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: Wide Receiver
We didn't plan on having all the skill positions go at the top of ATP. Really, we swear we didn't. It's just that there is abject chaos on the defense and two holes to fill on the offensive line. We're pretty certain of both starters at wideout, which is more than we can say for linebacker. Or defensive back. Or wideout the last three years, for that matter.
Seven Got Sixteen
Marvin McNutt (#7, Senior (RS), 6'4", 215, Hazlewood Central HS (St. Louis, MO))
In retrospect, Marvin McNutt has taken a common route to the top of the Iowa receiver depth chart: High school quarterback with elusiveness and hands learns routes and climbs quickly. Most of those players are converted when they get to campus. It just took McNutt a couple years longer than most.
The story of McNutt's conversion from quarterback to wide receiver is old news, covered in this space last year as it was everywhere else. The story now is what McNutt's done since the conversion. He had more receptions and yards than DJK last season despite being ostensibly the second target. His 53 catches were the most by an Iowa receiver in a single season since Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel went big in pass-happy 2004. His eight touchdown catches matched his mark from his breakout sophomore season. More importantly, he showed a marked improvement in speed and route-running, and he did it all without drama. McNutt could have skipped his senior season and gone to the NFL with Tyler Sash, and nobody would have disputed his credentials or his motivation; on paper, this isn't the team that last year's was, and money was certainly on the table (at least more than Sash).
As it stands, he's back with a new quarterback, new tight end, and new second wideout in the mix. He will be the leader and stabilizing force of the offense. He will also be the target of defensive coordinators across the league; in fact, the obvious double team potential could lead to a step back in production. He should get his catches, and he should take the pressure off the other pass catchers and (hopefully) open up the offense. Vandenberg is under center and Coker is in the backfield, but McNutt's presence might well be more important to Iowa's offensive success in 2011.
The New Math
Keenan Davis (#6, Junior, 6'3", 215, Washington HS (Cedar Rapids, IA))
Soup Campbell coached Mario Manningham. Soup Campbell coached Braylon Edwards. Soup Campbell coached Steve Breaston and Marquise Walker and David Terrell. Soup Campbell knows wideouts, and so when Soup Campbell says you're the most game-ready freshman wide receiver he's seen, you're something special.
And so it is for Keenan Davis, entering his third year in the program with all the hype in the world and little to show for it. Davis entered Iowa as a four-star recruit who, along with the now-departed Brandon Wegher, represented the most-hyped set of in-state skill position recruits in years. His talent was so unmistakable that, despite the presence of three experienced upperclassmen and the converted McNutt in the receiver pool, Davis shirked a redshirt for four catches as a freshman. He was again buried behind more experienced candidates as a sophomore, but registered eleven catches for 175 yards and added another 175 on nine kick returns.
There has been ample discussion of whether Davis has met expectations to date over this offseason, as we move from the relative certainty of DJK to the yet-unrealized promise of Davis. The fact is, with the durable, dependable, and talented DJK and McNutt ahead of him (to say nothing of Trey Stross and Colin Sandeman), there wasn't much Davis could do. The staff appears comfortable enough with the thought of him in the traditional WR2 role as third option and deep threat. If Soup says he's ready, we'll say he's ready.
The Third Wheels
Kevonte Martin-Manley (#11, Freshman (RS), 6'0", 190, Brother Rice HS (Pontiac, MI))
KMM was considered a bit of a project when he was recruited, but he's progressed more quickly than expected and should get significant playing time this year. Martin-Manley (2* Rivals, 2* Scout) picked up a late 2010 offer from Iowa and took it over scholarships from Bowling Green, Toledo, and Central Michigan. According to all accounts from inside the program, he is strong and smart and a solid route runner and blocker. He lacks ideal size and speed, though, making him a solid candidate for the sometimes-starting slot receiver spot. In other words, KMM didn't just inherit the hyphenated last name from DJK.
Don Shumpert (#8, Sophomore, 6'4", 185, Hazlewood Central HS (St. Louis, MO))
Shumpert represents a subtle shift in Iowa philosophy. In years past, Shumpert would have been on the fast track to the defensive backfield. Considered a three-star athlete by Rivals and two-star safety by Scout, Shumpert had experience at both safety and receiver with greater production on the defensive side of the ball. He spent his first year at Iowa on special teams, recording six tackles in four games. In the past, this was a recipe for becoming the next Iowa free safety. But Iowa has been stockpiling Shumpert-type walk-ons in the last couple of years; there are five walk-on wide receivers and five more walk-on defensive backs of the same make and model on the roster. And Shumpert, while a bit raw as a receiver, has the kind of speed Iowa needs. With Micah Hyde moving to safety, the dye is cast for Shumpert on offense. Now it's only a question of when he starts playing.
While You Wait for the Others
Jordan Cotton (#23, Sophomore (RS), 6'1", 185, Mt. Pleasant (IA) HS)
Cotton was the third in-state skill position recruit in 2009 and was receiving almost as much hype as Davis and Wegher. He was a high school halfback who projected to wide receiver, making his redshirt inevitable. But Cotton could play last year, and probably should have shown up on special teams somewhere if he was in the coaches' plans, and yet received a DNP in every game. It's not a huge deal, but it's slightly disconcerting for a guy with the personality and pedigree to do something special at Iowa.
Marcus Grant (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'2", 190, Lawrence Academy (Groton, MA))
Grant had the high school offers (Boston College, Syracuse, UConn) and interest (Maryland, Rutgers, Stanford) you want. It makes up for mediocre production (48 catches, 970 yards, 14 TD in his junior and senior seasons) and average ratings (3* across the board, position rankings between 90 and 140 nationwide). He's got the size to play off the bat, but until he's needed, he's a presumed redshirt.
Jacob Hillyer (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'4", 190, Somerset (TX) HS)
Speaking of size, Hillyer is tall and skinny. He was also productive as hell, with 87 catches, 1648 yards, and 18 touchdowns as a senior (with 94/1200/11 as a sophomore and junior). He lacks Grant's offer list (Colorado State and UTEP offers, with interest from Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Houston) and wasn't Iowa's top target (he didn't receive an offer until December), but that production is enough to make him the most accomplished incoming receiver. Iowa doesn't need another 6'4" guy on the outside as much as it needs slot receivers who can block, but if there's an injury, Hillyer could see the field.
Jake Duzey (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'4", 220, Athens HS (Troy, MI))
As for that slot receiver who can block, WR/TE hybrid Jake Duzey caught 75 passes in his last two years of high school, had an offer list that included Oregon, Michigan State, Purdue, and Cincinnati, and knows how to block and catch. With the logjam at tight end and Duzey's experience out wide, not only do we think Duzey will play receiver but will play early. If he's healthy through August, expect special teams duty with a view to a starting spot in 2012 or 2013.
Joe Audlehelm (#88, Senior (RS), 5'8", 180, Central Decatur HS (Van Wert, IA))
He is not going to play any significant minutes barring a plague taking out about 12 wideouts, but a quick mention of a fifth-year walk-on who has never received a pass, let alone a scholarship, spending 25 hours a week on practice and conditioning and paying his way to do it. Here's to you, Mr. Audlehelm, and to the rest of the walk-ons who give up their time and energy without the rewards of scholarship athletes.