Belinson: The NFL Draft is Iowa State’s biggest stage yet


Iowa State football will be on the big stage this weekend in the NFL Draft.

Matt Belinson

Iowa State football is not what it once was. That’s a good thing.

Long gone are the days of bottom-feeder seasons in the Big 12. The Cyclones aren’t a laughingstock. Change has come, and there’s hope.

Matt Campbell has crafted a culture of winning at Iowa State and has built a standard of excellence at a place once considered the cellar of the sport.

The Cyclones have won big games. They’ve made it to the Big 12 Championship. Last season was a school-record fifth-straight bowl game for Iowa State.

But Thursday’s opening bell for the start of the NFL Draft is what this process is all about.

College football is about two things: can you win games, and can you put players in the NFL? Recruits want to be able to see those two criteria met before committing themselves to one of the most transformational parts of their life.

In my mind, this weekend is about to be the biggest step forward the program has taken since Campbell’s arrival in 2015.

Iowa State is on the verge of truly making that second promise a reality. Every school can talk the talk with recruits, try to establish credibility and work to bring difference-makers into their walls. But the Cyclones are about to take the biggest step yet.

They’re about to have four, potentially five or even six draft picks.

Matt Campbell knows it and understands Iowa State football is starting to become a destination, not fly-over country.

“We’ve never had the ability to be on that stage like that and not only to be at the stage, but to have the ability to dominate the stage, I think it’s huge for the current roster and the doors it’ll open for those here and for the future of our football program,” Campbell said of the NFL Combine March 7. “I think it’s just another step in the building process of Iowa State football to be able to get to this point.”

This weekend will be the first time since 2001 that Iowa State will have at least three players drafted to the NFL. If four players are selected, it’ll be the first draft since 1977 that has happened. Five players? Go back to 1975.

Breece Hall has a chance to be Iowa State’s second first-round pick in school history. Think about that possibility. I guarantee Campbell and those involved with Cyclone football aren’t taking it lightly.

Hall could join George Amundson as the only Cyclones taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Today’s world of college football can include culture, family and a dynamic of being the underdog that the Cyclones have embraced under Campbell. But don’t be mistaken, putting players in the NFL is the most important aspect of this program’s trajectory.

There’s a reason people tout Iowa State men’s basketball as “Point Guard U.” Fans care and aren’t blind to what continued pro success means for building a sustained winner. You get to keep stacking seasons, recruiting classes and national recognition.

In fact, it’s a big reason why Breece Hall came to play for Campbell at Iowa State.

“In high school he [Campbell] told me, ‘If you come to Iowa State, you’re going to be the best running back in the country, and you could potentially be the best back in the NFL,'” Hall said at Pro Day March 22.

Even if Hall isn’t taken in the first round, he’ll be a part of the greatest class of Cyclones to ever enter the NFL Draft. The NFL has reach beyond what we might think is possible. It’s a machine.

There are high school, even middle school, kids watching this weekend looking to be inspired. They process who is getting drafted from where. They can begin to picture themselves at that school.

Sure, putting Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship, Fiesta Bowl and other big stages matters. I’m not arguing it doesn’t.

But the NFL Draft is the top of the mountain. It’s the investment schools promise recruits they’ll put them into one day.

As you watch Thursday night and all-day Friday and Saturday, think for a moment what Iowa State football is showing the world. What Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar, Mike Rose, Brock Purdy and others illustrate.

The process is by no means finished at Iowa State. The Cyclones have to continue on this path. But make no mistake, up to this point, this is what building Iowa State has led to.

Now, it’s time for the world to watch.

The 2022 NFL Draft begins 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.