Will IU continue its NFL draft streak?

From Cody Latimer in 2014 to Wes Martin in 2019, Indiana football has a streak going.

Six straight years, the Hoosiers have had a player drafted by the National Football League. It’s the program’s longest run of NFL draftees since the league’s selection process moved to seven rounds in 1994.

“Definitely something that we’re proud of,” IU coach Tom Allen said Wednesday. “It involves way more people than myself. Previous coaches, and previous staffs, and a lot of hard work by a lot of people going into that result.”

But right after he shared that thought, Allen had to somewhat shift gears.

“This year will definitely create some challenges,” Allen said.

This year’s draft isn’t like the rest. Last year, the Hoosiers’ lone draftee, the offensive guard Martin, had the benefit of an IU pro day to boost his stock after getting snubbed from the league’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Martin ended up getting picked by the Washington Redskins with the 131st overall pick, ahead of more than a few athletes invited to Indy to show their skills.

The first, second, and third rounds of the 2020 draft have come and gone, and no Hoosiers were selected. Offensive guard Simon Stepaniak seems the most likely candidate to hear his name called during today’s fourth through seventh rounds. He was invited to the combine in February and showed off his freakish strength, finishing second in the bench press with 37 reps of 225 pounds.

But the COVID-19 pandemic shut down IU’s pro day, which deprived several of Stepaniak’s teammates the opportunity to show off in front of NFL scouts in Bloomington.

“As I told them, you just need one team to believe in you, one team to give you a chance,” Allen said. “And when they do, you show you belong. I feel confident we’ll have some guys that’ll have that opportunity. It’s an exciting time still, even though it’s a different format than we’ve had in the past, in the many things that were cut short in the process of the draft. The way you keep it moving forward is that you do a great job recruiting and a great job developing.”

Today will give IU’s potential draftees some clarity. Will one of these names add to the current list of 10 from the last six years?

OL Simon Stepaniak

Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 321 pounds.

Experience/accolades: 31 starts (30 at right guard, 1 at left guard), 2019 team captain, third-team All-Big Ten (media).

Outlook: Again, Stepaniak’s 37 reps on the bench press will turn heads. That’s similar to Martin, who threw up 38 reps of 225 pounds at IU’s pro day. Stepaniak has strength, and he has starting experience. But he has also suffered through some injuries. Stepaniak missed six games due to injury as a sophomore, and he missed another pair as a senior, including the Hoosiers’ bowl game. He could also get dinged by some evaluators because of his 32-inch arms, which is considered below average. At the end of the day, though, those details could just be considered nitpicking. If evaluators like what they see on film, in terms of his get-off and ability to finish blocks, he could hear his name called.

WR Nick Westbrook

Height/weight: 6-foot-3, 219.

Experience/accolades: Appeared in a program-record 52 games (36 starts), 2019 team captain, four-time All-Academic Big Ten, career totals of 144 receptions, 2,226 yards, 16 TDs.

Outlook: Much like classmate Donovan Hale, Westbook is a possession-type receiver who isn’t necessarily going to wow with breakaway speed. But Westbrook did impress at the East-West Shrine Bowl, where NFL.com featured him as one of the all-star event’s standout performers. They described him as being “dependable” with “soft hands and solid route-running skills.” Like with Stepaniak, there is an injury in Westbrook’s past. After racking up 995 receiving yards as a sophomore, earning Big Ten honorable mention status, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2017. That made his stay at IU five years, but he’s evaded injury since. And if you’re looking for intangibles, Westbrook has those in spades as an academic all-conference performer.

LB Reakwon Jones

Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 233.

Experience/accolades: 23 career starts, 2019 team captain, honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches), second on IU’s team with 55 tackles, including 3.5 for loss.

Outlook: Probably more of a long-shot, but this would be a great story if it were to happen. Jones didn’t play much early in his career, serving as an understudy to star linebacker Tegray Scales. He came on the scene as a junior, but during that season, back home in Florida, Hurricane Michael hit his family’s home. Jones persevered through the heartache and emerged as a vocal leader for the Hoosiers during an eight-win campaign in 2019. He was invited to the Tropical Bowl and had a chance to showcase himself in front of NFL scouts. It’s more likely he’s an undrafted free agent, but even making a camp would be a great capper to a good college career.

2 comments

  1. The streak is alive and next year needs to start a string of multiple draft picks of Hoosier players. Getting players drafted is nice but it would be much nicer to have several drafted each year. One step at a time, I suppose, but next year is the time to take the next step up.

  2. It would be much “nicer” to actually give some top teams from our division an ‘L’ next their names when they play our NFL stacked team. It would be ‘nice’ to go to some meaningful bowl games and not have success “exaggerated” with catchy phrases like “breakthrough” and cute acronyms for ‘loving each other’….Though ‘LEO’ is nicer, it’s not what coaches should be measured.
    We can pay Richard Simmons to be nice. He’ll even wear candy striped shorts to go with the candy striped chrome helmets.

    Cue cards were also cute and nice….(used by our former LEO basketball coach who put Hoosier Basketball back on the map via NBA picks).

    We sure like to change the definitions of success these days…Hell, you’d think these team sports were golf. One person on a roster makes a few million at the professional level…and it’s all a ‘nice’ and ‘happy’ lovefest.

    To think we used to measure success in our major sports programs by stupid sh__ like once-in-a-lifetime Rose Bowl appearances, championship banners, Final Fours, deep tournament runs, strong scheduling…or, simply, beating really high level teams…? We weren’t very nice back then.

    I’m glad we finally understand that we just need Richard Simmons, a Twitter account, lots of love and a few NBA/NFL draft picks to make the nation’s Top-20 nice list. Be ‘nice’ if we didn’t have to pay the same boring goofy coaches 30 million to stay in Bloomington for 10 years of niceness.

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