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Let’s look under the hood of this recruiting class, and see what the 2018 ‘crooting trail looks like

Missouri State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? National Signing Day is the in the books, and if you’ve missed any of our coverage, well where have you been?

To get you up to speed quick, below you can find Iowa’s class of 2017.

For those of you keeping score at home, this class is ranked 41st overall by 247, and eighth in the Big Ten, ahead of Rutgers, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue, respectively. Not long ago Iowa was ranked as low as 12th in the conference by some recruiting services, so if nothing else we should feel optimistic about the late surge Iowa’s coaches made to secure some highly-touted and under-the-radar guys alike.

We could talk Texodus until we’re blue in the face, but the reality of the situation is Iowa salvaged what was shaping up to be a very poor recruiting cycle, addressed a handful of needs, and signed more than a few guys that we should be excited about.

Let’s take a look at those needs, swoon over who we’re looking most forward to seeing in a Hawkeye uniform, and then take just a little peak at recruiting for next year because we can’t get enough of the stuff.

Not a want, but a need

Iowa addressed its biggest need by signing six count ‘em SIX defensive backs this cycle. Iowa has just four scholarship players at safety and corner apiece on its roster right now, and there’s a very good (almost certain) chance one or more of these guys sees the field next year in more than just spot or special teams duty. We saw it last year with Manny Rugamba, and we saw it with Desmond King before that. I believe Phil Parker likes trial by fire for his defensive backs, and it’s tough to argue with the results he’s been getting.

Trey Creamer and Geno Stone are probably the frontrunners to see playing time early, but honestly we can’t sleep on anyone. People seem to emerge every year during Iowa’s spring camp, and you can’t rule out Matt Hankins or Djimon Colbert to make a push for playing time up against a relatively inexperienced secondary.

Defensive back wasn’t the only need Iowa had to address yesterday. No, not even close.

With the departure of Johnathan Parker and Derrick Mitchell and the graduation of LeShun Daniels this offseason, Iowa’s backfield was left hamstrung. It was Akrum Wadley, Toks Akrinibade and that’s sort of it. With Marcel Joly and Toren Young also on scholarship, Iowa was left with few options if an Iowa running back-hating deity felt the need to exert any type of wrath this year.

Lo and behold, Iowa not only had a very capable back waiting in its DMs with Ivory Kelly-Martin, but the Hawkeyes also lured Kyshaun (pronounced Keyshaun) Bryan away from South Carolina at the 11th hour, and man was he a get.

Bryan had offers from Clemson (he was apparently recruited by Brent Venables himself), Florida State, Florida, LSU, Michigan and Ohio State among a few others. You just have to feel like Iowa caught lightning in a bottle here.

And finally, Iowa filled its other most-urgent need with Peyton Mansell at the quarterback position. Sure, we have sophomore Nathan Stanley next year—who the coaches must be high on, seeing as how he leapfrogged Tyler Wiegers as a true freshman—but what does that say about Wiegers? There’s also Drew Cook in the mix, but everything we’ve been seeing says that all signs point to him moving to linebacker next year.

So that leaves just two quarterbacks on scholarship if the rumors about Cook are to be believed. That’s not great! The addition of Mansell at least puts some of those worries to rest.

Mansell has been committed to the Hawkeyes for quite some time, and if there’s one guy to be excited about in this class that isn’t named AJ Epenesa, it’s Mansell.

Did you say AJ Epenesa? Great, because that leads us to our next point:

By all accounts, Epenesa is the best recruit Iowa has had since ... ever. Even though the Iowa defensive line is relatively sound with the Nelson’s, Parker Hesse and Nathan Bazata in the fold, there’s just no way Epenesa doesn’t see the field next year.

I mean come on.

I haven’t been a Hawkeye fan for that long, so I’ve certainly never been this excited for a recruit. Epenesa seems like the kind of player you tell your kids about.

And I’ll say it again: I MEAN COME ON.

Eight kicks? That’ll do.

The other guy I’m real excited to see in pads is Brandon Smith. Wide receiver is the fourth-most position of need for the future, and Smith is almost certainly the future.

Aside from the fact there’s a really really good story about how Smith made his way to campus, he should also shape up to be a damn good football player. The Brian Ferentz era starts now for the Hawkeyes, and he’s talked about how Iowa needs bigger and badder receivers. Smith fits that role as a guy who can friggin’ high jump almost seven feet while standing at 6-3, 205 lbs.

Iowa has just five scholarship players at receiver not including this crop of ‘croots. After Matt VandeBerg and Jerminic Smith no one is really guaranteed to see the field in any sort of significant capacity. I still have high hopes for Devonte Young, but after that, I’m #AllIn on Brandon Smith.

Other notes

  1. Out of 22 commits, Iowa was split down the middle on offense and defense (if you count a punter on defense). I mean that’s what you want, right? I imagine it’s tough to find a balance on these kinds of things, and that’s about as clear cut as you can get.
  2. At first I was a nervous that Iowa had just two offensive lineman in this class, but then I looked around at past classes and ... I’m still a little nervous. The norm is usually 3-5 linemen for Iowa and even though the ceiling is sky-high for Tristan Wirfs and Mark Kallenberger, Iowa has just 12 offensive lineman on scholarship and could get hamstrung on the interior in a couple years, since both of the aforementioned signees project to be tackles. There’s speculation that Coy Kirkpatrick could move to the offensive side of the ball, but I really liked what I saw in his film as a D-lineman, and would be afraid that moving him would be a waste of his talents.
  3. The Hawkeyes are moving away from ... Iowa. I think. Six of Iowa’s signees this year are from the Hawkeye state, while five ‘croots came from Iowa a year ago. In 2015 Iowa had nine players sign in-state, while eight recruits came from Iowa the year before. This year we brought on players from Georgia and Mississippi—which isn’t exactly normal—while snagging three guys from Wisconsin. It’s good to win border battles, even if it’s done so quietly. Iowa surely missed on some big in-state names like Rocky Lombardi (that’s a big name if I ever heard one) and Oliver Martin, but it’s nice to see the Hawkeyes are replacing in-state talent with out-of-state talent, rather than lesser in-state talent as they have in the past.
  4. We better feel good about the linebackers we already have on campus. Nate Wieland is the lone backer in this class, and even though many believe the Iowa City West High product has flown under-the-radar during this recruiting cycle, I think it’s fair to assume at this time that there’s a reason he’s been assessed just two stars and his only other offers came from Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. It’s only fair to mention that he didn’t play a snap of linebacker in high school, so who knows how he could really be at the position. Iowa has had plenty of luck turning projects at the linebacker position into all-conference players, but if there’s one position to keep an eye on next year, it’s linebacker.

Oh, did someone say next year?

Hand on the pulse

I touched on this a little above, but Iowa’s two biggest positions of need after the season that hasn’t even been played yet will probably be offensive line and linebacker, and what do you know, the Hawkeyes have already begun addressing those needs.

Granted it’s just two guys and neither is that highly-touted, but Iowa has a pretty good track record in terms of getting on top of players early, and both the above come from schools with pedigrees when it comes to producing D-I football players. Look for Iowa to add some more linemen and linebackers next year. If there’s two positions we have success at developing it’s those two.

And really after that, there’s nothing too pressing for Iowa to address. The Hawkeyes will certainly want to add a running back or two with the departure of Akrum Wadley, and another quarterback has to be in the fold as Wiegers and Stanley enter their years as upperclassmen. Another receiver or two will be in the mix, as will a tight end and some defensive backs, but other than that, Iowa should feel damn good about where it stands after this recruiting cycle. And if Iowa feels good about something, that means you do too, right?