All right, I’m going to step out of my journalism shell for a second. I’ve caught some junk from friends of mine from my hometown of Burlington about not mentioning Mitch King’s hometown, which happens to be … Burlington.
OK, here it goes for just a paragraph. I played for Burlington’s only team to win a playoff game back in the early 1990s (Oct. 29, 1991). I coached there for a season. Burlington is as much a part of me as my family and the state of Iowa. I’m happy that a former Grayhound like Mitch King is going to the NFL. Anyone who shed his blood at Bracewell Stadium for the purple and gray can feel proud this weekend for King. That includes myself.
Now, back to journalism and a story on King that will appear in Saturday’s Gazette.
IOWA CITY — Some consider Mitch King too small for defensive tackle, too short for defensive end and too big for linebacker. But he seems just right for the NFL.
King, a former Iowa defensive tackle from Burlington, has the drive and tenacity that draft analysts love. He’s a vocal leader in the huddle and his passion for football shows up on every down.
“He’s loved by every defensive line coach out there because of his relentless play,” said Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Services LLC. “(King is) a high-motor, great-effort guy that had good Senior Bowl week. He’s very physical when he hits people. I think there’s a section in the Senior Bowl game where he made three or four tackles in a row, where he just dominated in there.”
King, 22, didn’t start in the Senior Bowl, but he registered four tackles, including three tackles in a four-play series. He also recorded a quarterback hurry.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. calls King “a hustler.”
“Every team is not going to look at Mitch King and say he’s going to be way up there,” Kiper said. “But he’s a guy who’s very, very productive, good technique, never quits on a play. (King is) a rotation guy and as a guy who can give you some versatility inside and a kid who spills his guts every play.”
King earned the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year award from league coaches. He had 15.5 tackles for loss last year, including four sacks. He had 54 tackles, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press and first-team All-American by ESPN. He also was Iowa’s co-MVP and named a permanent team captain.
King’s tweener size seems to stump his high-round potential. He stands 6 feet, 1 and weighs 280 pounds. Most teams prefer defensive tackles in the 300-pound range and slightly taller. King’s frame also keeps him from shifting fully to defensive end, where the preference is a little leaner and a little taller.
“He’s going to have to go in the right scheme,” Shonka said. “I think he’s going to probably be used as an undertackle in a four-man line. He’s going to be a one-gap penetrator where he can shoot up the field and only worry about one gap. He obviously won’t be a two-gap guy because he’s not big enough, but he’s got the explosive first-step quickness.”
Shonka said King reminds him of St. Louis Rams defensive tackle La’Roi Glover, who has earned six Pro Bowl bids. King and Glover are comparable in size.
“He might not be quite as fluid as La’Roi, but his relentless is very similar,” Shonka said.
King’s ability have others considering him for different positions. He came to Iowa as an all-state linebacker and played running back at Burlington. Shonka said King could move to linebacker or fullback as well.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if some ballclub tried to make a linebacker out of him, either inside or outside,” Shonka said. “We just kind of see him as that undertackle right now. He’ll play special teams. He can run well enough when he can go down and cover kicks.
“I wouldn’t worry about being 280 pounds and playing fullback, because there’s lots of teams sticking guys there as a lead blocker on the goal line, and he could do that, too. I’m sure with his explosiveness, his savvy for contact, he’d fit right in.”
King caught some passes during Iowa’s pro day in March, which induced a chuckle from Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz said King compares to former Hawkeye Jonathan Babineaux, who weighs 284 pounds but started all 16 games last year for the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think Mitch is a similar-type player,” Ferentz said. “He’s never going to be a 320-pound guy, but he’s an awfully good football player. People have acknowledged that, and for certain teams, that’s going to be really attractive. It’s just a matter of him finding the right niche.”