An oldie but a goodie.
Putting a bow on Iowa's 2013 recruiting efforts.
I'm not interested in grading Iowa's recruiting class -- it's far too soon for that to be a productive endeavor -- but we can at least look at the class and see what trends emerge, as well as what areas Iowa managed to address -- and what areas they failed to address.
WHAT IOWA DID
Greg Davis gonna Greg Davis. We can question whether or not Greg Davis can run an effective offense at Iowa. We can question whether or not Greg Davis' preferred schemes and philosophies can work in tandem with Kirk Ferentz's preferred schemes and philosophies. We can question whether or not Greg Davis did enough to actually work with the personnel he had at his disposal last year. But we probably can't dispute that the pieces on hand were not ideal fits for what Greg Davis would like to do on offense. And it also seems clear that Kirk Ferentz isn't interested in continuing the exact same offense that Iowa ran for the first 13 years of his tenure here -- you just don't hire Greg Davis and install him as offensive coordinator if that's your goal. If he wanted the same ol', same ol', there were undoubtedly other options on the table.
Now exactly what sort of Frankenstein's monster it is that Ferentz wants to create from the offense is still a little unclear... but this recruiting class probably gives us a few more clues. This was the first full recruiting cycle with Greg Davis in tow and the offensive players Iowa recruited have his fingerprints all over them (more or less). As usual, Iowa got a quarterback (Nic Shimonek), but Shimonek is certainly a Davis recruit: he's a Texan (Iowa's first QB from the Lone Star State since Drew Tate, if memory serves) and he was pursued because of Davis' connections down there. He's the first QB on the team that Davis has evaluated from start to finish; he is, presumably, the QB that Davis wants to run his offense (or at least the type of QB that Davis wants to run his offense). That doesn't mean he'll be running Iowa's offense in 2013 -- he'll still be a true freshman, after all -- but his recruitment is still telling.
Likewise, Iowa signed up a score of receivers in this class: five players who directly project as receivers (Damond Powell, Derrick Willies, Andre Harris, Derrick Mitchell, and Anjeus Jones), as well as two running backs who might transition into receivers (Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker). That's a lot of options at Davis' disposal. As we've discussed extensively, Davis didn't like the receivers Iowa had on hand last year -- they didn't fit what he wanted to do on offense. Well, he's got options now, options that are presumably more to his liking. The Greg Davis-led passing offense was an outright horrorshow in 2012, but 2013 should give us a slightly better idea of what it could look like with the right sort of pieces in place (with the usual caveat that we're talking about mostly freshmen here, so performance is still likely to be variable).
MOAR RUNNING BACKS. As we know, Iowa needs running backs. Iowa always needs running backs. The program bleeds running backs at an alarming rate, so it's vital that Iowa keeps the pipeline flowing at that position. It took a while, but Iowa finally added to his running back collection in this class. LeShun Daniels flipped from Boston College to Iowa in mid-December and two more running backs (Wadley and Parker) came on board this week. Daniels is a more prototypical Iowa bruiser (5-11, 220); Parker and Wadley (both listed at 5-10, 180) are either intended to be change-of-pace backs (a concept Iowa has employed rarely since the Albert Young-Damian Sims days) or future slot receivers. I would say more about them, but... why? They're running backs. At Iowa. Getting attached to them is just setting yourself up for heartbreak.
The secondary is primary. Iowa is slated to lose only two defensive backs next year (B.J. Lowery, Tanner Miller), but the secondary requires a fairly steady influx of new bodies, so it wasn't too surprising to see Iowa sign three defensive backs this year (especially since defensive backs are also useful on ye olde special teams coverage units). Two might project as cornerbacks for now (Desmond King, Malik Rucker), while the other projects as a safety (Solomon Warfield). The future seems a bit brighter at CB than S for now -- two freshmen cornerbacks had flashes of strong play last year (Kevin Buford, Sean Draper) and sophomore Jordan Lomax was earning strong reviews before going down with an injury in training camp -- so Warfield probably has a slightly better shot of cracking the two-deeps, but defensive back is one position where Iowa has rarely been too afraid to play a newcomer.
Plug the middle, stuff the run. Iowa didn't add a lot of defensive linemen in this class (and more on that in a moment), but they did add two defensive tackles (Nathan Bazata, Brant Gressel) who look well-suited to fill the plugger role in the Iowa defense. Being a plugger isn't the sexiest position on the field, but it's a very necessary one: someone needs to occupy those blockers and make it hard for running backs to gash Iowa up the middle. Bazata and Gressel look well-suited to fill that plugger role for years to come.
WHAT IOWA DIDN'T DO
Wanted: Defensive ends. On the other hand, Iowa failed to add any obvious defensive end-types in this recruiting class, which is pretty alarming. Outside of Dominic Alvis, Iowa has basically no experience at defensive end (and The Dominic Alvis Experience has been rather inconsistent, frankly). Hell, they barely even have players who are practice experienced at defensive end. The likely remaining options at defensive end are a trio of sophomores (Riley McMinn, Drew Ott, and Bud Spears) and a redshirt freshman (Daumantas Venckus). There's also the possibility that someone perhaps penciled in at DT right now (like Mike Hardy or Dean Tsopanides, or true freshmen Jaleel Johnson or Faith Ekakitie) could play outside more in 2013, but that doesn't do anything to answer the question marks at defensive end for 2013 (and beyond).
When asked about the dearth of defensive end recruits in the 2013 class, Ferentz indicated that there weren't any prospects that they really liked (or, rather, that they really liked and that liked them back; recruiting is a two-way street, of course) and said that they didn't want to take on any project defensive ends in this class. The latter comment is appreciated -- looking at the current defensive ends, it seems clear that we're running a surplus on project defensive ends -- but the former comment is very concerning. Iowa has impressive pedigree at defensive end (see: Aaron Kampman, Matt Roth, Kenny Iwebema, and Adrian Clayborn, to name a few) and an obvious opportunity for playing time (as anyone who watched just ten minutes of 2012 game film could tell you) and they couldn't get any bites from legit defensive ends? Yikes. Defensive end had better be the top priority in the 2014 recruiting class and that means beating the bushes for JUCO defensive ends, too. Gary Barta can claim that "hope is not a strategy," but it's clear that that's all we have at defensive end right now.
Light on big uglies. Unlike defensive end, offensive line wasn't an enormous priority for Iowa in the 2013 class -- Iowa had taken at least three linemen in each of the past few classes -- but the fact that Iowa only ended up with two linemen is still a little surprising. Iowa loses four senior linemen after 2013 (Nolan MacMillan, Drew Clark, Brett Van Sloten, and Conor Boffeli), so the numbers will certainly need to be replenished in the 2014 recruiting class. Iowa should probably target some future tackle prospects, in particular, since several of Iowa's recent linemen gets seem better suited to play inside (at least for now).
Searching for a Pat Angerer (or Abdul Hodge) starter kit. Much like running back, Iowa ended up landing several linebackers in this class... it just took a while. John Kenny gave his verbal commitment to Iowa back in April, but no other linebackers bit on Iowa offers until this week: Josey Jewell was the latest recipient of the Brandon Myers Memorial Award (given annually to the in-state 2* recruit who gets an offer days before Signing Day) and Reggie Spearman did his infamous hat dance the night before Signing Day. With three senior linebackers in 2013, adding linebackers was certainly a priority for Iowa in this class, and while they managed to keep the numbers the same, they still may have a hole to address. Other than Quinton Alston (who will be a junior himself in 2013), Iowa doesn't appear to have a ready-made middle linebacker on the roster to replace James Morris after this season. Chances are that they could shift over one of the other linebackers if necessary, but that's probably not an ideal fit. Finding the next Pat Angerer (or Abdul Hodge) needs to be a priority in the 2014 class.
Still a Hawkeye state? Iowa added just three players from the state of Iowa in this class (Jon Wisnieski of West Des Moines, Ike Boettger of Cedar Falls, and Josey Jewell of Decorah) and just one of the top-five players on Rivals' in-state rankings (Wisnieski). They had a verbal commitment from another member of that top-five (Trevon Young), but they ended up yanking his offer last fall after repeated run-ins with the law. Meanwhile, three of the members of that top-five (OL Jake Campos, QB Joel Lanning, and OL Ryan Glenn) are headed to Ames. Granted, you can't exactly say that Iowa State "beat" Iowa for all of their signatures when Iowa only offered Campos, but this is still something to watch. Iowa doesn't produce a ton of top-tier football talent, so in and of itself only getting three in-state players isn't necessarily a bad thing. But Iowa still produces some good talent and it's still important that Iowa convinces the vast majority of that talent to take their talents to Iowa City. The good news is that in-state recruiting is already looking more promising in 2014, with two of the state's top recruits, Ross Pierschbacher and Jay Scheel, already giving their verbal commitments to Iowa. Let's see more of that, please.
Look to the stars. For the first time since 2008, Iowa failed to sign at least one Rivals 4* recruit in a recruiting class. I'm not going to rehash the "do stars matter?" argument, since it usually boils down to the same point (they're not the be-all, end-all, but they are valuable), but it's still a little alarming to see a class devoid of 4* players. Only one other Big Ten team failed to sign a Rivals 4* player in their 2013 class -- Minnesota. Iowa's recruiting in 2008 and 2009 was distinctly unimpressive (only two 4* recruits in those classes and a barrage of 2* project-types; the '13 class at least has relatively few 2* project-types), which was been a significant contributing factor in the on-field struggles over the past few years. On paper, the '13 class still looks a bit better than those classes, but classes like this can't be the norm if Iowa expects to get out of their current rut. Much like the in-state recruiting, though, 2014 offers more hope: Pierschbacher is already a Rivals 4* recruit and given his life-long Iowa fandom, he seems less likely to bolt Iowa for greener pastures than this year's 4* commits (David Kenney, Delano Hill).