Former Iowa State players gear up for the 2021 NFL Draft

Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu runs in for a touchdown during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks on Oct. 31.

Zane Douglas

After a 2020 NFL Draft that saw no Cyclone players drafted, a few former Iowa State players will look to get their school’s name called once again beginning Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 2021 NFL Draft — which starts Thursday with round one, continues Friday with rounds two and three and ends Saturday with rounds four through seven — will have a chance to feature some talent from Iowa State football’s 2020-21 Fiesta Bowl-winning team.

Iowa State had 11 players attend its pro day, with one standout and a couple of solid performances that, when backed with college performance, could land them a spot in the draft.

The most notable pro day performance and the player that has generated the most national buzz for Iowa State is running back Kene Nwangwu.

Nwangwu was an exceptional kick returner for Iowa State, averaging 29 yards per return, which ranked No. 7 nationally.

He also added value on the ground, breaking off multiple long touchdown runs and finishing the season averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Where Nwangwu impressed on pro day was with his speed. The Cyclone running back ran an unofficial time of 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash — a time that would have been tied for 13th best ever at the NFL Scouting Combine.

His pro day, matched with a solid season backing up one of the nation’s top running backs in Breece Hall, has given him some national attention as he looks to find himself in the NFL.

Two players who perhaps had more draft buzz heading into pro day than Nwangwu were JaQuan Bailey and Dylan Soehner.

The former was one of the best defensive players in Iowa State history. Bailey shattered Iowa State’s sack record, previously held by Shawn Moorehead, as his 25.5 mark beat Moorehead’s 18.5 by seven.

Bailey did it with consistency, accruing seven or more sacks in three separate seasons.

Playing in tandem with Will McDonald IV — who broke Iowa State’s single-season sack record last season with 10.5 and is third on the Cyclone all-time list with 17.5 — the two terrorized quarterbacks playing both primarily as right defensive ends.

Bailey’s 2020-21 season was a bounce-back year after breaking his leg early in the 2019 campaign.

While his age may hurt him, Bailey has accumulated enough counting stats to have a solid chance at earning a selection in the upcoming draft.

On the other hand, Soehner is a different type of prospect.

Soehner is a tight end who has played behind Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen for the last two seasons, but “played behind” might be the wrong way to put it.

Not only did Iowa State’s tight end group play in tandem, working as one of the most effective units on the team, but Soehner had a different role than the other two, serving as primarily a blocking tight end.

Soehner showed up in the passing game, but his contributions in the blocking game will be what gets him to possibly be selected.

Mock drafts have had him go as high as the fifth round, but many have him not getting drafted at all.

Soehner’s future is more of a mystery heading into the draft than Nwangwu or Bailey.

Aside from Soehner, Bailey and Nwangwu, Iowa State has a couple more players who have outside shots of earning draft selections.

Lawrence White IV and Landen Akers were part of Iowa State for years, coming up with some big plays in a storied season for the program.

White will hope he stands out in a relatively weak 2021 safety class, while Akers will try to fit in in a strong wide receiver class.

Iowa State’s draft hopes begin with round one at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday’s round two and three coverage begins at 6 p.m. and Saturday’s round four through seven coverage begins at 11 a.m.