SPRING FOOTBALL is a time for development. Especially the lower half of the depth chart. Last year's freshmen have experienced the grind of a regular season but this is still their first spring session. Some of those new faces will be expected to provide reps this year -- particularly at the wide receiver position. So, let's take at look at the top 10 players that may make a big impact for Iowa Football in 2016.
1. JAMEER OUTSEY - Outsey began his career as an outside linebacker and even practiced at that position last Spring until a position change before Fall camp. Despite limited time at the position, he was good enough to earn playing time early last season over former 4-star recruit Jon Wisnieski. Outsey brought that linebacker mentality to his run-blocking and it was evident that got him the snaps. He still needs to develop into a pass-catching threat, but Iowa has George Kittle for that. Iowa likes to use multiple tight end sets and Outsey is penciled in as one of the two starters this spring.
2. AARON MENDS - Iowa couldn't use Mends his first year on campus at 210 pounds and he took a red-shirt season before getting in last year in mop-up duty and on special teams. Projected as a middle linebacker, Mends now comes into spring as the penciled in starter at WLB replacing departed senior Cole Fisher. He'll have competition as he and Jack Hockaday will compete in one of the most anticipated position battles of the off-season. He still has some pounds to add to match former Hawkeye Anthony Hitchen's 225 lb playing weight (he is listed at 220 this spring) but he may remind fans of the now Dallas Cowboy. Like Hicthens, Mends may lock down the starting WLB for the next three years.
3. JERMINIC SMITH - Smith was the first of the 2015 wide receiver recruiting class to see the field last year after Tevaun Smith injured a knee and couldn't play against Wisconsin. While Smith got plenty of targets against the Badgers, he couldn't make an impact. He'd follow up his first appearance with a 100+ receiving game at home against the Illini. Smith showed flashes of potential and may start opposite of Matt VandeBerg as a true sophomore. Iowa needs a deep threat which Smith may be but his long arms and length will work in traffic hauling in the tough catches, too.
4. ADRIAN FALCONER - Like Jermanic Smith, Falconer too skipped a red-shirt year and played a little in mop-up time and on special teams. Falconer didn't get a start or haul in a few catches like Smith but the nod for playing time indicates the staff thought enough of his talent to keep him ready in case of emergency. He currently sits behind senior Riley McCarron on the depth chart and baring injury, that may not change. Still, Iowa will rotate enough at wide receiver that we can expect some chances for Falconer to shine.
5. JACK HOCKADAY - Halfway through the 2015 season the coaches decided to toss the red-shirt for Hockaday aside to get him some experience on the field on special teams. That's usually an indication the coaching staff wants experience for a player they plan to use as a sophomore. Hockaday is currently #2 behind Aaron Mends at WLB and a year behind physically but could be a starter by August. If Hockaday sticks behind Mends he provides yet more depth at a linebacker corps that includes Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, Mends, and Bo Bower.
6. BRANDON SNYDER - Snyder is the current starter at free safety taking over for two-year starter Jordan Lomax. He is a former walk-on from Larchwood, Iowa. He's earned team leader awards as a red-shirt freshman on scout team and was second team behind Lomax as a red-shirt freshman.
He fits Iowa's mold here. He's a former Des Moines Register Iowa prep Athlete of the Year, Class A football player of the year and class A basketball player of the year. He'll have to hold off another former walk-on in Jake Gervase and maybe Anthony Gair who has some position flexibility at strong safety.
7. THE PAULSEN TWINS - The initial January depth chart looks pretty thin along the second wave of the offensive line. For starters, Sean Welsh is likely set in stone but Boone Myers and James Daniels will have work to do to stick at their listed starting guard and center spots. Myers has the playing experience at left tackle and could move out if Cole Croston or Ike Boettger falter or suffer injury. There's one guard spot in play this spring and one of the new faces from the big 2015 recruiting class figures to step in. Landon and Levi had the size when they arrived but acknowledged they needed some time to figure it out. Don't be surprised if one or not both of the twins are getting plenty of reps this spring and fall.
8. MICHAEL SLATER - Slater arrived at Iowa as a defensive end prospect but has moved inside to defensive tackle. Iowa is good at DT this spring with Jaleel Johnson and Nate Bazata returning, but as we saw last year, Iowa needs more depth so those guys don't wear down. Slater may start the spring behind Jake Hulett but expect him to play alongside senior Faith Ekakitie at some point next season. Slater should be the starter opposite of Bazata in 2017 and possibly for three years.
9. JAY SCHEEL - It already seems like he's been with Iowa forever but he's entering only his sophomore season of eligibility. Scheel used a red-shirt his first year on campus to rehab a knee injury. He's currently second behind Jerminic Smith on the depth chart but could ultimately end up in the slot behind McCarron and Falconer. This may be the stretch that determines if Scheel contributes at Iowa or not. He may be the 5th or 6th option at wide receiver and Iowa has Emmanuel Ogwo, Devonte Young, Jonathan Parker and Frank Darby (if he passes the SAT and signs) behind him.
10. BRETT WAECHTER - If not the Paulsen twins, perhaps Waechter is the guy that pushes Myers at guard. Rumblings from bowl prep said he may be the best of the 2015 class that includes current projected starter at center James Daniels. Like Daniels, Waechter got an early start enrolling last January but had a slight set-back with an injured shoulder. This will be his second spring session and that could be enough of an advantage to put him above both Paulsens.
Who do you think might breakout this spring?