It was the surprise to all Iowa fans when former Jim Thorpe award winner and all-time Hawkeye great Desmond King fell to the fifth-round in the 2017 NFL Draft. One thing became clear after that day. The Los Angeles Chargers got one of the biggest steals in the draft.
King proved his worth in his first year as he recorded 76 total tackles, four sacks and a 90-yard pick six. This season, he took his game to another level and became a solid punt/kick returner for the Chargers. King also established himself as one of the top slot cornerbacks in the league. He finished with 22 coverage stops, which was the most of any cornerback in the league. According to PFF, only 22 of his 78 targets resulted in first downs.
One of the biggest reasons that King was drafted so late was that many “experts” questioned his top-end speed and if he’d be able to stick with some of the more elite receivers at the next level. That question has been answered since King, not only grades out as a top corner, but he’s a productive special teams player as well.
King has become a nice returner for the Chargers. He averages 13.8 yards per punt return and had a 73-yard touchdown against the Steelers on Dec. 2. King also averaged 23.7 yards per kickoff return during the season. His vision, decisive cuts, and patience are what allowed him to excel while at Iowa and that translated well to the NFL.
“It’s basically all of the hard work he put in is now showing throughout the entire league,” safety Adrian Phillips told ESPN’s Eric D. Williams in November. “He was doing it all of last year, he just really didn’t get the opportunities in the game. But he’s definitely taken it to another level. He’s a baller, and that’s what he does.”
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King’s rise to all-pro status hasn’t come to a shock to Iowa fans and to his teammates and we can see King has garnered respect from around the NFL.
“This guy is a good football player,” former Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “I remember watching him coming out and I wasn’t sure what he was going to play for us, but you knew he was going to be a good football player. Tackler, cover guy and as a return guy, he’s changed games, so I think that guy needs to be mentioned as one of the guys that make a difference with this football team.”
King is just another example of a guy that has always flown under the radar. He was ranked 1,141 coming out of high school, Iowa took a chance on him, and it paid off for both schools. It shows that people fall in love with measurables and don’t rely on the eye-test. While measurables are important, it’s the play on the field that will always matter at the end of the day.
Just ask King, who finished his Iowa career with 262 tackles, 14 interceptions, a Jim Thorpe award, All-American status and still had 150 guys go ahead of him in the draft. King was also named second-team all-pro punt returner.
Former Iowa tight end George Kittle was named second-team all-pro after his record-breaking 1,377 yards receiving (Most in a single-season by a TE in NFL history) on 88 receptions and five touchdowns. Former Iowa offensive lineman Marshal Yanda was also named a second-team all-pro.