IOWA CITY, Iowa – I started this exercise last year in July. As you can see, this summer has been a little busier.

Beginning today, we’ll count down the 15 most indispensable Hawkeyes for 2018. These are the players I believe the team can least afford to lose by way of injury, suspension, alien abduction or some other unforeseen reason.

I use several factors in generating this list. It starts with a given player’s ability. From there, experience, depth at a position, perceived development and a general sense of the roster are considered.

I’m guessing you guys will see things differently than me, at least to some degree. That’s OK. There’s plenty we don’t know at this point.

I had Manny Rugamba on this list last year and not Josh Jackson. That seems silly now but made sense at the time.

Let’s see if I can make a fool of myself again. I’m confident I can.

No. 15 – Alaric Jackson, Left Tackle

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No. 14 – Amani Jones, Middle Linebacker

No. 13 – Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Wide Receiver

No. 12 – A.J. Epenesa, Defensive End

No. 11 – Parker Hesse, Defensive End

Projected Backup – A.J. Epenesa.

Reason He’s Here – The top two guys listed at right defensive end on the latest depth chart come in back-to-back in this rundown. Hesse is the projected starter and gets the slight nod here as being more indispensable, although both are really important.

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The Hawkeyes are replacing their top defensive tackle in the graduated Nathan Bazata, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’ll be without two of their top defensive tackles in the season opener with Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore serving suspensions.

Iowa is going to need its defensive ends to set the tone up front. Hesse is the most experienced of the group. He’s not flashy but he’s technically sound and plays the run well. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t play his best football this fall.

The Waukon native checks in at 6-foot-1 and 261 pounds, so he has to play with great leverage and use his hands effectively to keep bigger offensive tackles off of him. He helps his cause by spending a lot of time in the film room studying his opponents.

Hesse is one of the team’s leaders, making sure younger players follow his example and he’s not afraid to speak up if necessary. There’s a lot of value in that.