a 3-4 defense. This would have limited Jake's options just a few years ago, but in 2013, almost half of all NFL teams run a variation of the 3-4 defense.
NFL Draft Scout: 40th best defensive tackle, 526th best prospect overall, projected anywhere from the sixth round to free agency.
NFL Draft Central: 33rd best defensive tackle, no draft projection.
Josh Lenz: Similar to Jake McDonough, Josh Lenz didn't get a lot of attention from post season NFL showcases, so he put an abnormal amount of effort into prepping for Iowa State's pro day. This preparation paid off when Lenz ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and posted a somewhat shocking 38 1/2" vertical (although Cyclone fans always knew Josh could jump).
Lenz is unlikely to be drafted, unless some NFL team needs a tireless, scrappy, deceptively fast (i.e. white) contributor for special teams. Still, the highest rated QB on Iowa State's roster could find a home on a practice squad somewhere.
NFL Draft Scout: 103rd best wide receiver, 754th best prospect overall, projected free agent.
NFL Draft Bible: 184th best wide receiver, projected free agent.
Be sure to tune into the NFL Draft this weekend to watch how these former Cyclones pan out in the next step of their careers.