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How much impact will Iowa's red-shirt freshmen wide receivers have this season?


SO, IOWA HAS SOME NEW RECEIVERS? By now, I assume you've heard about Iowa's newest faces in the receiving corps. We saw them in action a little bit last August, before the red-shirts were handed out. We saw them last week at Iowa's open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. We've heard about them when Iowa receiver coach Bobby Kennedy talked spring football. He said they have the potential to be program changers but how soon? What should we expect this season?





BEFORE WE MOVE FORWARD, WE NEED TO MAKE SOME ASSUMPTIONS. Iowa receivers finished with 213 total receptions in 2013 (Brett Van Sloten's deflected catch included). That's the lowest number for Iowa football since 2009. The total number of receptions for the last five seasons are: 213 (2013), 223 (2012), 240 (211), 226 (2010) and 213 (2009). Iowa increased the tempo over the last season under Greg Davis' direction. For comparison, here's Iowa's rushing attempts over the same time span: 556 (2013), 404 (2012), 453 (2011), 449 (2010) and 454 (2009). Of course, the totals for the 2012 include one less game (no bowl). Iowa quarterbacks attempted 375 passes last season and 389 the year before. For the sake of this exercise, let's guess Iowa gets to a bowl game (13 games) and gets 240 total receptions.

NOW THAT WE'VE SETTLED ON 240, LET'S PREDICT HOW THOSE ARE DISTRIBUTED. Let's start with the top with Kevonte Martin-Manley. He finished last season with 40 receptions for 388 yards and five touchdowns. In 2012, he hauled in 52 receptions. With Iowa's developing depth he'll have a defined role as a short-yardage receiver from the slot and I think we can expect another 40 reception season.

Next on the list from 2013 is Tevaun Smith. He started 2013 slow with only four receptions in Iowa's first five games but collected 20 in a five game stretch before getting shut out in Iowa's final two games. He finished 2013 with 310 yards and one touchdown. I think he stays around 25 receptions and 300ish yards but improves his touchdown number to three or four.

Before we get to Damond Powell, let's see how many receptions graduated. Iowa loses 30 from C.J. Fiedorowicz (we'll get to the tight ends in a bit), 15 from Don Shumpert and two from Jordan Cotton. I bring the latter two numbers up because I think those 17 receptions go to Powell. He ended last season with 12 receptions (291 yards, 2 TDs) and an additional 17 bring him to 29. Iowa showed in their open spring practice that he's working on becoming much more than a deep threat/bubble screen receiver and I believe he could finish the season as Iowa's second leading receiver (receptions) and leader in yards.

WHO'S LEFT? Jacob Hillyer finished 2013 with 11 receptions. He's working in with the top group of receivers and is an excellent blocker. His number could improve in 2014 but let's say +/- 3. Riley McCarron caught three balls last year and that number, like Hillyer, is a +/- 3. There's also Matt VandeBerg, the only freshman of the five in the 2013 recruiting class to not red-shirt. He finished 2013 with eight receptions and is currently working with the first unit as a sub for Kevonte Martin-Manley in the slot. I predict VandeBerg's numbers will double this season and he'll haul in 15 or more passes.

I mentioned Fiedorowicz. He finished 2013 with 30 receptions and the tight end group, as a unit, caught 62 balls. Also, the running backs and fullbacks caught 35 passes. Iowa loses a big target in CJF but replace him with very capable pass catching tight ends. Jake Duzey is the lead returnee with 19 receptions. Ray Hamilton had only eight. Still, let's assume those numbers for both position groups stay close to the same.


Martin-Manley 40
D. Powell 29
T. Smith 25
Tight ends 60
RB/FB 35
VandeBerg 15
Hillyer 11
McCarron 3

THAT BRINGS US TO 218. Our number was 240. We can assume Iowa will have a more balanced attack this season. Last year, they were a run heavy offense as Jake Rudock got comfortable. If Iowa passes more and if Rudock completes a higher percentage, that 240 will move to 250 or 260. Still, take that percentage increase and add it to the numbers above.

SO, WHAT'S A REASONABLE EXPECTATION FOR IOWA'S RED-SHIRT FRESHMEN? I think it's fair to assume A.J. Jones will have one or less receptions next season. He still could have a fantastic fall camp and move up the charts but for now, he's working with the walk-ons (third team).

Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris make up Iowa's second team wide receivers. Mitchell is battling VandeBerg and McCarron for reps at the slot and Harris and Willies are working on the outside. Of the three, only Willies is currently listed in the two-deeps. Since this post is all about assumptions, I'll assume Willies and Harris get the most playing time of this group. With that, I'll guess there's 20 receptions among these three. Willies may collect 11, Harris 6 and Mitchell 3 or vice versa. They're going to see the field and they're going to make an impact but for now, let's assume that impact is minimal. At least in terms of receptions. Willies and Harris showed speed to get deep last Saturday and yards per reception is a different topic for a different day.

Injuries, of course, would change this. So will fall camp as these guys will be in their second year in the program and will be more comfortable with the offense. Iowa graduates Martin-Manley and Powell after 2014. VandeBerg and Mitchell will assume slot duties and Willies, Hillyer, Harris and Smith will be the top options on the outside. That's when the real impact of this receiver group will be felt.