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Iowa, UW must leverage NFL draft success

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
4:00
PM ET
One of the most common questions I get from both Iowa fans and Wisconsin fans -- usually around national signing day or whenever we post recruiting rankings -- is why their teams can't land more nationally elite prospects.

Then, they point to the recent NFL draft numbers.

As Brian Bennett detailed last week before the most recent NFL draft, Ohio State had the most selections (66) of any Big Ten squad in the previous 10 drafts (2002-2011). The Buckeyes' success surprises no one.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesWisconsin coach Bret Bielema used Twitter to tout his program's success in producing NFL players.
But which team came in second? Iowa. The Hawkeyes had 42 players drafted between 2002-2011. Wisconsin came in fifth, with 39 players drafted.

When I updated the numbers after this weekend's draft, they look like this.

Draft picks between 2002-2012

1. Ohio State -- 70 selections
2. Iowa -- 48 selections
T-3. Wisconsin -- 45 selections
T-3. Nebraska -- 45 selections
5. Michigan -- 43 selections

Iowa and Wisconsin have become two of the Big Ten's top four producers of NFL draft picks. The Hawkeyes and Badgers tied with Michigan State for the most players drafted (6) this year. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that neither Iowa nor Wisconsin regularly brings in nationally ranked recruiting classes.

But that could change eventually, and Iowa and Wisconsin must do everything they can to trumpet their recent NFL draft success. The draft numbers should be the focal point for recruiting efforts going forward.

Every program has a shiny display at its football complex listing its current alumni in the NFL. Wisconsin and Iowa are no exception. But these two programs need to do everything possible to tell highly touted recruits that they can reach the next level if they play in Madison or Iowa City. Sure, it's great that Iowa and Wisconsin have turned former walk-ons or lightly recruited players into NFL prospects. But they also can develop elite recruits into next-level players.

One way to trumpet the success is through Twitter, a medium representatives of both programs maximized last weekend.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema had nine NFL draft-related tweets between Wednesday and Saturday, including these:

  • Wednesday, 12:54 pm.: Congrats to all that landed NFL free agent contracts. We will lead the all of college football with rookies in the NFL for second year.
  • Wednesday, 12:55 p.m.: The next highest number in the country was Alabama at eight. This year we should have the highest number of NFL rookies again for 2nd year!
  • Sunday, 8:57 p.m.: Just wanted to wish all of our guys the best of luck rolling into draft weekend. Last year UW had 14 rookies in NFL camps for first time..

Bielema understands the value of social media and getting his message out. You can bet he'll be mentioning these numbers every time he connects with recruits in the coming months.

Iowa has been a little tardy to the Twitter game, but the Hawkeyes are catching up quickly.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz is about as likely to join Twitter as my 89-year-old grandmother, but his son, Brian, the team's new offensive line coach, was tweeting up a storm during draft weekend.

Some submissions:

  • Saturday, 7:38 a.m.: Day 3 of the #NFL Draft. Only #Iowa and Alabama have produced a 1st Rd Draft Pick in each of the last 3 years #GoHawks
  • Saturday, 7:41 a.m: Who does everyone think the first #Hawkeye drafted today will be? Remember, I have inside sources... #NFLDraft

Brian Ferentz surely will bring up Iowa's draft success on the recruiting trail in the coming weeks.

Both Iowa and Wisconsin face some inherent disadvantages in recruiting elite prospects, chiefly geography, as their states aren't bursting with high school talent. Neither program is a "traditional" Big Ten power, and while Wisconsin has won back-to-back league titles and Iowa has reached 10 bowl games (2 BCS) under Ferentz, the names "Wisconsin" and "Iowa" don't resonate with the top recruits as much as "Ohio State" and "Michigan" do.

But three letters resonate with everyone: NFL.

The numbers don't lie, and Iowa's and Wisconsin's recent draft output should be at the forefront of their recruiting efforts.

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