Five ’18 True Freshmen Who Could Help Hawkeyes Right Away

February 13, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – There was a time when it was easier picking a lock than playing as a true freshman at Iowa. Those days are gone.

The Hawkeyes employed 10 first-year players during each of the last two seasons. The previous two campaigns saw a total of seven true freshmen used.

Sometimes these patterns are cyclical. There’s a chance that with 20 first-year guys seeing action the last two falls, it will drop off in ’18. Don’t bet on it, though.

Iowa is recruiting at a higher level and there’s a willingness to live with freshmen mistakes, to a degree. Plus, the Hawkeyes will be replacing quite a bit of talent from last year’s outfit, including three starting linebackers.

When predicting which freshmen might see the field it’s good starting with positions of need. It’s also easier for non-linemen. A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs, who played last year, are exceptions, not the rule.

As mentioned, opportunity exists at linebacker. Depth is needed at defensive back, receiver and running back. Most likely, however, usage will happen on special teams.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five freshmen who could see the field this fall:

D.J. Johnson

6-0, 170

Cornerback

Indianapolis North Central

SKINNY: Johnson turned down offers from Notre Dame and LSU, among others. He’s long, athletic and shows good ball skills. The Hawkeyes lose all-American Josh Jackson and don’t have anybody with an extended track record of producing at this position. Manny Rugamba and Matt Hankins played as true freshmen here the last two years, and Johnson could follow. He might be eased in on special teams and sub packages or win a starting CB job out of camp. The opportunity is there.

Dillon Doyle

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6-3, 215

Linebacker

Iowa City West

SKINNY: The son of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, Dillon has grown up around the program. Of all the incoming recruits, he should be most comfortable transitioning from high school to college. He enrolled in January, giving him a jump start with training and spring ball. He played a LEO linebacker position in high school and projects there at Iowa, but he’s also versatile enough to move around. At the very least, I see him playing special teams in ’18.

Jayden McDonald

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6-1, 220

Linebacker

Suwanee (GA) North Gwinnett

SKINNY: Iowa’s last commitment in the class turned out to be an important one. McDonald won his state’s defensive player of the year award in leading his team to a championship. He’s very quick sideline to sideline, plays physical and can cover. He might be best suited for the weak-side and reminds me of Anthony Hitchens. McDonald comes in more college ready, however. He won’t get here until June, so he’ll need a good summer, but the potential is there for immediate playing time.

Henry Geil

Running Back

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6-1, 215

Green Bay (WI) Preble

SKINNY: Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young looked good in limited action as freshmen last year but hardly are proven commodities. Kyshaun Bryan red shirted in ’17 and saw very little field time after injuring his shoulder in camp. Toks Akinribade’s future is in question after a medical issue during December. There’s opportunity at this position, where injury risk is high. Geil comes to Iowa physically and mentally ready to compete.

Nico Ragaini

6-0, 185

Receiver

Avon (CT) Old Farms

SKINNY: Ragaini spent last season as a post-graduate student for Old Farms. He then enrolled at Iowa in January. He’s older and more experienced than the other receivers coming to campus. He gets a jump on them with winter workouts and spring ball. A really good athlete that could have gone to college for lacrosse, Ragaini shows polish as receiver with crisp route running and reliable hands.

NOTE: Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon might have the biggest immediate impact among incoming players. He wasn’t considered for this list because he played his freshman season at Iowa Western and will be a sophomore this fall at Iowa.

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