Iowa football: The 10 most valuable players from the past decade
No, you didn’t imagine that. Iowa football was the No. 2 team in the nation at one point in 2021.
Iowa has sneakily had a fantastic past decade. The Hawkeyes have rattled off 9 straight winning seasons, won 3 of their last 4 bowl games and recorded their most wins in a single season in school history.
Iowa has also produced 30 NFL draft picks in the past 10 years, including 5 first-rounders.
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This is a program with great things to come, and more eligible players to be drafted. While we’re here, let’s walk through some of Iowa’s most valuable players from the past decade, starting with No. 10 and working our way to No. 1.
Have any guesses who that will be? Let’s find out.
No. 10: QB CJ Beathard (2013-16)
CJ Beathard did not go on to have a prolific NFL career, but he led the Hawkeyes to their highest ranking of the past decade.
Iowa went undefeated in the 2015 regular season, thanks in part to Beathard leading the way. In 2015, he passed for 2,805 yards, 17 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, leading the Hawkeyes to the B1G Championship Game only to fall to Michigan State, which was in the middle of perhaps its greatest season in school history.
Beathard was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
No. 9: DB Micah Hyde (2009-12)
This list will comprise players who played for Iowa from 2012-2021. In that case, NFL pro-bowler and former Hawkeye Micah Hyde barely qualifies.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a force for this Hawkeyes team throughout his career, which lasted from 2009-2012. In his time in Iowa City, Hyde totaled 155 tackles, snagged 8 interceptions and batted 15 pass deflections.
Hyde was one of the few bright spots on a 2012 team that finished the regular season 4-8, Iowa’s worst season since 2000 when the Hawkeyes went 3-9.
Hyde was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2013 and turned into a star. He was especially great in 2017 in his first year in Buffalo, making the Pro Bowl and snatching 5 interceptions.
No. 8: OL Tristan Wirfs (2017-19)
Wirfs had a tumultuous career at Iowa, but is no doubt on the list of the 5 most talented Hawkeyes of the past decade.
That talent has shined in the NFL. In his few short years among the professional ranks, Wirfs has earned himself a Pro Bowl nod, a First-Team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl ring (with a little help from perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history in Tom Brady).
But at Iowa, it was like throwing a V8 engine on a tricycle. Wirfs leapt to a promising freshman campaign, starting 7 games and thus becoming the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle under Kirk Ferentz. He missed Game 1 of his sophomore year after an arrest in the offseason, and suffered an injury heading into his junior year, but those issues didn’t end up affecting his play much at all.
Wirfs announced he would forgo his senior season and was later drafted 13th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.
No. 7: C Tyler Linderbaum (2018-21)
There’s a strong chance Tyler Linderbaum is the best center to ever come through the University of Iowa football program.
Despite coming to Iowa City as a defensive lineman, Linderbaum converted to the offensive line and shined during his career. He started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, and the rest is history.
Linderbaum won the Rimington Trophy in 2021, the award for the best center in all of college football. He was also a finalist for the award during the 2020 season. Linderbaum was drafted by the Ravens in the 2022 NFL Draft with the No. 25 overall pick.
No. 6: DB Desmond King (2013-16)
Another top-tier Iowa defensive back who later went on to have a solid NFL career.
He places tied for 4th in Iowa history with 14 interceptions, perhaps even more impressive as just a 3-star recruit out of high school. King started in 12 of his first 13 games his freshman year, the first defensive back to do so dating to 2002.
And he just kept getting better. King earned the Jim Thorpe Award in 2015, awarded to the best defensive back in college football, and was a unanimous First-Team All-B1G selection.
No. 5: TE TJ Hockenson (2016-18)
We land on the first of many great tight ends to play at Iowa in the past decade.
There have been a lot of positional awards won over the past decade on this list, and Hockenson is here to add another to the list. In 2018, as a sophomore, Hockenson won the John Mackey Award for the top tight end in college football, just the second Iowa player to earn the award — behind Dallas Clark in 2002.
Hockenson, an Iowa native, was a force for 2 years for the Hawkeyes. He contributed in an upset victory over Ohio State his redshirt freshman year, hauling in 5 receptions for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns. He finished his award-winning sophomore season with 46 receptions for over 700 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Hockenson was drafted 8th overall by the Lions in 2019.
No. 4: LB Josey Jewell (2014-17)
Josey Jewell was likely Iowa’s best defender of this past decade, and he has the stats to back it up.
In 4 years, Jewell totaled 437 tackles, good enough for 4th most on the all-time Iowa list. He was a unanimous All-American in 2017 and won the Jack Lambert Trophy, the award for the nation’s top linebacker. Jewell was one of many pieces on an Iowa team that made a real run at the top spot in the nation in 2015.
Did we mention the B1G Defensive Player of the Year award to top off his senior year?
No. 3: TE George Kittle (2012-16)
George Kittle was not expected to be the NFL star he is today by anybody in the nation. Anybody, that is, except for Iowa fans.
Iowa’s run of NFL-ready tight ends started with Kittle, who caught 9 touchdowns in his time as a Hawkeye. Below, you can watch each and every one of them.
Kittle is where he is on this list because of what he did in the NFL, and his rise to one of the most dominant tight ends in the game of football. He’s got the size at 6-4, 250 pounds, but he also has the ridiculous breakaway speed that can leave an unsuspecting professional corner in the dust.
No. 2: OL Brandon Scherff (2010-14)
Scherff was Iowa’s highest picked player in the NFL draft since 2004 when he was taken 5th overall by Washington in 2015.
He made the selection worthwhile for Washington, too. Scherff has been to the Pro Bowl 5 times in his 7-year NFL career. He recently signed a contact with the Philadelphia Eagles and has started each game he has appeared in across his career.
At Iowa, he was named the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year, garnered 1st-team All-B1G recognition and was a unanimous All-American in 2014.
No. 1: TE Noah Fant (2016-18)
If it isn’t obvious already, it should be now: Iowa has a thing for elite tight ends.
Hockenson, Kittle and Fant have all gone on to varying success in the NFL, but Fant was by far the best in college. He played alongside Hockenson, hauling in 19 total touchdowns in 3 seasons — the majority of which came during his sophomore and junior seasons.
His sophomore season was especially impressive. Fant was a force in 2017, catching 30 passes for 494 yards and 11 touchdowns. More than a third of his catches in 2017 came on scoring plays.
Fant is currently tied for second in Iowa history for the most touchdown receptions in a single season and 4th all-time in career touchdown receptions. Keep in mind he only played 2 1/2 seasons. Fant was later drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round, 20th overall.