Iowa receiver Riley McCarron catches a pass during the Iowa v. Wisconsin game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, October 22, 2016. The Badgers pulled away in the second half defeating the Hawkeyes 17-9. (The Daily Iowan/ Alex Kroeze)

Point/Counterpoint: Which undrafted Hawkeye stands the best chance at making an NFL roster?


Four former Hawkeyes signed free agent deals after the NFL Draft: Cole Croston, LeShun Daniels, Riley McCarron, and Greg Mabin. There is a long history of undrafted free agents making impacts on NFL teams, so, which Hawkeye has the best chance at doing so?

Riley McCarron

Two months ago, I didn’t think I would be writing this. But when Riley McCarron exploded with a 4.36 40-yard dash at Iowa’s Pro Day, he caught me off guard.

I didn’t see him play that fast last year, but then again, Iowa’s offense isn’t exactly set up for a quick twitch, speedy slot receiver to thrive.

McCarron stands a decent chance of making the Texans’ roster. There are a couple reasons for it.

For one, he has solid hands. McCarron hardly ever dropped any balls at Iowa, and the NFL doesn’t have time for receivers who drop balls. That goes in McCarron’s favor.

Two: he plays a lot like Hunter Renfroe, who was one of Deshaun Watson’s favorite targets at Clemson. (You may remember him shredding Alabama in two-straight national-championship games.) If McCarron can find a role like Renfroe’s at Clemson (and this is if Watson wins the quarterback job, which I believe will happen) he could become a valuable piece of the puzzle in Houston.

Three: McCarron was a stud for the Hawkeyes on special teams. He about did it all — he was a gunner on punt coverage, he returned punts on occasion, he made a name for himself on kick coverage, and he returned a fair number of kicks as well. Guys who can help out on special teams from Day 1 always stand a decent chance at making the roster.

Four: He has an intangible that is hard to find. McCarron thought he was out of football for good, and now he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the game. He had already started a gig in Kansas City before he took a couple days off to partake in Iowa’s Pro Day.

There is a pretty big market for shifty slot receivers in the NFL now. Wes Welker made the position famous, and guys such as Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and Cole Beasley have made it a major trend. If McCarron can turn himself into one of those types of players and also help out on special teams, he could find himself on the Texans’ roster.

— Blake Dowson

Cole Croston

The New England Patriots picked up a potential starter after the draft concluded.

Former Hawkeye lineman Cole Croston signed as an undrafted free agent with the defending Super Bowl champions, and he’s got the best chance of any undrafted Hawkeyes to make the roster.

Croston brings versatility to the Patriots’ offensive line with experience at both tackle positions. According to the NFL’s Draft profile, Croston “consistently finds his target on work-up blocks to second level and can adjust to moving targets, takes smart angles to his blocks, [and] recognizes twists and blitzes and responds early” — something that Patriot head coach Bill Belichick could use to his advantage.

New England is famous for its plug-and-play system, and that next-man-up mentality.

Plus, Iowa does a great job of preparing its offensive linemen for the next level. The Hawkeyes are responsible for nine current NFL linemen.

While they don’t play the same position on the offensive line, Dan Connolly (an undrafted free agent out of Southeast Missouri State) was signed by Jacksonville out of college but failed to make an impact.

New England picked him up and turned the undrafted free agent into a key piece in its Super Bowl run.

Looking at the other undrafted Hawkeyes (LeShun Daniels, Greg Mabin, and Riley McCarron), Croston has the best shot because of New England’s versatility and strength in its coaching system.

Iowa has only produced two current defensive backs (Micah Hyde and Desmond King), no halfbacks, and only one wide receiver (Tevaun Smith).

The offensive line stands as Iowa’s strong suit; it’s the program’s bread and butter. Thanks to his college development and current coaching situation, Croston enters the season with the best chances to make an impact.

— Adam Hensley

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