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Iowa Football Position Preview: Tight End Group Should be More Involved in ’20

March 31, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – A drop-off at tight end was to be expected last season. Iowa sent two players from the position to the NFL as first-round picks in 2019, the first time that happened in the history of the draft.

The absence of T.J Hockenson and Noah Fant proved more impactful than most saw coming, however. The Hawkeye tight ends were virtually invisible in the passing game through the first half of the ’19 campaign.

During the first seven contests, Nate Wieting and Shaun Beyer combined for 121 receiving yards on 10 receptions. In three of those games, they did not catch a pass.

The coaches inserted true freshman Sam LaPorta into the Week 8 game plan at Northwestern. He’d mostly been utilized on special teams up to that point.

Against the Wildcats, LaPorta caught his first two college passes for 43 yards. He just missed another deep ball that was jarred loose by a nice play from the Northwestern defensive back. Beyer added one catch for 11 yards in that game.

The tight ends ended up with 22 receptions for 301 yards during the final five contests. LaPorta accounted for 15 catches and 188 yards. He led the team with nine grabs resulting 81 yards over the final two games.

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That surge bodes well for the position in ’20. Wieting is the only graduation from the group and while his strong blocking will be missed, everybody else returns.

LaPorta (6-4, 242) is cut from the same cloth as productive tight ends from Hawkeye seasons gone by. Like Hockenson and Scott Chandler, he’s converting from high school receiver, which should mean even more development for Year 2.

Injuries have slowed Beyer (6-5, 244) throughout his college career but he could be ready for a breakout as a fifth-year senior. He’s become a reliable blocker and well-rounded tight end.

After LaPorta and Beyer, the position is untested. Josiah Miamen (6-4, 235) is coming off a redshirt year as a true freshman. He boasts a strong pedigree having reported scholarship offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and a host of others.

The same can be said for incoming freshman Elijah Yelverton, who enrolled at Iowa during January. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Texas native arrives having picked the Hawkeyes ahead of reported scholarship opportunities from Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Oregon, Penn State, TCU and 26 other programs.

Luke Lachey, the son of former Ohio State and NFL offensive lineman Jim Lachey, gives Iowa another strong recruit at the position in the ’20 class. The 6-foot-7, 220-pounder will be transitioning from playing receiver at Columbus (OH) Grandview Heights High. He’ll be wearing the black and gold after choosing the Hawkeyes ahead of reported offers from LSU, Louisville, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa State and 20 other programs.

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Iowa has a history of receiving production from walk-ons at this position, Wieting being the most recent success story. It would be wise to keep an eye on that group.

Tommy Kujawa (6-3, 235) is a redshirt junior from Wisconsin and classmate Bryce Schulte (6-3, 244) hails from one of Iowa’s more successful high school programs, Cedar Rapids Xavier, where he played quarterback and linebacker. Cedar Falls High’s Jackson Frericks (6-6, 200) will be entering his redshirt freshman season.

With Iowa returning all of its production from last season at receiver and a new starting quarterback, which is expected to be Spencer Petras, it will be interesting to see how much of a share the tight ends draw. It could end up being based on matchups and this group certainly could create plenty of them.

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