Head to Head: Will any Iowa State players be picked in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Sports Editor Zane Douglas and Assistant Sports Editor Matt Belinson discuss what Iowa State football’s biggest concern is as the season winds down.

Matt Belinson and Zane Douglas

The 2020 NFL Draft is finally here.

For Steve Wirtel, Marcel Spears Jr., Deshaunte Jones, Ray Lima and many others, the next three days could bring the opportunity for these Cyclones to play at the next level and continue their football dreams.

So in honor of the 2020 NFL Draft officially kicking off, Iowa State Daily sports editors Zane Douglas and Matt Belinson went “Head to Head” to pick which former Iowa State Cyclones have the best chances of hearing their name called over the next three days.

Belinson: Cyclone fans shouldn’t tune in until late Saturday

Unlike the 2019 NFL Draft, I doubt Iowa State fans will have much to celebrate when it comes to hearing the names of former Cyclones selected over the next three days.

In my opinion, none of the prospects from Iowa State have any shot of being picked in the first round on Thursday or the second and third rounds on Friday, so if you are a Cyclone fan who is curious as to when you might see some former Cyclones be picked, don’t hold your breath on a selection. 

That being said, I think two former Cyclones have the best chances of hearing their names called and continue their football career in the professional ranks, even if I think both are fringe picks at best.

In my mind, Steve Wirtel and Ray Lima will be the two former Iowa State Cyclones whose names will be called over these next couple days, but those are still pretty low odds in my book.

Obviously, these two predictions of mine could end up being completely wrong, which I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if that happened. It’s not like anyone from Iowa State is a clear choice draft pick in this 2020 class.

Wirtel may be considered the best at his position in this draft class, but really stop and think about what that position is: long snapper.

If he is selected, which I think he will be, Wirtel stands to be a stable piece, but his position won’t lend itself to a lot of attention from teams who will have their minds focused on much more impactful positions, like offensive line and wide receivers. He will be a late seventh-round pick at best because I would be shocked if a team spent a draft pick on a long snapper outside of the final 15 picks.

I think the question most Cyclone fans are asking about Wirtel is how much can a long snapper contribute? He could make some impact for sure, but not enough to warrant a mid-round selection in my eyes. In all, Wirtel will be selected based on his NFL Combine performance and his unique athletic ability, not because his position will be a priority for teams.

On the other side of my predictions, Lima is my clear-cut wildcard of these two.

Lima may receive all the praise from Matt Campbell and his former teammates for being an invaluable leader and relative inside force for Iowa State’s defensive line over the last four seasons, but outside of the high character Lima presented at Iowa State, it’s going to be a tough road for Lima to be selected in this draft.

But I think it’s a road Lima can navigate.

Lima struggled to get to the quarterback in his four seasons in Ames, but I think teams who are interested in Lima already know that, and I think some teams may not care. Lima is a rock inside the defensive line and has no trouble stuffing the run, a skill that any NFL team will gladly take a look at as a depth piece on their roster.

Pass rushing skills will come to Lima as he moves forward in the NFL, and I think a team might take a chance on developing Lima into a version of himself that could average about three-and-a-half sacks a year and just constantly plug up the middle of the line for opposing offenses.

His tackles for loss could show an NFL team that if they can refine his ability to get to the quarterback, he has all the skills needed to produce at the NFL level.

I think Lima is going to hear his name called in the seventh round, and, if taken by the right team who wants to turn him into a finished product, Lima could have a bright future in the NFL ahead of him.

Douglas: Don’t get your hopes up

Iowa State has a ton of fringe draft prospects this year, ranging from flashy wide receivers to long snappers.

After the draft is over, there will be news of many teams picking up some undrafted free agents from the draft. That’s the highest I believe any former Cyclone will be picked.

The best chance that Iowa State has is in the form of long snapper Steve Wirtel. Wirtel was excellent for the Cyclones, arguably the best long snapper in college football, and he had a nuclear-charged combine where he impressed many people.

If long snappers are taken, Wirtel might be right at the top of the list. Everyone else, however, deserves more examination.

Starting on the offensive side, Head Coach Matt Campbell has discussed two receivers that have gotten looks already — Deshaunte Jones and La’Michael Pettway.

These guys played big roles for Iowa State, but they suffer the same problem in that they don’t stand out.

Pettway is a pretty big receiver who uses his size well, but there are bigger and stronger receivers being looked at for the same thing. Jones is a set receiver that has been reliable and could get a seventh round look, but there are more players like him.

The offensive line has Julian Good-Jones and Josh Knipfel, so will they have one guy getting their name called at the podium? This one is also a no.

Good-Jones has gained some momentum, but both guys don’t have enough recognition to be highly graded prospects. I don’t think they’ll be drafted.

Defensively, it’s really only down to Marcel Spears Jr. and Ray Lima. Lima and Spears Jr. both have solid cases to be drafted with the latter being an interesting option for a depth play that can do it all, but they still don’t have the momentum of someone who could get drafted.

That leaves Wirtel, the only Iowa State player who is at the top of his class in his position. There are no other Iowa State athletes who are mentioned in even the top 20 in their position groups.

Wirtel has a real shot, and if a team takes a shot on a long snapper, don’t be surprised if Wirtel is the first one to go.

As it stands, I don’t believe a team will, and the Cyclones will leave the draft with no picks.

After it’s over, teams will get the chance to snag some undrafted free agents. Among the players I listed, Jones, Pettway, Good-Jones, Lima, Spears Jr. and Wirtel will all be signed as undrafted free agents.