Royston: Grading landing spots of Cyclones


Jacob Rice

ISU wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson celebrates his touchdown at the ISU vs. Baylor football game. Sept. 24, 2022.

The 2023 NFL Draft came and went, and it was an eventful weekend for a handful of Cyclones.

Although the Cyclones did not have as many players drafted as in previous years, it was still one of the most successful drafts in recent history. Whether it was Cyclones making a splash after the draft or making history in the first round, many Cyclone stars achieved their goals of reaching the next level.

With various teams looking to fulfill a variety of needs, some teams were bigger winners than others. With the draft all wrapped up, it is time to grade every Cyclone’s landing spot.

Will McDonald IV: New York Jets, Round 1 – Pick 15

Grade: A+

The New York Jets made an electric pick midway through day one.

With the draft falling into a lull after the initial buzz of the first 10 picks, the Jets got people talking again by taking McDonald with the 15th overall pick in the draft. That pick ended Iowa State’s drought of first-round picks that had stood for half a century.

Although you could argue that McDonald does not fill the holes on the Jets team, you cannot deny the value he brings.

Sure, the Jets could have bolstered their offensive line. Sure, the Jets could have drafted another weapon to help out their new superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But, with all the top tackles off the board, reaching just to fill a need did not seem as appealing as waiting until later rounds.

McDonald could be the x-factor that pushes the Jets’ defense to the next level. McDonald’s flexibility and speed mixed with his length and ability to get to the quarterback will cause issues for opposing quarterbacks.

With Robert Saleh’s defensive prowess at the helm of the team, McDonald is in a great position to succeed. There is some competition in the defensive end group in New York, but I have faith that McDonald will see the field relatively quickly in his NFL career.

All things considered, the Jets got the best available player still on the board at pick 15 and one of the most athletic players in the draft.

Xavier Hutchinson: Houston Texans, Round 6 – Pick 205

Grade: A-

I am going to start by saying the Texans had most likely the best draft of any NFL team.

The Texans needed to find the future of their team in the draft, and they did just that. With two of the top three picks thanks to a trade up to No. 3, Houston picked up C.J. Stroud, the second-best quarterback in the draft, and Will Anderson, the best defensive end in the draft.

With Stroud falling to the Texans, they just needed to build up a good support system to help him succeed. The first key weapon came in the third round when they drafted Nathaniel “Tank” Dell.

Dell was a monster in the 2022 season, leading the NCAA in receiving yards (1,398) and receiving touchdowns (17), while being just one reception off the top spot.

Then the Texans found their second weapon of the future in the sixth round by picking up Xavier Hutchinson. Although it was not much of a slide, Hutchinson did fall a little from his projected spot in the fourth or fifth round.

What Hutchinson brings to the Texans is consistency in the air, as he finished the 2022 season with the third-most receptions behind now-teammate Dell.

I graded this pick an A- because of the value of the pick. Hutchinson has the talent of a day-two receiver, so getting him in the sixth round was a steal for the Texans. Pair that with a potential new superstar at quarterback, and Hutchinson’s ceiling should be high.

Anthony Johnson Jr.: Green Bay Packers, Round 7 – Pick 242

Grade: B

This was an interesting pick from the Packers to say the least.

Johnson’s switch to safety seemed to serve him well, as a team took a chance on him just before the draft finished up. With the other pieces on Green Bay’s defense, Johnson could have found his home to continue developing into a great player.

Grading this pick is tough, mainly because of how unpredictable late-round picks can be. The Packers needed help in the safety room to complement the strong cornerback group.

With a slew of picks in the early round being used on offensive players, the defense was a clear focus later in the draft. Although it might take a while for Johnson to find his footing, he has a lot of veteran players to learn from.

Johnson was a lockdown corner before he switched to safety, so there is a chance that Jaire Alexander could pass off some wisdom to the young defensive back.

When all is said and done, the Packers got themselves a versatile player late in the draft that could fill all of their needs.

MJ Anderson: Seattle Seahawks – UDFA (Undrafted Free Agent)

Grade: B+

Although many people may not be too excited about this pickup, I am a huge fan of where Anderson is going.

The Seahawks are in desperate need of help on defense, as was seen late in the 2022-23 season. Seattle looked to make a run in the postseason but was shut down relatively quickly by the 49ers. It was a tough loss, especially since the Seahawks gave up 41 points.

Seattle’s offense has been workable in the past and should still be decent enough to make a push to the playoffs again. With all eyes on the development of the defense, Anderson fills a much-needed role.

The great thing about the pickup after the draft is that the Seahawks will not have to invest too much into Anderson while still giving him the chance to shine. Anderson has the makings of a great edge rusher in the NFL. He just needs to iron out his game and develop his skills to match his impressive frame.

If Anderson exceeds expectations, there is no doubt he will make the team and maybe even surprise the league.

Trevor Downing: Pittsburgh Steelers – UDFA

Grade: B-

Downing is a difficult player to grade, mainly because of how tough it is to gauge teams’ interest in offensive linemen.

There is no doubt the Steelers need help across the board, especially in the offensive line. The Steelers picked up their potential franchise quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft in Kenny Pickett, so now the name of the game is to protect the future.

Downing provides the size, athleticism and experience to succeed in the NFL. His versatility should also come in handy, as the Steelers look for the best place for him to take snaps on the line.

If Downing can give the Steelers meaningful reps when he hits the field, he will be a steal as an undrafted free agent. However, he has to make the most of his opportunities in training camp if he wants to secure a spot on the team.

Downing is still a raw player when compared to other elite offensive linemen in the draft, but if any team can develop him into a great player, it will be the Steelers.

O’Rien Vance: New York Giants – Rookie Camp Invite

Grade: B

To round out the Cyclones, Vance has the opportunity to compete with an NFL team, as he was invited to the Giants’ rookie camp.

Although he was not technically drafted, Vance could turn heads enough to earn his spot on the Giants’ roster.

One thing that could hurt Vance’s chances of impressing the Giants will be their depth at linebacker. The Giants have good linebackers already, so Vance will have his work cut out for him.

The thing that could give Vance a good chance at making the team will be his experience in the middle of the field, as he excelled when dropping into coverage. The Giants could use a versatile player like Vance, so all he needs to do is impress.

Although it is just speculation, if Vance has a strong rookie camp and shows off his new leaner, stronger frame, he could find his name on an NFL roster before too long.