For a variety of reasons, Ted Thompson has taken a liking to players to players from Iowa during his tenure as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, a trend that could continue with several prospects likely to be selected in next week's NFL Draft.
In recent history, the Packers have selected Hawkeyes such as Bryan Bulaga, Mike Daniels and Micah Hyde, all of whom figure to play a role for the 2014 edition of the team.
Maybe Thompson likes the Iowa players' raw athletic ability; maybe they filled a need; or maybe he respects the way head coach Kirk Ferentz has developed his talent. Likely all these reasons played at least a small part in Thompson's decisions.
Perhaps a few more Iowa players will join the fold in Titletown this year with the likes of tight end C.J. Fiedorwicz and linebacker James Morris figuring to provide mid-round value, not that other NFL teams won't be taking notice.
It is this author's opinion, Fiedorowicz and Morris are underrated compared to their rankings in most other well-known outlets and analysts, and what follows here is evidence in the form of a video breakdown.
Tight End C.J. Fiedorowicz
Fiedorowicz may not be the best receiver in this year's draft class or the best blocker, but it's possible he's the best player that blends a combination of the two.
Primarily an in-line tight end with the ability to ocasionally flex out, Fiedorowicz provides a degree of underappreciated athletic ability and determination to get the job done both on the ground and through the air.
As noted by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Fiedorowicz was recruited by Wisconsin and Indiana as a basketball player, and as many sports enthusiasts saw this season during Wisconsin's run the Final Four, Bo Ryan doesn't recruit stiffs for his team on the hardcourt.
Taken another way, Ryan does an uncanny job of developing players perhaps perceived to be unorthodox post players and turns them into threats from anywhere on the court. Frank Kaminsky was just the latest example, but there was no shortage of other similar Wisconsin big men such as Jared Berggren, Jon Leuer, Brian Butch, Marcus Landry, Keaton Nankivil and Mike Wilkinson during the Ryan era.
Fiedorowicz seems to have found his calling as a football player, but his basketball skills are evident on film.
From Iowa's Outback Bowl loss to LSU in 2014 (times listed are from the video, not the game clock):
1:10 Fiedorowicz doesn't let an attempt to chuck him on his release faze him as he gets downfield to make a catch 20 yards downfield between defenders.
1:19 Fiedorowicz uses his lateral quickness to get inside positioning on the defender head-up on him on an inside zone run.
1:27 Fiedorowicz again gets inside positioning on a player shaded to his inside, sealing him off.
1:52 Fiedorowicz shows an ability to pass protect, riding a rusher past the pocket.
3:35 Fiedorowicz takes the elevator and uses his body to shield the defender on a high pass.
These are just a few highlights by Fiedorowicz, and keep in mind that many of the plays made in the passing game came with Jake Rudolph at quarterback. Able to work with an elite QB like Aaron Rodgers, Fiedorowicz should be able to flourish.
Inside Linebacker James Morris
Whereas many outlets like NFLDraftScout.com have James Morris listed as their 13th-ranked inside linebacker and potentially going undrafted, Paul Bessire of PredictionMachine.com has Morris ranked as the second player at his position.
During an appearance on Cheesehead TV's Railbird Central last week, Bessire discussed the discrepancy:
I see the analysis on him as being small, maybe not being able to put on the requisite weight, as not being an elite athlete, yet he checks every box for us: 6' 1", 240 is certainly capable of being able to play at the inside linebacker position for just about any scheme in the NFL.
None of his Combine numbers fail to check the boxes when we're looking at being able to have the athleticism that you need to play at the NFL level. And yet, he's not a tackling machine either, which is probably a negative a lot of people see in their minds. He hasn't put up the same kind of numbers like a Luke Kuechly did at Boston College, but he does everything well.
He makes plays as both a pass rusher and in coverage. I'd like to see an inside linebacker that doesn't necessarily make the sacks and the tackles for a loss, though he has been, but be around the football, and that's definitely true with James Morris, who was in pass coverage making plays with the interceptions and the pass breakups and was there when he was needed to when asked to blitz and come through and make plays in the backfield.
From Morris' 2013 game against Nebraska:
0:01 Right off the bat, Morris contributes on special teams, playing on the punt coverage unit.
0:24 Despite an attempt by the fullback to cut block him, Morris stays on his feet to make a tackle for no gain.
0:42 Morris sidesteps an off-balance blocker to make a tackle for a loss.
1:39 Although he doesn't make the tackle, Morris occupies two blockers, freeing up his teammates to flow to the football, making a stop for a short gain.
1:49 Morris undercuts a route by the tight end in the flat for an interception.
Obviously there's plenty more video to watch, but even the first two minutes should give a good idea of Morris' athleticism.
By no means are these perfect players. Admittedly, their highlights are pointed out while their lowlights are glossed over.
But these players should make good professionals outside the first round.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz by Brian Carriveau.
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