Iowa offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga became the first Hawkeye to be selected in the opening round of the NFL Draft since Chad Greenway was picked 18th overall by Minnesota in 2006.
Bulaga was also the first Hawkeye lineman selected in the first round since Robert Gallery in 2004. He is the fourth first-round draft pick in Kirk Ferentz’s tenure as head coach at Iowa.
He was the second Big Ten player selected in the draft— Michigan's Brandon Graham was the first.
For the second straight year, an Iowa player declared early for the NFL draft. Iowa running back Shonn Greene left Iowa following a record-breaking junior season in 2008. He was selected in the third round of the draft by the New York Jets, and made big waves in his first season there.
Bulaga opted to follow Greene's example, rather than Gallery's example.
As a junior in 2002, Gallery started all 13 games at left tackle, and was selected first team All-Big Ten. He was predicted as a late first-round draft pick after that season, yet opted to return for his senior year.
During his senior season, Gallery won the Outland Trophy in 2003, and went on to become the second overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
In his junior year— despite missing three games with a thyroid condition— Bulaga was named the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and a first team All-Big Ten selection. Had he returned, he would have easily been an early favorite for the 2010 Outland Trophy.
After the health scare, and impending NFL salary cap changes, no one faults him for declaring early for the draft. But Bulaga's drop from top 10 prediction to No. 23 overall, does make some wonder if he should have returned for his senior season instead.
Bulaga was the sixth offensive lineman selected in the opening round of this year's draft. Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Rutgers' Anthony Davis, and a few others were all selected as Bulaga watched on from the green room in New York.
In a surprise to Green Bay, he still was on the board when their turn arrived. Packers' general manager Ted Thompson jumped at the chance to pick up a top 10 talent in an area they could use some help (OL).
"He's a finisher. He's a tough guy. He’s athletic. He's got great size. He loves football, has a real gung-ho type attitude. He’s the real deal," said Thompson after the pick.
Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who is a former assistant coach under Ferentz, loves Bulaga as well. The Packers have been looking at Bulaga since January , but thought his stock had risen too much for them to have a chance.
"Depending on how quickly he adjusts to the pro game, he can certainly help us a lot," Philbin said after the selection. "Obviously we drafted him with the belief that he will come in here and compete and do that right away."
"I was thrilled when I got the call from Green Bay," Bulaga told the media after the first round ended. "I was an NFC North fan growing up in Illinois, so I was ecstatic to get the call....I don’t know what my role will be, but I’m definitely going to come in and push myself to win a starting job."
Bulaga had the potential to go higher in the draft and make more money initially, but being drafted by a title contender might work out much better for the Iowa lineman in the long run.