Okay, time for a little quiz. Can you match the Iowa player to the stat line below?
PLAYER A: 50 receptions, 713 yards, 4 TD
PLAYER B: 45 receptions, 750 yards, 2 TD
PLAYER C: 63 receptions, 744 yards, 7 TD
The answer is after the jump.
Stumped? Okay, here's the answer:
KEENAN DAVIS (2011, Jr): 50 receptions, 713 yards, 4 TD
DERRELL JOHNSON-KOULIANOS (2009, Jr): 45 receptions, 750 yards, 2 TD
ED HINKEL (2004, Jr): 63 receptions, 744 yards, 7 TD
I get the sense there is a distinct lack of trust in Keenan Davis as Iowa's main receiving option as he heads into his senior season in 2012. When pundits and prognosticators tab Davis as one of the Big Ten's top returning receivers, there's a definite sense of skepticism from Iowa fans. "Wait, Keenan? Really?" And yet, on a statistical basis, his junior season compares very favorably with the junior seasons of two of the best Iowa receivers of the past decade. But I think it's fair to say that there was a lot more optimism for DJK and Hinkel heading into their senior seasons at Iowa.
To be sure, the situations aren't identical. As a junior, DJK was finishing up his third consecutive year as Iowa's leading receiver; his production increased steadily throughout his Iowa career (2007: 38 receptions, 482 yards, 2 TD; 2008: 44 receptions, 639 yards, 3 TD). Keenan Davis had two very quiet seasons prior to last year (2009: 4 receptions, 55 yards, 1 TD; 2010: 11 receptions, 131 yards, 1 TD). Then again, he was also trying to scrounge up catches at the same time that Iowa had arguably its greatest one-two punch ever at receiver (DJK-McNutt) and when Iowa was still (as usual) doggedly devoted to running the ball. Comparing Davis to those two seems deeply unfair. Hinkel's situation is actually far more similar to Davis' current situation. Unlike DJK, Hinkel was not that accomplished heading into his junior year (2002: 22 receptions, 218 yards, 1 TD; 2003: 10 receptions, 108 yards, 1 TD) and he was mostly well-known for that ZOMG AWESOME catch against Penn State two years earlier.
And, look, I understand some of the frustration with Keenan. I really do. I watched the same games as the rest of you. I saw him drop balls that seemed very catchable. I saw him seem to disappear at times in games. He's not a finished product yet. Then again, neither were DJK or Hinkel. They dropped passes. They had bad games. 50 catches for 714 yards and 4 touchdowns is a more than respectable effort for a number-two receiver, especially a number-two receiver in Iowa's offense.
I can't help but wonder how much of the distrust -- disappointment, even -- with Davis stems from his lofty recruiting profile. Iowa doesn't get 4* recruits at the skill-position slots very often; in fact, as far as I can tell, he's the only 4* wide receiver Iowa has ever landed under Ferentz. He's also a local product, from just up the road in Cedar Rapids, which only exacerbated the hype and the expectations. But at a certain point that stuff ceases to be relevant -- or at least it should cease being relevant. He's a senior in his fourth year in the program; it's time to put aside the recruiting hype and the hope of seeing the local boy become a superstar and accept him for what he is.
He's not a savior and he's not going to rewrite the Iowa record book. But he is a good football player coming off a perfectly good season, with every reason to expect a senior season that could be as good or better. Sure, not having McNutt around to attract the defense's attention will hurt, but his chemistry with Vandenberg should be stronger than ever and he'll be playing in what sounds like a very pass-friendly offense. You don't have to believe that he's going to have a senior season on par with what McNutt did last year (y'know, only the single-greatest season an Iowa receiver has ever had), but I think it's OK to trust him a little bit. It's OK to see his name and not have your first reaction be suspicion and mistrust. In Keenan we trust? I think so.