Howe: Top 10 Most Indispensable Hawkeyes for ’19
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the uninitiated, the annual preseason piece brings you a list of Iowa football players the team can least afford to lose this season as the Hawkeyes pursue a championship.
Some years, I’ve broken this up into a daily countdown. I’ve also included up to 15 guys.
It’s dependent on my mood, which can be scary.
This time around, it’s a quick pulling off of the band-aid.
Here are the Top 10 for 2019:
10. Cedrick Lattimore, SR, Defensive Tackle
Why He’s Here: The fourth-year player from Detroit has flashed his high-ceiling ability in the past but has struggled with consistency. Some of that can be attributed to him being thrown in as a true freshman at a difficult spot to do so. Expect a break like we saw with Jaleel Johnson and others at this position.
9. Tyler Linderbaum, RS FR, Center
Why He’s Here: The Solon product’s placement here might be a little ambitious but it speaks to how highly his teammates and coaches feel about him. He’s also soaking up the vast majority of practice reps to speed up his learning curve. If he were to miss time, it would shake up the entire outlook of the line.
8. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, JR, Wide Receiver
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Why He’s Here: Speed. Smith-Marsette represents Iowa’s best deep threat in the passing game. He’s also the reigning Big Ten return man of the year. He’s done well in building up his body with the Iowa strength staff, which should allow him to take another step forward this season.
7. Brandon Smith, JR, Wide Receiver
Why He’s Here: With the loss of two first-round tight ends and the team’s top pass catcher (Nick Easley) from the last two seasons, Smith becomes the team’s most experienced receiver. He’s progressively improved with each game, and quarterback Nate Stanley trusts him. Smith is confident. That’s key.
6. Geno Stone, JR, Strong Safety
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Why He’s Here: Stone has quietly emerged as a leader in Iowa’s secondary, which loses NFL talent annually. Not only will he play a vital role at his position, he’s also helping to break in a new free safety in Kaevon Merriweather. The Pennsylvania product offers a nice mix of coverage and run-support ability.
5. Chauncey Golston, RS JR, Defensive End
Why He’s Here: He’ll be overshadowed by defending Big Ten sack leader and teammate A.J. Epenesa, but Golston is poised to make himself more well known to opposing quarterbacks. The Detroit native has grown while waiting his turn. He’s added strength and moves to go with his quick, athletic frame.
4. Tristan Wirfs, JR, Right Offensive Tackle
Why He’s Here: You can also call Wirfs 3B on this list. He makes up one of the conference’s top offensive tackle tandems. The third-year performer from Mount Vernon excels in pass protection and is trying to become more consistent in opening holes for the running game. It’s important to remember this is only this third season.
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3. Alaric Jackson, RS JR, Left Offensive Tackle
Why He’s Here: He’s protecting the blindside and has all-Big Ten laurels on his resume, which puts him a tick ahead of Wirfs on this list. With two full seasons of starting under his belt, Jackson should be ready to add a more consistent run-blocking presence to his ability to keep Stanley clean. Putting it all together will raise up his already-high NFL stock.
2. Nate Stanley, SR, Quarterback
Why He’s Here: Stanley is set to join Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi as the only three-year starters at QB during the two-decade Kirk Ferentz Era. He can join that pair in Hawkeye lore if he leads this team to a division title and beyond. Preforming better in big games and improving accuracy stand out as the two main hurdles to clear.
1. A.J. Epenesa, JR, Defensive End
Why He’s Here: He’s the best player on the team. A case can be made that he’s the Big Ten’s top dog. Sure, there’s a question about how he’ll perform as an every-down player because he hasn’t done it at this level. Don’t worry. Opposing coaches would vote for him to go back to being a reserve if they could. They want no part of trying to protect their quarterbacks from the Polynesian Predator.
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