Head to Head: Will any Cyclones be picked in the 2021 NFL Draft?

The Iowa State Daily sports editors went head to head (to head) to debate who might be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

After a historic 2020 season under the backdrop of a global pandemic, five former Cyclones will have a chance to hear their names called in the 2021 NFL Draft beginning Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio.

The question is: Will any Iowa State prospect be picked?

Kene Nwangwu, Dylan Soehner, JaQuan Bailey, Lawrence White IV and Landen Akers will have to wait and see.

As the draft approaches, the Iowa State Daily sports editors went head to head (to head) to debate which, if any, former Cyclones could be chosen over the three-day process.

Belinson: Kene Nwangwu (sixth-round selection)

I think Nwangwu has all the skills to be an impactful NFL player. 

He holds the program record with a 26.85 kickoff return average and ranks No. 3 all-time in Big 12 history with 2,470 kick-return yards. 

His 2020 season saw him serve as Breece Hall’s backup, not that there is any shame in that, and found his way into the end zone multiple times for his first career touchdowns. His rushes increased from 16 in 2019 to 61 in 2020.

The Frisco, Texas, native used his explosive speed coming from a track background and relied on quick cuts and short yardage snaps at times to find his best production as a Cyclone.

All of that was good. But then his Pro Day made his stock rise even more.

Nwangwu ran an unofficial 4.29 in the 40-yard dash, a comparable time to Kansas City Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill, who also ran a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash in his pre-draft process.

I see Nwangwu immediately fighting to become a team’s main kickoff returner because you can’t deny sub-4.3 speed. The 6-foot, 212-pound running back went out in running back drills and ran slants at his Pro Day, which leaves me to believe some teams want to see if he can morph into a solid pass-catcher as well.

He does have a small sample size to go off of, particularly as a running back. He had three games in his Cyclone career with double-digit carries. But again, that will happen when David Montgomery and Hall are on a given roster.

In his time in Ames, Nwangwu never showed an ability to be an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield. That could be another reason why he slips to the sixth round. 

Nwangwu talked with the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers at his Pro Day and has since spoken with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

His Pro Day stats have helped get his name in some mock drafts, including a fifth-round selection by NFL.com to the San Francisco 49ers, CBS Sports slating him to the Houston Texans in the seventh round and Dan Brugler of The Athletic evaluating Nwangwu as a seventh-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys.

But I think his speed will be too much to pass up, and eventually, Nwangwu will be selected on Day Three of the NFL Draft.

Douglas: Kene Nwangwu and JaQuan Bailey (sixth-round selection and seventh-round selection, respectively)

Iowa State has the chance to field multiple draft picks for the first time in two years. Two years ago, the Cyclones had key offensive pieces get snagged in the middle rounds as David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler went off the board.

This time around, Iowa State will get two picks in the form of Nwangwu and Bailey.

Nwangwu is the obvious choice here, as his Pro Day with Iowa State showed him having blistering speed. His unofficial 40-yard dash time was 4.29 seconds. The NFL Combine record is 4.22 seconds.

His speed isn’t the only thing the running back has going for him, as he also was a key component of Iowa State’s special teams unit — specifically on kick returns — and added a change of pace option to the Cyclones’ backfield.

Because of his high speed, solid kick returning and flashy 2020 running back highlights, I think Nwangwu will get selected in round six of the NFL Draft.

The other draft pick I think the Cyclones will earn is a completely different story.

Bailey became Iowa State’s all-time sack leader in the 2020-21 season after having another consistent season in a loaded Cyclone defensive line.

The redshirt senior missed almost all of the previous season with a leg injury, but his return didn’t disappoint as he and Will McDonald racked up sacks from the right side.

His age won’t help his stock, and he hasn’t generated a ton of buzz, but I think his statistics speak for themselves, which will earn him a spot in round seven.

Stuve: Kene Nwangwu and Dylan Soehner (Both seventh-round selections)

For this year’s draft, I have two Cyclones being chosen in the seventh round: Nwangwu and Soehner.

I think Nwangwu’s speed and athleticism makes him a good late-draft selection for teams that needs a special team boost and maybe some depth in the backfield, although Nwangwu didn’t have a lot carries in his Iowa State tenure.

Despite the fact that he didn’t have a ton of carries in his career due to sitting behind Montgomery and Hall, I think his special teams ability and overall athleticism will make it hard for a team to pass on him late in the draft.

In his four seasons returning kicks for Iowa State, Nwangwu racked up 2,470 yards on kick returns (one career kick return touchdown) in addition to 744 yards running the ball.

That productivity in the kick return game could make him very valuable in the later rounds of the NFL Draft to teams that might be looking to improve on special teams or who might’ve lost their starting kick returner from last season (or both). 

A team like this is the Giants, who lost their kick returner from last year, running back Dion Lewis, to free agency. 

Like we said earlier, the Giants are one of many teams who showed interest in Nwangwu, along with the Cardinals, Colts, Patriots and Steelers.

Nwangwu also told The Draft Network that had met with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets via Zoom.

The Giants and Jets don’t currently have seventh-round picks, but they both have two sixth-round picks, and the other four teams have at least one sixth- and seventh-round pick.

With his productivity in the return game and a blazing-fast 40-time of 4.29, some team will likely take Nwangwu late in the draft.

For Soehner, it’s his blocking ability to me that will peak some teams’ interest late in the draft. 

With his blocking ability at the tight end position, he was an intricate part of Iowa State’s running game, which I think helped Hall have the season he did. 

Following his senior season, Soehner was one of the players to receive an invite to the NFL Combine. 

He also was an invitee to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.

His 18 receptions and 205 receiving yards also show he could have the potential to be a decent pass catcher in the right system.

Two teams, the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints, were at Soehner’s draft day.

The Saints and Raiders are both teams that finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game (Raiders 14th, Saints sixth), but adding a solid blocking tight end could help.

It should be noted that the Saints did draft a tight end in the third round of the 2020 draft.

I could also see Soehner being a solid fit for the Steelers, who are looking to bolster their rushing attack, as well as the Tennessee Titans, who are run first offense and might be in the market for a tight end.

The 2021 NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, with every round being broadcast on ESPN/ABC/ NFL Network over the three-day process.