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Iowa State WR Allen Lazard could be undrafted success story for Jaguars

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Iowa State is a relative wasteland for NFL prospects, but Lazard has always been different.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State is not a hotbed of NFL talent. The Cyclones haven’t had a first-round draft pick since 1973. Only five alums have been drafted at all since 2009, and only one of those came before the fifth round. After Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, you’re sorting through limited contributors like A.J. Klein and Jeremiah George.

But Allen Lazard is intent on being an outlier in Ames, despite the fact that he went undrafted and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie free agent.

The Iowa State wide receiver climbed up draft boards thanks to a record-setting four-year career with the Cyclones and a better-than-expected showing at this year’s NFL Combine.

If he had been selected in the NFL Draft, he would’ve been the school’s first drafted receiver since Tracy Henderson in 1985. Instead, he’ll have the uphill climb from undrafted free agency.

Lazard was an Iowa State success story even before taking his first snap

Iowa State’s recruiting classes are typically only saved from being the Big 12’s worst by the presence of Kansas, but luring Lazard to Ames represented a minor coup for the Cyclones. By 247Sports’ rankings, the four-star wideout from Urbandale, Iowa, was the highest-rated recruit in program history. He turned down offers from Notre Dame, Stanford, Oregon, and Nebraska to don the yellow and red his father had worn more than two decades earlier.

It helped that ISU’s lack of blue-chip talent gave him the opportunity to make an immediate impact. He had 45 receptions for 593 yards — both second on the team — as a true freshman playing for a depleted roster that beat Iowa, Toledo, and no one else in 2014. His sophomore and junior seasons saw the team improve to three wins per year while Lazard grew into the Cyclones’ top offensive threat. As a senior, he helped lead the team to its first eight-win season since 2000.

He saved his best for last; his 10-catch, 142-yard performance in a Liberty Bowl win over Memphis set or tied career highs.

So what makes him an NFL prospect and not just a good college receiver?

Lazard is a red zone monster. At 6’5 and 227 pounds, he has the frame to carve out a patch of real estate in the end zone and then box out smaller defenders — and they’ll all be smaller, from cornerbacks to enterprising linebackers. He had 26 touchdown receptions over his ISU career, including 17 as an upperclassman.

That last stat is especially impressive given the competition he was facing. By 2016, opposing teams knew the Cyclones would be locked in on Lazard; he’d scored six when no other returning receiver had more than two the year prior. Despite being constantly flanked by a safety, he still managed a 1,000-yard season. That’s in part because he had more than twice the targets of any other ISU wideout, but mostly because he converted nearly 60 percent of those passes, many of them contested, into catches.

His production dipped a bit in 2017 as the emergence of deep threat Hakeem Butler ate into his target rate, but he still remained Iowa State’s top priority, hauling in 10 touchdowns — including one in his team’s season-defining upset of Oklahoma.

All season, Lazard played like he had a chip on his shoulder with the Cyclones, shucking off bump-and-run coverage and engaging physical corners. After that, sticky hands and concentration do the rest:

He’s been boosting his stock since his college career came to a close, putting together a solid performance in the Senior Bowl and continuing that momentum at the combine, resetting his professional expectations.

Lazard’s 4.55s 40-yard dash time paints him as both an effective possession receiver and a fast enough runner to stretch defenses vertically behind sound routes. Even more impressive was a 38-inch vertical leap that should only further his legend as one of the draft’s top touchdown targets as May approaches.

Lazard was a likely Day 3 pick, but he could produce quickly

Lazard left Iowa State as its all-time leading receiver, living up to the lofty expectations that followed him to Ames. He’ll carry the Cyclones’ shield into the NFL, where he’ll have to prove he’s athletic enough to make his big-league frame count at the next level. While he’s a crisp route runner, concerns about whether or not he has the stop-and-go quickness to separate himself from NFL defensive backs will force him down draft boards.

The fact he was good, but didn’t truly dominate at Iowa State is likely why he didn’t hear his name called.

While he may have been a big fish in a small pond in Ames, he frequently tested himself against NFL-caliber defenses in four years of Big 12 play. He responded with nine 100-yard games against Power 5 opponents and arguably the best performance of his career in the only bowl game in which he had the chance to play. His numbers from year to year may not be bulletproof, but many of his accomplishments came against opponents who’d rightfully locked in on him as the Cyclones’ only real aerial threat.

His resume is strong, but his true selling point is his size that’s led to 17 receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons. If his red zone prowess translates to the NFL, he has a chance to make his mark and put Iowa State football on the map.