Any worries that Iowa's recruiting momentum had ground down as of late have been effectively allayed with the commitment of tailback CJ Hilliard, a 5'10", 190-pound prospect from St. Xavier High in Cincinnati, OH. Hilliard joins CB/WR Omar Truitt (a Monday commitment from Washington, DC) as not only verbal commitments to the 2014 Hawkeyes' class, but products of the recruiting efforts of Iowa assistant Chris White. And as the Gazette reports, White's history in the NFL was a strong factor in Hilliard's commitment:
Hilliard said White's, and head coach Kirk Ferentz's, NFL ties didn't hurt.
"They both coached in the NFL and Coach White was associated with Adrian Peterson at the Minnesota Vikings," Hilliard said. "He knows what it takes to get to the League and he told me straight-up that he'll give me a chance to get to the next level."
Hilliard is a consensus 3-star recruit, and Iowa beat out Indiana, Boston College and a handful of MAC-type schools for his commitment. Hey, Indiana's no slouch in recruiting these days.
Also worth noting—CJ Hilliard has a younger brother, Justin, who is a serious prospect at linebacker in 2015. He's already got offers from several SEC schools, including South Carolina, as well as half of the Big Ten. Oh, and that includes Iowa. So are we looking at a package deal?
CJ is downplaying the connection, saying he won't try to recruit his little brother ("I don't want to get in his ear because if that was me I would be pretty annoyed," he told Rivals.com), so he's a good big brother in that sense. And while pairs of brothers generally aren't package deals, Justin did tell HawkeyeReport.com that Iowa has "an edge/advantage" based on how much he and CJ enjoyed a recent unofficial visit.
Justin has not announced any leaders in his recruitment, and he won't be able to sign with anyone for 20 months. So y'know... don't read a whole lot into this situation yet.
Now, the key question is
how will AIRBHG maim this poor kid can CJ Hilliard play ball? We would say so. Highlights here:
Marc Morehouse used the word "instinctual" to describe Hilliard's running style; that word came to mind early and often with us as well. He's definitely not near either end of the Fred Russell-Rob Thein spectrum when it comes to athleticism or running style, but he absolutely looks like a serviceable type of back, especially in a zone running scheme like Iowa's.
Hilliard has average speed for a running back, which sounds like an insult but isn't. Average speed for a running back is just fine. The two best running backs of the Kirk Ferentz era are Ladell Betts and Shonn Greene, and their straight-line speed was about that same average. Hilliard won't bust many huge runs, but what makes a running back valuable to a team is about far more than whether he can run a 4.4.
In fact, Hilliard's running style and athleticism makes his ideal comparison Sedrick Shaw—another medium-sized, one-cut guy who had a good, innate understanding of seams and rarely missed opportunities to maximize his yardage. Shaw was a more dynamic runner and had a really special determination, but we see plenty of instances where Hilliard puts his head down and gets yards after contact instead of running away from it.
Hilliard's size is not ideal for that style of running, but the good news is he'll have plenty of time in Iowa's weight program to get his body more in line with what a collegiate tailback's ought to be—especially if he redshirts, which as it stands right now is a good possibility. If he can maintain his speed and bulk up to the 205, 210 range (a physical development that is generally standard at this level of play) he has a chance to be a very good contributor in the backfield for Iowa down the road. Again, Sedrick Shaw is the ideal goal, and even if Hilliard falls short of that ideal, it's entirely plausible that he develops into a 1,000-yard rusher.
One last recruiting note to keep in the ol' brain parts over the next few weeks/months—per Todd Worly of 247Sports.com ($$-ish link, some posts in thread are behind a paywall), Iowa just sent an offer to 4-star QB and current Rutgers commit Tyler Wiegers. There aren't significant rumblings of a Wiegers decommit at this point, but Iowa must think something's up to go after a kid like this.
Also noteworthy—Iowa is pretty well-stocked with young QBs and already has a commit in the 2014 class: Jay Scheel. Scheel has outstanding athleticism but every indication is that he's being recruited as a quarterback. Also, his commitment is solid.
So what gives? Why the push for a committed kid away from a position of need now? Well, aside from the fact that the Rutgers administration is a tire fire, there's also this point--Iowa's last two starting QBs, Ricky Stanzi and James Vandenberg, both came from the last two classes where Iowa took two freshman QBs. And Vandenberg was just fine before he was placed in the Horizontal Death Offense.
So keep an eye on Wiegers. He's Rutgers-bound until anyone says otherwise, but Iowa seems to think his recruitment's not done. We'll see if there's anything to that.