Howe: Iowa Football ’20 Position-By-Position Outlook 1.0

December 4, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s a long offseason, folks. We must prepare.

Much of our discussion without Iowa football is fueled by speculating and projecting. With the bowl game weeks away, we might as well get started.

To help us get through it, I decided to begin a series of position breakdowns I’ll be updating periodically until we reach kickoff for the 2020 campaign. We likely will have roster changes throughout via early NFL entrees and transfers. Newcomers will emerge and returnees will rise.

Here’s the first installment during the first week of December as we await Sunday’s bowl announcement:

QUARTERBACK

The Hawkeyes will be replacing a three-year starter in Nate Stanley, who’s won 25 games behind center so far. That’s significant despite his detractors thinking his exit will be addition by subtraction. It won’t be.

Redshirt sophomore-to-be Spencer Petras heads into the offseason leading the pack of potential replacements after backing up Stanley this fall. Like Stanley, he’s a big, strong-armed signal caller that works best out of the pocket.

This year’s No. 3, Peyton Mansell, might be looking for a clearer path to playing time, whether that be at semester or after the spring. He’s a year ahead of Petras and could benefit from a system that utilizes his dual-threat ability.

Redshirt freshman-to-be Alex Padilla impressed head coach Kirk Ferentz with his play after enrolling early and participating in spring drills in April. He could make a move with a strong performances during bowl prep, offseason workouts and spring ball.

Four-star prospect Deuce Hogan, an incoming recruit from Texas, arrives with high expectations. If he wins the job, he would be the first true freshman to start a game for Iowa during the Ferentz Era, which began in ’99.

RUNNING BACK

Barring injury, Tyler Goodson will start and play a lot. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

If seniors-to-be Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent return, they figure to be in the mix for carries. The same can be said for junior Ivory Kelly-Martin. Freshman Shadrick Byrd is red shirting this fall.

Iowa adds talented incoming recruits Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams to the mix. They could play if they emerge like Goodson did this fall, especially if there’s attrition here.

The Hawkeyes also will be replacing fullback Brady Ross. Sophomore-to-be Turner Pallissard is No. 2 there right now. Keep an eye on Monte Pottbaum as well.

TIGHT END

After losing two first-rounders in April’s NFL Draft, Iowa sputtered out of the gate at this position. Through seven games, it produced 10 catches for 121 yards. During the final five contests, it contributed 15 catches for 240 yards. Several of those grabs came in key situations.

True freshman Sam LaPorta raised the profile in the receiving game down the stretch. He caught his first pass in Game 8 against Northwestern and finished the regular season with nine receptions for 144 yards, including a clutch grab during the winning drive at Nebraska last week.

The Hawkeyes will miss graduating senior Nate Wieting’s blocking and keen knowledge of the offense. Shaun Beyer, who caught seven passes for 117 yards this season, will be a fifth-year player and is improving annually as a blocker.

After Beyer and LaPorta, look for redshirt freshman-to-be Josiah Miamen (6-4, 235) to challenge for playing time. Iowa also will welcome in two talented true freshmen in Elijah Yelverton and Luke Lachey.

RECEIVER

It will be the most stacked position on the team in terms of proven quantities. Iowa’s top four passes catchers are expected back.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini combined for 2,057 yards on 155 receptions, an average of 12.9 per game. Add in the six combined grabs by Oliver Martin and Max Cooper, and those numbers bump to 161 and 13.4. The position was responsible for 113 catches last year with 15 of those coming in the Outback Bowl win against Mississippi State.

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These Hawkeye wideouts likely will top the the ’11 team (169) for the most receptions in this decade. And they’d accomplish it with more balance, as Ragaini’s team-leading 44 catches is well behind the 82 put up by Marvin McNutt in ’11.

Here’s a look at the receiver production during the coach Kirk Ferentz ERA:

The cupboard isn’t bare after the top four. Martin and Cooper saw the field this season as did redshirt freshman-to-be Desmond Huston. Redshirt sophomore-to-be Calvin Lockett appeared on the two-deep at times this fall.

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 hard to remember a time when the position has been this deep and talented.

OFFENSIVE LINE

We’re working with two heavily contrasting scenarios here. If tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson pass on the NFL and return for their senior seasons, the outlook is very bright. Without them, it’s cloudy.

There’s talent on the roster behind them. It’s just untested, for the most part.

Starting center Tyler Linderbaum enjoyed a solid freshman season and should be even better next year. Guards Kyler Schott and Cole Banwart have starting experience. Mark Kallenberger has played tackle and guard, and he figures into the mix with or without Wirfs and/or Jackson.

True freshman Justin Britt impressed the coaches this season before shutting it down to preserve his redshirt. Redshirt sophomores-to-be Cody Ince and Jack Plumb sat in the two-deep this fall and saw some game reps.

Noah Fenske, Tyler Endres and Ezra Miller red shirted this year, their first on campus, but came in highly regarded. Their classmate, walk-on Nick DeJong, played in a game.

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Here’s my best guess on the starters with or without Wirfs and Jackson:

With (from L-R) – Jackson, Britt, Linderbaum, Schott, Wirfs.

Without (from L-R) – Kallenberger, Britt, Linderbaum, Schott, Plumb.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Like the other side of the trench, we are awaiting underclassmen decisions on the NFL. Two-time, first-team all-Big Ten selection AJ Epenesa is projected as a first-round draft pick. The other starting end, Chauncey Golston, also could jump for the league after four years on campus.

Iowa loses starting defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff. Daviyon Nixon, Austin Schutle and Nohan Shannon will return on the inside after playing back-up roles in ’19. Redshirt freshman-to-be Logan Lee also could crack that rotation.

If Epenesa and Golston return, they start with John Waggoner, Zach VanValkenburg and Joe Evans backing them up again. If one or both move on, that trio moves up on the depth chart. Ends Taajhir McCall and Chris Reames red shirted this season as true freshmen.

Incoming freshmen Deontae Craig, Lukas Van Ness, Yahya Black, Logan Jones, Isaiah Bruce and Michael Lois all are viewed as potential help on the outside. Craig and Black might be the most ready for early contributions.

Iowa could go the junior college or graduate transfer route if Epenesa and/or Golston leave.

LINEBACKER

The Hawkeyes will miss middle man Kristian Welch. They need offseason progression from sophomores-to-be Dillon Doyle and Jack Campbell there.

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Djimon Colbert returns for his third season starting on the weak-side. Nick Niemann does the same at LEO.

Seth Benson and Barrington Wade have produced on special teams. They also have been used in sub-packages. Jestin Jacobs and Yahweh Jeudy red shirted as true freshmen, and could make a move with a strong offseason.

Iowa expects to sign Class of ’20 linebackers Jay Higgins and Ethan Hurkett later this month.

Barring injury, expect Colbert and Niemann to start in base defense. Doyle and Campbell have a lead at middle linebacker having gained experience this fall. The rest of the guys will be working during the offseason to break through.

SECONDARY

I’ll start with the Cash position because it’s a hybrid. Dane Belton is the man unless strong safety Geno Stone leaves early. Belton could replace Stone at that spot, creating an opening at Cash.

Iowa will be losing all-conference cornerback Michael Ojemudia. Fellow starter Matt Hankins could ask for a review from the NFL Draft advisory board, but he probably returns for his senior season. Jack Koerner comes back as the starting free safety.

If Stone and Hankins stay, that leaves only one starting spot available. Riley Moss and Julius Brents look like the leading candidates for it with D.J. Johnson and Terry Roberts also returning with experience.

Cornerback Jermari Harris saw some special teams’ action as a true freshman. Kaevon Merriweather started the first game of the season at free safety before sustaining an injury. Koerner then claimed the spot. Saftey Dallas Craddieth played in one game.

Daraun McKinney and Sebastian Castro red shirted this fall. Reginald Bracy, Brenden Deasfernandes, AJ Lawson and Keylen Gulley have verbally committed to Iowa’s ’20 Class.

It’s fair to wonder if we’ll see attrition here. That could occur at semester or after spring ball.

KICKER

Keith Duncan returns after being named the Big Ten’s best at the position. Caleb Shudak, who handled kickoffs in ’19, is in the transfer portal.

Lucas Amaya is red shirting as a first-year player. Oksaloosa’s Aaron Blom is walking on in the ’20 class.

PUNTER

Graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton upgraded the position in ’19. However, he had just the one season, and his predecessor, Colton Rastetter, also exhausted his eligibility.

Ryan Gersonde, who is on scholarship, should be recovered from an injury that wiped out his season. He’ll be a fourth-year junior.

After him, Iowa is in the market for help. You’d figure that the wants ads extend to graduate transfers, JUCOs and high schools.

HawkeyeNation.com’s Rob Howe has covered Iowa Hawkeye sports for 23 years and began working at HawkeyeNation.com in 2003. Please follow @RobHoweHN and @HawkeyeNationHQ on Twitter.

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