IOWA CITY — Rob Bruggeman views his transition from college football to the NFL in the same vein he once did when he entered the University of Iowa five years ago.
“Coming in here nobody thought I could play D-I football at the time,” Bruggeman said. “I’m sure plenty of people think I’m too small, too whatever to play NFL football. You just go in with the mentality that you’re good enough, and you’re ready to play.”
Bruggeman, 23, originally walked on at Iowa and paid his way for three years before earning a scholarship in spring practice before his junior season. He built himself into a team leader by his senior year, earning permanent captain status for the offense. Bruggeman, who graduated last December with a degree in finance, ended the season with second-team all-Big Ten status at center by the league’s coaches and media.
But none of those honors matter to him now. Bruggeman, like all NFL prospects, is playing the waiting game. Until he sees his name announced as a draft pick this weekend, he’s keeping busy to avoid the typical anxiety that captures football players before the draft.
“Everything is done that I can do as of this point,” Bruggeman said. “I just keep working out, trying to stay in shape. And what happens, happens; there’s not a lot I can do from here on out. The film is set, I’ve done the interviews … I’m just trying to not think about it too much.”
Bruggeman’s journey the NFL began at Cedar Rapids Washington, where he was an all-state player his final two years. He received little attention from colleges and decided to walk on at Iowa.
“I was surprised he didn’t get a shot out of high school,” said Chuck Bruggeman, Rob’s father. “I knew if he got a chance to play there that he would deliver.
“It was never the goal to earn a scholarship. It was never to make the team. His goal was to get the starting position.”
Bruggeman’s opportunity came last season. He delivered for Iowa, starting every game and becoming the unit’s vocal leader. He started every game and impressed his coaches. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Bruggeman surprised him with his durability and even with some of his mistakes.
“He’s only been a one-year starter; we had to remind ourselves of that,” Ferentz said. “He’s a highly intelligent guy, very competitive. He played well on film.”
Bruggeman is projected as a possible seventh-round draft pick or priority free agent by many scouting services. As for accolades, NFLDraftScout.com describes Bruggeman as an “ascending player with good overall technique.” The Sporting News touted Bruggeman’s “flexibility, body control and balance.”
Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Services LLC., listed Bruggeman as a priority free agent. Shonka said the depth at center makes Bruggeman’s draft chances difficult.
“Obviously, he’s a hard worker,” Shonka said. “All of his intangibles are excellent. He’s well thought of … he’s going to go to a camp. He may be taken late, and he’s certainly going to be signed as a free agent, but which is not bad either because you pick your team where you might fit, where you have a chance of making a ballclub.”
Bruggeman stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 293 pounds, a little light for many NFL clubs. But he ran the 40-yard dash at Iowa’s pro day in 4.97 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times. Bruggeman also could play guard if necessarily.
To Ferentz, Bruggeman is a leader, a value NFL teams will accept once he dons their helmet next week.
“I can think of three guys that I had association with during my time in the NFL that he’s better than, and all those guys played nine or 10 years,” said Ferentz, a former NFL offensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. “He belongs, he’ll find a spot. I don’t know how he’s going to get there, but once he gets on a team, I just can’t see him getting cut.”