ASSUME THE POSITION 2014: TIGHT END

Matthew Holst

It's become Iowa's signature position, but with the departure of the Polish Hat, is the depth chart getting a bit thin?

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:

1. Quarterback
2. Defensive Tackle

Today: Tight End

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
82 Ray Hamilton SR 6-5/250 Tight End
87 Jake Duzey JR(RS) 6-4/245 Tight End
80 Henry Krieger Coble JR(RS) 6-4/250 Tight End
46 George Kittle SO(RS) 6-4/230 Tight End
81 Jon Wisnieski FR(RS) 6-5/235 Tight End

Another year, another NFL-bound Iowa tight end: C.J. Fiedorowicz became the seventh tight end drafted out of Iowa since Kirk Ferentz arrived in 1999, a list that doesn't include at least two undrafted free agents who enjoyed decent pro careers.  Iowa has been able to pitch its NFL prowess to recruits -- the average star rating of an Iowa tight end recruit is second only to offensive line -- and has delivered on those promises.

With that said, there are only five viable tight ends on the current depth chart, three of which are in their fourth season with the program.  Since the Hawkeyes signed a trio of tight ends in 2011, just one player has signed as a tight end.  And while Iowa stumbled into players like Dallas Clark and Allen Reisner in the past, relying on walk-ons to fill a position so crucial to the Iowa offense seems foolish.

Going Ham

Ray Hamilton (#82, Senior, 6'5, 250 lbs., Strongsville (OH) HS)

Hamilton might be the most overlooked four-star recruit in Iowa football history.  He had all the things that Iowa fans usually crave -- the top rating, the frame, the position, and the Ohio State offer -- but came just a year after the freak show that was Fiedorowicz.  While fans alternately salivated and screamed over Fiedorowicz for the next three years, Hamilton was given the opportunity to develop into a solid blocker and competent receiver.  He is exactly what we should want: an effective all-around tight end.

The bad news: He was important enough as a freshman to avoid a redshirt, and being stuck behind Polish Hat means that he enters his final season with just eleven career catches for 130 yards.  While Iowa still has a tight end coach and Kirk Ferentz at the helm, guaranteeing that a tight end is going to be used in the offense, coordinator Greg Davis never really knew what to do with Fiedorowicz.  And while Hamilton is a damn fine tight end, he's not the athlete that Fiedorowicz is.

It likely won't be solely up to Hamilton to keep tight end relevant in the passing game and not just an edge blocker and decoy -- again, that depends largely on the offensive staff -- but it will be his obligation to do the best with whatever role Davis & Co. give him this year.  He should be able to do just that, and the combination of pro-style experience, size, and speed should get Hamilton into the league in the 2015 Draft.

The X-Factor

Jake Duzey (#87, Junior (RS), 6'4, 245 lbs., Athens HS (Troy, Mich.))

Last spring, Iowa released a depth chart with a newly-created hybrid tight end position.  It was clearly made for Duzey, a tight end/wide receiver tweener when he signed with Iowa in 2011 who hadn't produced much in his first three years in the program -- three catches, sixteen yards -- but had talent and versatility that Iowa could use.

The hybrid position was long gone by fall, and the offense's use of Duzey was scattershot throughout the campaign.  Through six games, Duzey had caught just four passes for 31 yards, with three of those receptions against Missouri State.  He was the third tight end on a depth chart that really only needed two, and there were other players who could better contribute in block-first situations.  Duzey needed an offense that would utilize his ability as a receiver and allow him some cover in run blocking.  When Iowa arrived in Columbus, it had precisely that offense, and Duzey exploded for 138 yards on six catches against the Buckeyes.  His day was highlighted by an 85-yard touchdown catch, in which Duzey wheeled around the Buckeye linebackers, broke behind the secondary, and improbably outran the Ohio State defense to the end zone.

Duzey_medium

It was eventually a loss, but Duzey's game at OSU proved what Iowa could do offensively if it fully integrated its tight ends into the mix.  It was the most effective an Iowa offense had looked against an athletic defense in years, and it played to the team's obvious strengths.  So, of course, within two weeks it had been scrapped, and Duzey returned to the bottom of the receiving progression.  He caught six passes over the final five regular season games, before a respectable three-catch performance against LSU in the Outback Bowl.

Duzey is not a prototypical Iowa TE2.  The usual second tight end is, first and foremost, a blocker, and while Duzey is competent in run blocking, it's hardly his specialty.  And if Iowa opts for classmate Henry Krieger Coble in those typical two tight end situations, it would leave Duzey again waiting for the three tight end look or situational duty, neither of which suits a player of his ability.  We say it every year, but it bears repeating: Iowa needs to get creative it if is effectively going to use an obvious talent, but expecting Iowa to be creative on offense is the province of the gullible and stupid.  We'll hope for more, but we're not holding our collective breath.

While You Wait for the Others

Henry Krieger Coble (#80, Junior (RS), 6'4, 250 lbs., Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) HS)

His frame is perfect, his background typically Iowa, but HKC has always been stuck behind Fiedorowicz and Hamilton.  His four-catch performance against Michigan in 2012 portended a step into the spotlight last year, but Krieger Coble actually regressed statistically as a sophomore: Zero catches, zero yards.  With Polish off to the NFL and the job technically open, HKC could leapfrog Hamilton and Duzey in August.  More likely: He gets the call in blocking situations this year and, depending on the staff's comfort level with Duzey in the run game, could be the starter in 2015.

George Kittle (#46, Sophomore (RS), 6'4, 230 lbs., Norman (Okla.) HS)

Kittle has to be one of the odder stories of the last couple of years.  Kittle is the son of Bruce Kittle, a former Iowa player and assistant currently on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma.  He's also the cousin of Henry Krieger Coble.  Ferentz threw him a scholarship late in the 2012 cycle, and Kittle committed as a 6'4, 200-pound tight end/H-back/linebacker project.  His germination cycle wasn't long: Despite being buried on an experienced depth chart, Kittle caught five passes last season.  He even got a start against Iowa State.  He has some ability, and a knack for turning modest plays into big gains that Iowa desperately needs.  Expect a Duzey-like 2014 with an eye on serious playing time in 2015.

Jon Wisnieski (#81, Freshman (RS), 6'5, 235 lbs., Dowling Catholic HS (West Des Moines, Iowa))

Wisnieski put on fifteen pounds in his first season in the program, a much-needed redshirt campaign that sets him up to be the next great Iowa tight end.  As it stands right now, Wisnieski is a solid fifth on a depth chart that needs four players at the absolute most and, as such, he's highly unlikely to do much in 2014.  Certainly worth keeping an eye on, though: If he's beating out guys that the coaches love like HKC and Kittle for playing time, we'll know he could be something special.

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