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.
Today: Tight End.
Each year, at the end of spring practice, we put together a basic outline of the rankings for ATP. Typically, there are at least five or six positions with established starters or starters-in-waiting that can be tackled early. This season, that is simply not the case. The Iowa roster hasn't held this much uncertainty in at least five years, perhaps longer. In fact, there are only two positions -- tight end and linebacker -- where we feel reasonably comfortable identifying all the starters, and there is enough drama at one linebacker position that tight end wins the first position.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (#86, Senior, 6'7, 265 lbs., Johnsburg (IL) HS)
It doesn't feel right that we've already reached the final season for Polish Hat, but this is it: The chosen mancrush of a plurality of Iowa fans for the past four years will soon be the chosen mancrush of some NFL fanbase. They grow up so quickly.
The whole thing made so much sense: A four-star genetic freak tight end who had tripped and fell and somehow committed to Ron Zook rescinded that commitment to come play for Tight End U, a program that had put walk-on Dallas Clark, zero-star prospect Scott Chandler, two-star recruits Allen Reisner and Brandon Myers, and four-star wunderkind Tony Moeaki in the NFL in the last decade. Fiedorowicz, with his ready-made Big Ten tight end physique and rumored supernatural athletic prowess, would be a starter by the end of his first season, dominate in Iowa's offense for three years, and graduate to the pros as a surefire first round draft pick.
It wasn't Fiedorowicz or Ferentz who created this narrative, but still: Given that narrative, hasn't it been a bit underwhelming? He played primarily on special teams as a freshman and caught a respectable 16 passes and three touchdowns as a sophomore despite starting the season behind two upperclassman. When Greg Davis took over the offense before Fiedorowicz's junior year, he told reporters that Polish Hat was probably the most talented tight end he'd ever coached.
The results in Fiedorowicz's first season in Davis' offense: 45 catches, 433 yards, one touchdown. That's 61 catches, 600 yards, and four scores in three seasons. His catch total last season exceeds anything that Moeaki or Myers did at Iowa, but it's far from overwhelming when coupled with his pedestrian yards per catch (as an example, when Dallas Clark caught 43 passes in 2002, he generated 742 yards and four touchdowns).
Fiedorowicz has been good -- in the last six games of 2012, he averaged nearly five catches and 43 yards a game -- but he's running out of chances to reach transcendence, to put his name in the stars with Clark. All indications are that the offense is going to gear toward the tight end more than ever this year. It's time for the Hat.
Ray Hamilton (#82, Junior, 6'5, 248 lbs., Strongsville (OH) HS)
Hamilton might not have had the hype of Fiedorowicz, but he had the recruiting stars (4* Rivals & Scout) and offers (Michigan, Florida State, Oregon, Oklahoma, and a late offer from Ohio State) that promised immediate impact. He did not redshirt and helped out on special teams as a freshman, garnering one reception for 15 yards. Losing that year of eligibility was of no great concern; he'd move into the rotation as a sophomore and contribute for three years.
Blocking took Hamilton some time, though, and he split time at TE2 with senior Zach Derby through most of 2012. He recorded two receptions: One for 20 yards against Michigan State, one for zero against Minnesota. Questions of responsibility in the running game should now be a thing of the past, his path on the depth chart is clear, and Hamiliton should make his presence known in 2013 before taking the top spot as a senior.
Jake Duzey (#87, Sophomore (RS), 6'4, 235 lbs., Athens HS (Troy, MI))
The biggest development of spring practice, at least from outside the program, was the creation of a "Y-back" position on the official depth chart, explained as a hybrid tight end/receiver-type substance. It's an intriguing move, given Iowa's perpetual fascination with the Patriots, the current offensive line coach's past employment with the Patriots, and probably one more thing about the Patriots. In any case, mini-tight ends are as prevalent at Iowa as mini-pones are at Pittsburgh Sports and Mini Ponies.
There's no better example than Duzey, a three-star recruit who held offers from MAC programs like Central Michigan, Bowling Green, and Purdue. Duzey was a bit of an anomaly: He played wide receiver in high school at 230 pounds, but projected as a tight end at the next level. He's a receiver-first -- maybe receiver-only -- tight end, which could make this Y-back thing interesting.
While You Wait for the Others
Henry Krieger-Coble (#80, Sophomore (RS), 6'4, 235 lbs., Mt. Pleasant (IA) HS)
HKC could also slot into the Y-back role -- he was listed behind Duzey on the spring depth chart at the new position -- bu also has the blocking ability and athletic talent to eventually take the top tight end spot. A redshirt season in 2011, followed by a late spurt of productivity as a redshirt freshman highlighted in a three-catch, 24-yard, one-TD performance against Michigan. The depth chart is loaded in front of him for 2013, but the future is bright.
George Kittle (#46, Freshman (RS), 6'4, 210 lbs., Norman (OK) HS)
Kittle, whose dad played offensive line at Iowa in the early 80s and took a circuitous, fascinating route to a spot on the current Oklahoma coaching staff, was a man without a position last year. The roster even listed him as an "athlete". But Kittle shined in Saturday's spring game, catching four passes for 36 yards and affirmatively asserting his place in the tight end rotation. Unfortunately for him, he's still probably stuck behind Duzey and HKC (who is Kittle's cousin) for the Y-back spot this season.
Jon Wisnieski (#??, Freshman, 6'5, 215 lbs., Dowling Catholic HS (West Des Moines))
Say hello to the default crown jewel of Iowa's 2013 recruiting class, the only player Iowa signed with a four-star rating from any of the scouting services...or at least until 24/7 dropped him to three-star status on Signing Day. He still had the highest rating of any Iowa recruit with that service. It probably won't save him from a redshirt unless he can contribute on special teams.
Ike Boettger (#??, Freshman, 6'5, 220 lbs., Cedar Falls (IA) HS)
Same goes for Boettger, who probably needs 20 additional pounds before he can play tight end in Iowa's system. Certainly a potential contributor in 2015, but it's highly unlikely you'll see him this fall.