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IOWA CITY — The cancellation of the NFL Combine has placed an added emphasis on individual Pro Days ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
On Monday, Iowa football players will showcase their talents through a series of drills and limited medical screenings for NFL scouts.
The format is unusual. The NFL assures it's working with the schools on keeping drills and testing consistent through the pro days, and will provide video footage of workouts to teams. The interviews and psychological testing that normally takes place at the combine will be conducted virtually.
But there's a missing social element to not having those in-person gatherings of front office employees and coaches talking strategy at the combine.
This year, the NFL released its combine invite list despite the event not happening and five Hawkeyes were on it — Daviyon Nixon, Alaric Jackson, Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Chauncey Golston.
Pro Day also will be an opportunity for players like Nick Niemann, Shaun Beyer, Mekhi Sargent, Cole Banwart and Jack Heflin to increase their draft stock.
So far, 75 Iowa players have been selected in the NFL Draft during Kirk Ferentz's tenure as head coach, starting with the 2000 class. The most Iowa players selected in a single draft was seven in 2007. Three other classes (2000, 2006, 2010) have featured six selections.
Here is a look at some of the players working out on Monday.
DL Daviyon Nixon
Nixon's breakout year included consensus first-team All-America honors. He lead the Big Ten with 45 total tackles, including 13 for loss. He also was fourth in the Big Ten in sacks (5.5). He received the Nagurski-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year while also being a finalist for the Outland Trophy.
Nixon played at Iowa Western Community College before joining the Hawkeyes in 2018. He played in 13 games in the 2019 season, starting one of them, collecting 29 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and three sacks. He was voted the team's Most Valuable Player alongside Tyler Linderbaum this year.
With a weak interior defensive line class, both Pro Football Network and The Draft Network have Nixon going in the second round in their latest mock draft lists.
DL Chauncey Golston
Golston has been a staple of the Iowa defense for four years. This year was his best, earning first-team All-America honors and being named a finalist for the Nagurski-Woodson award and one of 24 semifinalists for Lott IMPACT Trophy.
He started all eight games, collecting 24 solo tackles and 21 assists, including 8.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He was also credited with one interception, one forced fumble, one pass breakup and three pressures.
In 2018, he led the Big Ten with three fumble recoveries, which was No. 3 in the nation.
OT Alaric Jackson
The four-year starter at left tackle received first and second-team All-America honors from a variety of outlets. Jackson was at the helm of an Iowa offense that averaged 31.8 points and 368.6 yards per game. Jackson was named to the Outland trophy watch list and received a coaches appreciation award by Iowa.
Pro Football Network projects him to be selected in the fourth or fifth round as someone who could potentially make the move to a guard position.
WR Brandon Smith
Smith saw action on the field early, one of 10 true freshmen in 2017 to play. He eclipsed 1,000 career reception yards in Iowa's victory over Illinois this year, recording 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns on 91 total receptions.
His best season was 2019, when he caught 37 passes for 239 yards through nine games. At the recent House of Athlete combine event for 2021 draft prospects, Smith impressed scouts with his 44-inch vertical jump, which was in the 99th percentile for all wide receivers, and would've been fourth highest in combine history since 1999, according to Trevor Sikkema, NFL writer for The Draft Network.
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Smith-Marsette received honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a return specialist and wide receiver for the 2020 season.
In the 2019 Holiday Bowl, he became the second Hawkeye in history to score touchdowns through receiving, rushing and a kickoff return. His 28.7 career yards per return ranks second all-time in the Big Ten. He finished his career with 1,520 yards off kickoff returns, 1,615 receiving yards and 274 rushing yards.
Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline has Smith-Marsette going in the third round, noting his 722-yard junior season. His 16.4 yards per reception speaks to his potential as a deep threat, but his value as a kick returner is what might set him apart in a deep wide receiver class.
TE Shaun Beyer
Despite not receiving a combine invite, Beyer was noted by Pro Football Focus as one of the highest-rated tight ends in the nation in December.
Beyer originally came to Iowa as a wide receiver, but switched to tight end following the 2016 season. He missed the end of the 2018-19 season due to injury, but bounced back to play two full seasons.
This year, Beyer tallied 11 receptions, including at least on in seven of eight games, for 158 yards and one touchdown. He received a coaches' appreciation award this year.
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