Assume the Position 2013: Wide Receiver

Joe Robbins

We come to the end of the line. And we still don't really know anything.

Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.

Previously on Assume the Position 2013:

1. Tight End
2. Linebacker
3. Running Back
4. Defensive Tackle
5.
Cornerback
6.
Offensive line
7. Quarterback
8. Safety
9. Defensive End

Today: Wide Receiver

QUICK STAT: This is the first season since at least 1999 that Iowa does not have a four-star recruit on the roster at quarterback, running back, or wide receiver. HOT TAKE: That probably matters, at least a little, when we can't fill a three-wide formation without putting all three in the slot.

My biggest question coming out of ATP13 is this: Can't we sell success on the recruiting trail? Iowa put five defensive linemen in the NFL, including a first round draft pick, in 2011 and 2012, yet the depth chart is largely devoid of defensive ends, and those with the pedigree to inherit the role are still larval. Likewise, Iowa graduated -- well, kind of graduated, for one of them -- the two best wide receivers in program history in 2011 and 2012, a pair of converted high school quarterbacks who turned into legitimate pro prospects. One of them got drafted. And yet the depth chart at wide receiver is even more barren than the defensive end list. Does the coaching staff not understand how graduation works, that players eventually lose eligibility and leave? Why were we not filling the pipeline from the success of those prior players? Why were we not pitching every able-bodied four-star tight end or linebacker that he could be the next Adrian Clayborn with a redshirt and a position change? Why were we not telling three-star wide receivers that, if we could do that with McNutt and DJK, imagine what we can do with you? Does this happen?

Yeah, I have no idea.

The Hyphenated One

Kevonte Martin-Manley (#11, Junior (RS), 6'0, 205 lbs., Brother Rice HS (Pontiac, MI))

I'm going to get this out of the way right away: I love KMM. He's one of my favorite players on this team, an overlooked two-star recruit with MAC offers who has made himself one hell of a slot receiver. He had that incredible game against Pitt in 2011 (4 catches, 76 yards, 2 TD) on his way to a solid 30-catch campaign. He built on it as a sophomore on a team that had literally no passing game to speak of, catching 52 passes for 571 yards, both team highs. He's really good, far better than anyone could have imagined when he signed.

But KMM is a slot receiver. He's a mere 6'0 tall, he doesn't have blazing speed, and so he doesn't get separation from top corners with any regularity or position to muscle the cornerback out of the way. He's a route runner, a fearless pair of hands over the middle, a possession receiver. There are plenty of roles for that guy in this or any other offense, but WR#1 is generally not one of them.

Can Martin-Manley make it work? Sure, if only because he's confounded expectations before. But if the purpose of the offense is to get playmakers the ball in the best position to gain yardage, with space or blocks to help, and putting KMM on the outside defeats that purpose. Hopefully, Iowa finds a burner and a big receiver to pair on the outside, and KMM can resume his duties as a phenomenal slot receiver.

The Unknown Quantity

Tevaun Smith (#4, Sophomore, 6'2, 200 lbs., The Kent School (CT))

If he isn't the starter Saturday, it's likely only a matter of time before Tevaun Smith takes the top spot. He's young, he's athletic, and coaches like him. With a complete lack of additional information, this is as good as we can do.

Smith is originally from Ontario; we won't hold it against him. He left to attend the Kent School to generate some further interest from college programs. Iowa, UConn, and Temple took notice and made offers (Miami coach Al Golden had originally noticed him at Temple and kept an eye on him at Miami, but an offer never came). Iowa won that race, and Smith shirked off a redshirt and made three catches as a freshman.

We don't yet know how that will translate onto the field: A 16-yard catch against Northwestern and a pair of short receptions against Purdue doesn't change that. But as previously mentioned, the coaches like him, and on a roster full of young receivers, Smith looks like he belongs. Upperclassmen like Don Shumpert will likely get the first shot, but that shot won't last long.

The Speed Merchant

Damond Powell (#22, Junior, 5'11, 180 lbs., Snow C.C. (UT))

Iowa has had really fast receivers before, guys like Paul Chaney Jr. and Bashir Yamini who spent their fall playing football and their spring winning sprints. Coaches have never really known what to do with those guys -- Chaney ran an end around almost every time he entered the game; Yamini just ran fly routes -- mostly because those guys have never really had the hands to be anything more than a gimmick or decoy.

There's something a bit different about Powell. For one, he comes from a football background. Powell, who is originally from Toledo, caught 41 passes last season for an absurd 1,231 yards. That's 30 yards per catch, the top average yards per reception of any JUCO player. He had twice as many touchdown receptions as the entire Iowa roster. It's certainly true that those stats were compiled at a level significantly lower than the Big Ten, but there's no question that he can run routes, catch the ball, and make guys miss after the reception. Iowa needs all of those things.

The other big difference isn't so much about Powell as it is about Iowa's current staff. Ken O'Keefe never criticized the receiving corps for lack of speed, even when he was relying on Ramon Ochoa and Ed Hinkel to get deep. Davis (and Kennedy, now) want a different level of athleticism on the outside and, with their experience at Texas, they know how to use it. Powell's not on the depth chart right now, which only goes to show how stupid the depth chart is. He'll play, and he'll contribute.

The Others

Don Shumpert (#8, Senior, 6'3, 200 lbs., Hazelwood East HS (St. Louis, MO))

It's not often that a guy plays as a true freshman at Iowa and then never breaks through, but it's probably going to happen with Shumpert. He played on special teams as a freshman. He played early in his sophomore season, again on special teams. He won a starting job early last season and caught six passes in the first two games, but was effectively jettisoned from the depth chart after a plague of dropped passes. He didn't make another reception.

Shumpert is listed as the starting wide receiver again this year, but unless he had a hand transplant over the offseason, it feels extremely ceremonial. He would need to convince the coaches that he can catch the ball, contrary to all the evidence from earlier seasons. If he does that, there's possibly a role for him.

Jacob Hillyer (#17, Sophomore (RS), 6'4, 205 lbs., Somerset (TX) HS)

Hillyer, a consensus three-star prospect, impressed coaches as a true freshman enough that he made the travel team. When Drew Ott did this at defensive end last year, he eventually ended up in the game. Hillyer wasn't so lucky, and the redshirt stuck. He played on special teams last year, and caught one pass against Northwestern when Davis unofficially threw up his hands and played anyone with a pulse and a 4.5 40.

Hillyer has the right frame and an absurd level of high school production -- 2,700 yards and 26 touchdowns in his last two high school seasons -- that should eliminate any question of his ability as a receiver. And with Iowa so desperate to find four or five receivers that Hillyer has to enter the mix this season.

Jordan Cotton (#23, Senior (RS), 6'1, 192 lbs., Mt. Pleasant (IA) HS)

After four years lost on a modest depth chart, the light came on for Cotton as a return specialist in 2012. He managed to lead the conference in kick return average, including a 92-yard kick return touchdown against Penn State. Cotton was one of the few Hawkeyes to make the all-Big Ten team. It was a good year.

As a receiver, though, he's a work in progress running out of progression time. Cotton went three years before he finally caught a pass, then got 19 receptions last season (most memorable for the flea flicker catch against Minnesota). There are route-running issues, especially in the Davis sight read system. There is not a lot of confidence emanating from the staff, but a player can move up this depth chart quickly if the problems get resolved.

While You Wait for the Others

A.J. Jones (#88, Freshman, 6'3, 190 lbs., South Oak Cliff HS (Dallas, TX))
Andre Harris (#84, Freshman, 6'0, 170 lbs., Kirkwood (MO) HS)
Derrick Willies (#18, Freshman, 6'4, 205 lbs., Rock Island (IL) HS)
Derrick Mitchell, Jr. (#85, Freshman, 6'1, 190 lbs., Vashon HS (St. Louis, MO))
Matt VandeBerg (#89, Freshman, 6'1, 170 lbs., Brandon Valley HS (Brandon, SD))

Iowa went crazy in wide receiver recruiting this February, basically offering anyone who can run a sub-4.7 40 and catch a pass. But while Ferentz hasn't definitively said that they're all getting redshirts, his comments have fairly clearly ruled out any of these guys doing anything this year. We'll save them for later.

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