Iowa’s Anthony Nelson and Amani Hooker didn’t have to wait long Saturday, selected early in the fourth round of the NFL draft that began with the Arizona Cardinals selecting Iowa State receiver Hakeem Butler.
Nelson was taken by Tampa Bay with the fifth pick of the round, and Tennessee chose Hooker 14th in the first of the four rounds on the third day of the NFL’s seven-round draft.
All three were among the record number of players who chose to forego their final years of eligibility.
Butler left for the NFL after becoming ISU’s single-season receptions leader, Nelson departed after ranking second in the Big Ten in sacks and Hooker moved on after being selected as the defensive back of the year in the Big Ten.
"A lot of what went into my decision was a desire to take on the next challenge," Nelson said. "Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and his staff do a great job of getting us to understand the importance of the detail work you have to put into it, and that helps prepare us to be ready to enter the NFL."
Tampa Bay director of player personnel John Spytek said in a news conference that introduced Nelson that the Buccaneers liked more than Nelson’s 6-foot-7, 271-pound frame on the edge.
"He’s got great feet," Spytek said. "I learned a long time ago from Andy Reid that linemen with great feet typically end up playing well. He’s going to be in the same role as Carl Nassib’s playing right now for us."
Hooker said during a teleconference with Tennessee reporters that the Titans are "getting a playmaker, a baller and a student of the game, a guy you don’t have to worry about off the field."
His pre-draft visits included one to Tennessee, where his position coach will be Kerry Coombs, the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State when Hooker returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win over the Buckeyes in 2017.
Utilized last season as a safety and in a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role, Hooker was second among Iowa defenders in tackles and shared the team lead with four interceptions.
He said Saturday he has no preference on where he lines up for the Titans.
"I feel like Kerry Coombs is going to be put me in the right position to make plays and help the team whether that is back in safety or up in the nickel and the slot," Hooker said. "… They run a similar defense that we ran at Iowa so it shouldn’t be too tough of a transition for me to understand what’s going on."
In a conference call hosted by the Cardinals, Butler said he was "super excited" to get the chance to be part of what first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury is building.
"I told him when I met in him at the Combine I wanted to go to Texas Tech but they didn’t offer me," Butler said. "When he called me (to inform him Arizona was taking him in the fourth round) he said he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice."
Kingsbury also recalled the four catches Butler had for 148 yards in Iowa State’s 40-31 win over Texas Tech last season.
The 6-5 Butler, who covered 1,318 yards while ranking third nationally with an average of 22 yards per reception last season, also expects to learn from veteran Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"That might be the thing I’m most excited about. He’s a legend," Butler said.
Northern Illinois and Illinois had players taken in the draft’s later rounds.
Sutton Smith, a two-time all-American defensive end for the Huskies, was selected by Pittsburgh with the second pick in the sixth round while offensive lineman Nick Allegretti became the first Fighting Illini player drafted since 2017. He was taken by Kansas City with the second choice in the seventh round.
The 6-1, 237-pound Smith is a two-time defensive player of the year in the Mid-American Conference while Allegretti, a 6-4, 320-pound guard and center who started the final 36 games of his collegiate career, earned second-team all-Big Ten recognition last season and has been named as Illinois’ 2019 Big Ten medal of honor recipient.
Following the draft, a number of players announced signing as undrafted free agents.
Iowa receiver Nick Easley signed with Buffalo and offensive lineman Ross Reynolds signed with San Francisco. Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson signed with Detroit as a developmental prospect, allowing him to work on a transition to the offensive line.
Hawkeyes defensive end Parker Hesse has tryouts scheduled the next two weeks, the first with the Chiefs and the second with the Lions, while defensive tackle Sam Brincks has one scheduled with the Packers.
Illinois linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips signed with Atlanta.
Iowa State defensive back Brian Peavy and Western Illinois quarterback Sean McGuire announced accepting mini-camp invites from Arizona and Minnesota, respectively.