Iowa Football Position Preview: Hawkeye WR Corps Might Be Ferentz’s Best

March 25, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Spencer Petras is positioned to be Iowa’s new starting quarterback. The redshirt sophomore will have at his disposal arguably the best group of wide receivers in coach Kirk Ferentz’s 22 years.

The corps led by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy combined for 169 receptions and 2,214 yards in 2019. The total catches matched the Ferentz-Era high from 2011. Those receivers set the Ferentz-Era yardage mark with 2,412.

The current wideouts appear poised to top those marks by virtue of everybody returning. And the current collection offers more balance than did the position in ’11.

Nine years ago, Marvin McNutt accounted for 82 receptions and 1,315 yards. Keenan Davis contributed 50 catches for 713 yards, and Kevonte Martin-Manley hauled in 30 balls for 323.

Ragaini topped the 46 receptions for 439 yards. Smith-Marsette paced the outfit with 722 yards via 44 catches. Smith caught 37 balls for 439 yards in nine games, while Tracy collected 36 catches for 589 yards.

The current receivers also have stressed defenses in the running game. In ’11, the position rushed seven times for 57 yards and no touchdowns. The wideouts combined for 154 ground yards and four scores last fall.

While McNutt exhausted his eligibility in ’11 leading to a drop-off from the receivers the next season, this year’s group should be poised for progress provided Petras and the offensive line hold up their end of the bargain.

Smith-Marsette, Smith and company improved as the last campaign advanced. Tracy, a redshirt freshman, may have grown the most. He caught a career-high six passes in games against Illinois and Minnesota during November.

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While each member of this receiving corps specializes in at least one aspect of the position, such as Ragaini’s ability to get open underneath, and Smith-Marsette and Tracy delivering in space, they’re all well-rounded. Smith blocks like a tight end and they all contribute in paving the way for the running game.

Smith missing three games (he saw just one snap in another) with a leg injury last season stunted a break-out season. The Mississippi native hauled in a career-high nine passes for 106 yards against Purdue on Oct. 19. He was hurt at the end of that game.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz incorporated Smith-Marsette and Tracy in the running game down the stretch of the season. The duo was featured in jet-sweep and reverse actions that put defenses on their heels.

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With the experience coming back, it will be interesting to see what the Iowa coaches can utilize from the play book. And with a veteran group, perhaps they’ll add to it. Breaking away from tendency and predictability could be the key to unlocking a talented group of skill players.

Iowa boasts talent beyond the top four on the depth chart, too. Oliver Martin and Max Cooper saw the field last season as did redshirt freshman-to-be Desmond Hutson. Redshirt sophomore-to-be Calvin Lockett appeared on the two-deep at times this fall.

Martin arrived at Iowa last summer with much fanfare as a transfer from Michigan. The former four-star recruit from Iowa City West High began the season looking like he would contribute more than he ended up doing. His playing time actually decreased as the campaign progressed.

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Cooper has dealt with injuries throughout his career. He ended up taking over punt-return duties in the middle of last season.

Lockett might be ready to contribute after two seasons in the program. The coaches considered taking the redshirt off Hutson before preserving it in the end.

The Hawkeyes will add transfers Jack Combs (Central Michigan) and Charlie Jones (Buffalo) to the mix as well as incoming freshmen Diante Vines and Quavon Matthews.

It’s a deep position. And as we saw that season when Smith went down, you can never have too much talent.

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