Royston Mock Draft 1.0: Where will the Cyclones fall?


Owen Aanestad

Will McDonald IV talks with media during pro day, Bergstrom Football Complex, Mar. 21, 2023.

Christian Royston, Sports Editor

With the NFL Draft less than a month away, it’s time to give our predictions on which Cyclones will hear their names called on draft day and where they will land.

Pro Day was successful for every Cyclone, and some players solidified their hype while others took advantage of their limited time in the spotlight. The players have less than a month to go before the draft on April 27.

Sports editor Christian Royston takes the reins in the first mock draft of the season and gives his takes on where he expects the Cyclones to land.

Will McDonald IV: Late first-round pick

I’m hopping on board the hype train early by predicting McDonald to fall in the first round.

McDonald has everything he needs to make a great defensive end in the NFL. He has the size, he has the speed and he has the hands.

Along with all his measurables and elite athleticism, he has the production and the tape. McDonald found success at the collegiate level, recording a historic amount of sacks in his time as a Cyclone. 

What more could you ask for from the Big 12’s leading sacker?

Looking over mock drafts and prospect rankings, it’s clear that analysts are starting to catch wind of McDonald’s dominance. Many mock drafts have McDonald falling just inside the first round, with him going as high as No. 8 in one of Mel Kiper’s mock drafts.

Although I don’t think McDonald will crack the top-10, there’s still a possibility that he ends Iowa State’s 50-year drought without a first round pick. 

I see McDonald going in the second group of edge rushers later in the first round. I do not think he quite matches up with talents like Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, I think he has an argument for going before guys like Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah.

Xavier Hutchinson: Fourth-round pick

Hutchinson was a big winner of Pro Day when it came to his draft stock. Not only was he perfect on the day, he impressed NFL scouts and coaches including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

As more people start to reconsider what Hutchinson brings to the table, there might be an argument for him going on day two of the draft. In fact, the Steelers have three picks on the second day.

I’ll play it safe with my pick, as I expect Hutchinson to slide to day three. Most rankings have Hutchinson hanging around the No. 150-mark, although I think he will go slightly higher.

The main concern for Hutchinson was his ability to hold onto balls in key moments, and I think Pro Day did a great job of shutting down the critics. He has the production – leaving Iowa State with the most receptions in history and leading the Big 12 in receptions three years straight – and he has the athleticism.

So, who knows? Maybe Hutchinson will go in the fourth round. And maybe he will fall to the Steelers at pick No. 120.

Anthony Johnson Jr.: Seventh-round pick

My final pick in the draft may be a little hopeful, but anything can happen on day three of the draft.

Johnson’s potential has been through the roof ever since his switch to safety. It felt like the cornerback position held him back from his true potential.

Although he only has one year of experience under his belt, he looks to be more comfortable as a safety. That being said, defensive backs in general are highly sought after at the next level.

Johnson has as much tape as a player can have, starting every game for over four years. If any NFL team decides to pass on him, it won’t be because of lack of experience.

The final rounds of the NFL Draft are a time for NFL teams to experiment. Deviating between talent levels can get dicey when it gets to the seventh round. 

When the draft starts to shake out, I could easily see a team in need of a safety or versatile defensive back opting for Johnson in the seventh round.

Undrafted Players to Watch: MJ Anderson and O’Rien Vance

Anderson and Vance are players that I wouldn’t be surprised if they fall in the final round of the draft. Although I don’t expect their names to be called, I doubt NFL teams are going to pass on the potential they bring.

Anderson started gaining hype after the NFL Combine, where he was one of four Cyclones to compete. He showed off his elite size and athleticism, which is something that NFL teams value highly.

Anderson may not have the tape that others have, but he held his own on the opposite of a defensive line with McDonald. Anderson would be a project player for an NFL team that wants to try to develop a player that has the size, strength and speed to make a solid starter.

Vance is in the opposite boat as Anderson, where he has all the tape, but his measurables and stats may hold him back a little. Although Vance is a longtime starter, other linebackers in the class stand out above him.

The one thing that I think might get the attention of NFL teams is his Pro Day. Vance came out of nowhere, leaner and stronger than he’s ever been. 

Versatility is a valuable asset for NFL linebackers, and Vance showed that he has the versatility it takes to compete at the next level. I could see Vance finding his footing on a team that would use his newfound speed and quickness and develop him into a strong coverage linebacker.

After the dust settles and the seventh round ends, there’s a good chance that both Anderson and Vance find themselves signing with a team.