Back in early 2011, we took a deep dive into Iowa's roster and the staggering number of players leaving the Iowa football program early. At that point, Iowa had finished a massively disappointing season, was recovering from the somewhat-exaggerated "drugs" scandal and the very real rhabdo issue, and had outside observers watching the Hawkeyes bleed skill position players asking just how the roster remained full. The findings: Iowa was losing approximately 8 players from each recruiting class, with nearly half of them coming from the small pool of Iowa non-redshirts.
Iowa appeared to have largely fix the problem in the Classes of 2010 and 2011. The Hawkeyes played eight true freshmen in the Class of 2010: Marcus Coker, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, B.J. Lowery, Tanner Miller, James Morris and Don Shumpert. If the trend from the previous four seasons held, four of them would leave the program early. In reality, just one -- Marcus Coker -- transferred out of Iowa. The other seven finished four seasons, and were multi-year contributors that finished with a respectable eight-win senior season.
But while it might have looked like the Hawkeyes had fixed the issue, attrition in fact remained a serious problem. Iowa eventually lost eight players from that class. Coker, A.J. Derby, Donavan Johnson, De'Andre Johnson and Austin Gray left due to homesickness, playing time, police issues or clashes with staff. Austin Vier and Jim Poggi had medical problems. Anthony Ferguson left football altogether but remained on campus working on social and political causes.
The problems continued from there. Here is the list of players who have left Iowa early, by class, since 2010:
2011 (10): Torrey Campbell, Marcus Collins, Marcus Grant, Dan Heiar, Nico Law, Mika'il McCall, Riley McMinn, John Raymon, Jake Rudock, Dean Tsopanides
2012 (8): Kevin Buford, Greg Garmon, Barkley Hill, Ruben Lile, Cody Sokol, LaRon Taylor, Daumantus Venckus-Cucchiara, Cameron Wilson
2013 (7): Colin Goebel, A.J. Jones, John Kenny, Malik Rucker, Nik Shimonek, Reggie Spearman, Derrick Willies
Upon further review, Iowa continues to lose roughly eight players per class, with almost all of them departing in their first three years on campus. Almost nothing has changed, after all.
Two things stand out on that list: The players leaving Iowa early are almost exclusively from outside the state of Iowa, and are predominantly skill position recruits. Of the 33 players who left the program from the Classes of 2010 through 2013, just three -- Austin Vier, A.J. Derby and Barkley Hill -- are high school recruits from the state of Iowa; not coincidentally, two of those three are the only two in-state skill position recruits Iowa landed during that period of time. An out-of-state recruit is 28% more likely to leave the program than an in-state recruit,* a rate that is similar to that found at Nebraska in an Omaha World-Herald piece from 2013. It's explainable, if not ideal. Iowa refocused on in-state recruiting in 2014 and 2015, signing fifteen Iowa recruits over those two years. Focusing on local talent might be Iowa's only chance to prevent an unsustainable attrition rate. Of course, it's also a surefire way to finish 12th in the Big Ten recruiting rankings two years in a row, as well.
The skill position issues are not so easy to ignore. Thirteen of the 33 early departures -- that's just under 40 percent -- played quarterback, running back or wide receiver, despite the fact that recruits at those positions made up just 28 percent of those recruiting classes. It's tough to identify which part of that number is scarier: That skill position players are leaving 30 percent more frequently than non-skill position players, or that a full half -- 13 of 26 -- of Iowa skill position recruits over that period left early. It's likely the latter number, given Iowa's continued offensive struggles.
There is a belief, real or perceived, that Kirk Ferentz is not particularly interested in playing the most talented players, opting for hard-working strength program guys and certain intangibles. It was a hypothesis reinforced by the Rudock/Beathard debate last year, the continued use of Mark Weisman at running back, and tine increasingly-heavy use of walk-ons at important positions. Iowa could potentially start six walk-ons next year, an unsustainable amount of non-scholarship talent on a Big Ten roster especially when those walk-ons are at left tackle and weakside linebacker. For a rebuilding program, useful walk-ons are a key way of protecting young scholarship talent. For a program with a 16-year head coach, each walk-on represents a recruiting and/or development failure. In Iowa's case, many of those are the result of players transferring out of the program and leaving a hole to fill.
Unfortunately, it also looks like much of Iowa's ongoing attrition problem derives from all of the walk-ons. Last week's freak-out, induced by the transfers of two members of the 2013 class, was about both timing and talent. The departures of Malik Rucker and John Kenny were the sixth and seventh transfers from that class, a level of attrition after two years not previously seen. At this point, a typical Iowa class has lost, at most, five players, and most are due to injury or stupidity Second-year players opting to leave the program is a terrible sign in itself, but when those players are among the best in a modestly-regarded class, it's potentially disastrous. Four of the top six ranked recruits in the Class of 2013 are now gone, with a fifth mysteriously missing from spring practice. If re-ranked following these departures, Iowa would have finished last in the conference in recruiting in 2013. Many of those players, including Kenny, Reggie Spearman, and Colin Goebel found themselves behind walk-ons from the same class, which only makes the transfer calculus simpler. And yet, their departures only solidify the talent problem. Early attrition makes it impossible for Iowa's developmental program to work. Iowa needs an influx of talent, yes, but more importantly an influx of talent that wants to be here, and if program policy needs to change to arrest the attrition rate, so be it.
The good news: Whether it is due to all of those in-state recruits or a change in the program or just dumb luck, the 2014 class has yet to lose a player. Given the number of crucial four-year players from the 2010 class, combined with the usual 2009 redshirt graduation rate, 2014 was a ridiculously important class for the future of the program. It should be the foundation of Iowa's football future, and for now, it's all still here.
* -- If you're looking for an explanation as to why Iowa opted for a quartet of in-state offensive linemen over four-star Illinois recruit Trevor Ruhland, this is a pretty decent reason.