ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. on former ISU CB T.J. Tampa: “(He’s) worthy of being a first-round pick.”

 Nov 18, 2023; Ames, Iowa, USA; Texas Longhorns wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5) misses a catch in the end zone as Iowa State Cyclones defensive back T.J. Tampa (2) defends in the first half at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sara Diggins-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.’s settled on a single word to help describe former Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa: Underrated.

 “When you look at T.J. Tampa — I haven’t heard his name much at all,” Kiper said during a Zoom call with the media early Thursday afternoon. “You know, I might be out there on an island with him. We’ll see where he goes. But I do think he deserves strong early second-round consideration. That’s why I have him as underrated because I don’t hear his name ever talked about.”

 Not much, anyway. But the 6-1, 189-pound Tampa’s impact on the Cyclones’ success was significant in each of his four seasons, and his all-around skills, coupled with long arms and keen instincts, make him a diamond in the rough for the 2024 NFL Draft, which begins in April 25 in Detroit.

 “Some players, it doesn’t matter what system you’re in,” said ISU cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat, who played the position for 10 years in the NFL. “Whether it’s a team that’s asking you to be a lot more physical in the run game, (or) you may have a team that (uses) a big zone scheme, and then you have different teams that play a lot of man, so if you have a player that is very versatile and can play all those different coverages, and they can still play physical — you have a guy who, it doesn’t matter what it is.”

 And Tampa checks those versatility-based boxes. He totaled 40 tackles or more in each of the past two seasons and recorded two interceptions while breaking up seven passes last season. Tampa allowed just one touchdown in his last 497 coverage snaps, so he’s comfortable being on that island even though he didn’t run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash on Pro Day.

 “He’s got the length I love (and) the instincts,” Kiper said. “He runs (a) 4.52 but he plays like he runs a 4.42 and that’s what you want. If he’d have run a 4.45 he’d have been in the first round and we wouldn’t even have a discussion about him being a second-round pick.”

 Does that mean Tampa could climb into the tail end of the first round or even drop into the third? Anything can happen when you’re “underrated,” but Tampa’s track record points to him being a valuable pick regardless of when he’s selected.

 “The fact that he will tackle,” Kiper said. “The fact that he’s a business-like player, they rave about his character at Iowa State, and the fact that he has that ability, that natural ability, to break up passes and intercept passes, and create turnovers when the opportunity present itself — he checks all the boxes for me.”