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Iowa Football Recruiting 2017: Evaluating The Class

Evaluating the class of 2017.

Outback Bowl - Florida v Iowa Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

It’s time to put a bow on that 2017 football recruiting cycle, and what better way to go about doing that than an analysis breakdown on all of your new favorite Hawkeye football players?


6-5 | 270 | DE | Edwardsville (Ill.) High School

Rivals: 5 stars; Scout: 5 stars; 247Sports: 5 stars

Analysis: When you watch A.J. Epenesa play, it's hard to imagine him not living up to his 5-star billing. At the high school level, Epenesa dominated opposing offensive linemen with brutalizing power while also displaying violent hands when asked to play the run or get after the passer. In addition, Epenesa possesses an arsenal of "win" moves which includes a beautiful inside rip, an impressive outside and inside swim move, and a downright nasty bull rush. As an athlete, Epenesa displays both quick feet and great chase down speed. If you were to find one knock in his game, it would have to be the fact that, at times, he plays too high and ends up relying solely on his overwhelming power and athleticism to win matchups at the line scrimmage rather than leverage and technique. The second Epenesa steps foot on campus, I expect him to be considered one of Iowa's best defenders and if it were up to me, he’d be in line for a starting job from day one.


6-5 | 290 | OT | Mount Vernon (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 4 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 4 stars

Analysis: Tristan Wirfs may not be the most athletic tackle recruit that the Hawks have brought on board in recent years. However, there's a lot more to like about his game than to dislike. In his senior year, Wirfs displayed great hand patience and punch timing at left tackle while also showing great to-the-whistle physicality, along with impressive overall hand and body technique. In addition to his duties at left tackle, Wirfs also played a considerable amount at defensive tackle where he was able to show a similar high-level awareness and intelligence compared to what he displayed at left tackle; we're looking at a smart, well-rounded, and physical future Hawkeye here, folks.


6-6 | 250 | OT | Bettendorf (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 4 stars; 247Sports: 4 stars

Analysis: Much like with Wirfs, Mark Kallenberger is another in-state offensive tackle commit with a very high ceiling. However, at 6'6", 250-pounds, Kallenberger is much further away from being considered a final product than Wirfs. With that said, Kallenberger has all the upside imaginable, as he possesses tremendous length for the position in addition to displaying quick feet in pass protection, great fluidity in space, and that play-to-the-whistle edge that teams covet in an offensive lineman. It's no secret that Kallenberger is currently a "ball of clay" who will certainly need some time to refine his overall technique while simultaneously putting on a considerable amount of weight. However, if he's able to retain most of his athleticism with additional mass added to his frame, we could be looking at a potential star here.


6-1 | 186 | DB | Bishop Miege (Kan.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Coming in at 6'1", 186-pounds, Djimon Colbert will certainly be entering the program fairly close to his physical max. As an athlete, Colbert's top out speed isn't the greatest and his footwork isn't as light as you'd like it to be. However, he does display good fluidity when changing direction; athletically think somewhere along the lines of the late, great Tyler Sash.

Although Colbert has a tendency to play a little too high at times, he does possess incredible ball skills and is able to attack the catch point with ease and consistency while simultaneously displaying high-level awareness in coverage. Against the run, Colbert displays his intelligence when it comes to filling run lanes in addition to understanding how to engage and disengage blockers. As far as physicality is concerned, Colbert isn't the most powerful hitter. However, he does display great overall technique in addition to a willingness to come up and lay the hammer. Per 247 Sports, Colbert is listed as a cornerback. However, I believe he projects out more as a safety and a great safety at that.


6-2 | 189 | QB | Belton (Texas) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: When I first watched Peyton Mansell play, my immediate takeaway was his clearly evident toughness, as he consistently displays a willingness to stare down the gun barrel and get drilled in order to deliver a pass; very reminiscent of C.J. Beathard in this aspect. As a passer, Mansell doesn't throw with the greatest velocity I've seen, but coming in at 6'2", 189-pounds, there's still plenty of room to add to his frame. With that said, Mansell does have an excellent understanding of ball placement, as he's able to consistently hit his receivers in stride, deliver passes on the back shoulder, and throw his receivers open. In addition, Mansell also displays great touch when attempting to put the ball over defenders heads. As an athlete, Mansell possesses more than just functional athleticism, as he's able to pick up first downs when the opportunity presents itself and extend plays when the pocket breaks down. Lastly, his movement skills within the pocket are impressive; it's clear that he's been coached up very well in this area. Overall, Mansell certainly looks capable of eventually being named the starter and that alone is enough to get excited for.


5-10 | 190 | RB | St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: At 5’10”, 190-pounds, Kyshaun Bryan does register a little bit on the smaller side. However, don't underestimate his ability to come downhill, bounce off tackles, and leave defenders flat on the turf; he's a very compact 190-pounder. In addition to his downhill running ability, Bryan also displays impressive lateral quickness, burst, vision, and an understanding of patience; vision, patience, quickness, burst, physicality: That's all the makings of a great back. Bryan was a last minute addition to the 2017 class and he may end up being viewed as one of the more impactful additions when things are all said and done.


6-3 | 230 | DE | Mid-Prairie (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Levi Duwa’s journey to Iowa City has certainly experienced its fair share of ups and downs over the course of the past year. In September of 2016, Duwa’s senior football season ended prematurely after he suffered a ruptured tendon in his left foot. With the injury is not expected to be fully healed until about June, Duwa will be joining the Iowa football team a bit hobbled. With all that said, as a player — pre-injury — Duwa possesses great length for a defensive end and is able to display impressive quickness and explosion off the edge. As a pass rusher, Duwa is still a bit raw. He tends to play a bit too high at times and although he occasionally flashes good hand usage, for the most part, his hands just don’t appear active enough; he “wins” his matchups with brute force. Duwa is certainly an interesting player to monitor as he works himself back from the injury. However, if he’s able to fully recover, the Hawkeye coaching staff will have a nice ball of clay to work with.


6-0 | 158 | CB | Marcus (Texas) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Measuring in at 6’0”, 158-pounds, Matt Hankins does come in a bit on the smaller side in terms of weight and that’ll certainly be something to keep an eye over the course of his career. However, as a player and athlete, Hankins has just about everything teams look for in a lockdown cover corner. As an athlete, Hankins is smooth, as he’s able to display high-level quickness and fluidity when forced to change direction. In addition, Hankins also displays impressive speed that, when coupled with his incredible instincts, gives off the impression that he’s everywhere at once. In coverage, Hankins displays tremendous eye discipline when lined up in man coverage as well as a seemingly innate ability to attack the ball at the catch point; it certainly helps that he also has great length. Coming out of breaks, Hankins is explosive and is able to reach his target quickly. Lastly, against the run, Hankins doesn’t shy away from laying the hammer, despite his smaller size, and you can tell that, up to this point, he’s been well coached in this area of his game. If Hankins is able to add mass while not losing too much of his athleticism, we could be looking at a future star in the making.


6-3 | 197 | WR | Lake Cormorant (Miss.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Hawks fans, you wanted some new life at receiver? Well, you got some with Lake Cormorant’s Brandon Smith. When you watch Smith play, two things are immediately evident: He’s got that “my ball” mentality where he can go up from any angle or position and rip the ball out of the air and overall, he’s an absolute playmaker. As an athlete, Smith’s top-end speed isn’t the greatest. However, his quickness, fluidity in and out of breaks, physicality, and ability to go vertical are all on a different level compared to most receivers with a similar type of build. As a receiver, Smith’s catch radius is huge, as he can pluck the ball from just about anywhere imaginable; he’s got stick ‘em hands and long arms. In addition, Smith is able to run sharp, clean routes which include, from time to time, an excellent hesitation move, which is certainly impressive given his size and build. Smith has all the makings of being an excellent read zone threat given his physicality and ability to go up and get it. With that said, when you consider Smith’s ability to run refined routes, his fluidity and quickness in space, and his clear playmaking ability to create yards after the catch, I have no doubt he could be an excellent chain mover as well. In five to six years, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we’re looking back on what was a very successful playing career for Smith at Iowa.


5-11 | 195 | RB | Oswego East (Ill.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: One thing’s for sure Hawkeye fans, Iowa absolutely knocked it out of the ballpark with their two additions of Kyshaun Bryan and Ivory Kelly-Martin. With Kelly-Martin, his overall athleticism pops the second you start watching his film, as he possesses ankle-breaking lateral quickness, instant burst, and impressive top end speed; one of the more athletic backs that Iowa has brought on in a while. Much like Bryan, Kelly-Martin may give off the impression that he’s more of a change of pace type back. However, also like with Bryan, if defenders choose to embrace that perception, they’ll likely get hit with a hard dose of reality and end up lying face up with their back on the turf. As a runner, Kelly-Martin displays excellent cutback vision on outside zone runs and displays good patience while letting the play develop in front of him. His potential future is bright and if everything goes to plan, I believe we’re looking at a future star in the making.


5-11 | 181 | DB | Bradley-Bourbonnais (Ill.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: The first thing that jumps out about Camron Harrell’s game is his electric straight-line track speed, as he’s able to blow by defenders with ease when lined up on offense at receiver or running back and display impressive range when lined up on the backend at safety. However, although speed is certainly a desirable aspect for defensive backs to have, what often times makes or breaks a player on the backend is fluidity or the ability to flip your hips smoothly and change direction. This is an area of Harrell’s game where I believe he’ll have to show some improvement if he would like to be viewed as anything more than a depth or rotational safety at the next level. With that said, given his speed, I do believe he’ll, at the very least, be able to carve out a role on special teams.


6-0 | 168 | CB | Cartersville (Ga.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Trey Creamer is yet another in what has become a pool of talented defensive backs coming out of the 2017 recruiting class and I truly believe he’s the most talented of the bunch. When I watch Creamer play, and I promise I’m not engaging in hyperbole, it’s almost as if I’m turning back the clock and re-watching a younger version of Desmond King. Coming in at 6’0”, 168-pounds, Creamer’s body type is eerily similar to that of King’s as a recruit. As a player, the comparisons to King continue, as Creamer displays high-level physicality when playing the run. While in coverage—and even on offense when he’s asked to pass protect—Creamer really is cut out of that Desmond King cloth.

In addition to physicality, Creamer also displays great positioning and trail technique in coverage and is able to bait and break on passes thrown in his direction; he operates well in both man and zone coverage. Although Creamer’s top-end speed may not be the greatest, there’s no questioning whether or not he’s a fluid athlete, as he’s able to routinely flip his hips and change direction when the situation requires it. If Creamer is able to add on to his frame while simultaneously improving as an athlete, we could be looking at yet another in what has become a long line of excellent lockdown cornerbacks to pass through the gates of Kinnick Stadium.


6-4 | 225 | TE | Solon (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: The way Jacob Coons plays football won’t get many people jumping out of their seats with excitement. However, he’s the exact prototype that Iowa looks for with their tight ends. As an athlete, Coons won’t blow anyone away with his speed or quickness. However, for a tight end, he’s more than serviceable in both aspects, as he’s able to make moves in space and pick up yards after the catch. As a player, Coons is defined by his physicality, as he constantly plays to the whistle and finishes out his blocks. In the run game, Coons will certainly be a valuable addition at the end of the line of scrimmage, as he possesses the drive power to help chip or even take out opposing defensive ends and linebackers on his own.


6-3 | 190 | WR | Stevenson (Ill.) High School

Rivals: 2 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Lincolnshire native Henry Marchese was one of the later additions to the 2017 recruiting class. However, as the saying goes, “better late than never” and Hawk fans should certainly be thankful that Marchese is now a member of the Iowa football program. What stands out immediately with Marchese is his overall athleticism, as he’s a 6’3”, 190-pounder with track speed, impressive quickness, and a level of fluidity that makes him especially dangerous with the ball in his hands. As a receiver, Marchese is able to use his sizable frame to win contested catch situations and his long arms allow him to get to the high point the football with consistency. In addition, Marchese shows flashes of being an elite level route runner, especially with his release off the line of scrimmage. With that said, Marchese does need to polish himself more as a route runner overall, as he could benefit greatly from sharper patterns and quicker separation moves. Although the hype isn’t really there with Marchese, don’t be fooled. He’s an absolute baller.


6-0 | 175 | CB | American Heritage (Fla.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: Joshua Turner is yet another defensive back from the 2017 recruiting class and he isn’t even the last one I’ll be covering. As an athlete, Turner possesses excellent makeup and straight line speed and although he’s much faster than he is quick, his hip fluidity does appear to be serviceable in situations where he’s forced to change direction. In coverage, Turner appears to play much tighter when lined up at the line of scrimmage as opposed to playing off, which is likely due to his lack of quality fluidity in and out of breaks. This does tend to bite him at times, as he’ll occasionally find himself out of position and unintentionally baiting a pass in his direction. I use the term “bait” because of Turner’s excellent makeup speed, as it allows him to cover up a lot of his mistakes. In addition, Turner also displays violent hands when attacking the catch point, which allows him to register quite a few pass breakups on the stat sheet. Lastly, Turner exhibits great tackling form and, when needed, can certainly lay the hammer down. Turner will be an interesting player to monitor during his time at Iowa.


5-11 | 190 | DB | New Castle (Pa.) High School

Rivals: 2 stars; Scout: 2 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: New Castle native Geno Stone is the sixth and final defensive back from the 2017 recruiting class. What a haul. With Stone, physicality is the name of the game, especially between the hash marks, as he’s certainly willing and capable of coming up and laying the hammer. In addition, despite his lack of speed, Stone displays quality range from the safety position, as he’s able to fly all over the field and make plays in both the run and pass game. Although I don’t see much star potential in Stone, I do believe he could make an early impact on special teams and eventually carve out a rotational role at safety.


6-5 | 265 | DE | Madrid (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 2 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: What stands out with Coy Kirkpatrick’s game is his power, as he has a larger frame and consistently plows opposing defensive lineman off the ball. In addition, coming in at 6’5”, 250-pounds, Kirkpatrick comes attached with a very workable frame, which will allow the Iowa coaching staff to mold him into the positional role they desire. As a player, Kirkpatrick relies heavily on his brute strength to win most of his matchups. However, something he’ll need to improve on at Iowa is his pad level, as he tends to play a bit too high at times. In addition, Kirkpatrick’s first step is somewhat pedestrian and could certainly use some work. When things are all said and done, I do think Kirkpatrick could evolve into a nice depth or even rotational option at either defensive end or defensive tackle.


6-1 | 160 | WR | Weequahic (N.J.) High School

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: New Jersey native Ihmir Smith-Marsette is one of those players that I could conceivably see playing on either side of the ball. However, from what I hear from Black Heart Gold Pants’ very own JPinIC, the Hawkeye coaching staff views him more as a receiver for the time being, so that’s how I’ll address him here. As an athlete, Smith-Marsette is a smooth runner who seemingly glides through traffic with the ball in his hands. Although Smith-Marsette’s top end speed and overall quickness may not generate a whole lot of buzz, Smith-Marsettte will be paving his way as a possession receiver who plays with solid positioning and large enough hands to snatch the ball clean out of the air. I imagine he’ll be able to carve out a role in this offense sometime down the road.


6-0 | 175 | WR | Catholic Memorial (Wis.) High School

Rivals: 2 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 3 stars

Analysis: With so many talented skill position players in this recruiting class, the one seemingly getting lost in the rubble is 6’0” 175-lb Max Cooper. Cooper has all the makings to be a great slot receiver for the Hawkeyes, as he’s quick and explosive off his release and has proven to be a crafty route runner. Unlike the other three receivers in this class, Cooper doesn’t have quite the catch radius, as his arms are certainly on the shorter side. However, he consistently displays an ability to catch the ball away from his body. Cooper may never be a dynamic yards after the catch guy, given his lack of wiggle in space. However, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him in a key offensive role somewhere down the line.


6-3 | 220 | LB | Iowa City (Iowa) High School

Rivals: 2 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 2 stars

Analysis: Iowa City High’s Nate Wieland is a tough evaluation for me, not because he didn’t have the best tape or due to a lack of access. Instead, the reason why Wieland is such a tough evaluation is because, in college, he’ll be lining up at linebacker, a position he played lined up at zero times while in high school. What’s intriguing about Wieland is his athleticism relative to size, as he’s seemingly a running back in a linebacker’s body. Who knows how he’ll perform at linebacker at the next level; Kirk Ferentz compared him favorably to Anthony Hitchens and from a body type and athleticism perspective I can definitely see it.


6-5 | 290 | DE | Indian Trail (Wis.) Academy

Rivals: 3 stars; Scout: 3 stars; 247Sports: 2 stars

Analysis: Indian Trail Academy alum Daviyon Nixon possesses great length and size defensive end position and when you turn on his film his frame is the first thing you’ll notice. As an athlete, Nixon is impressive, as he’s able to display burst and quickness while carrying around 290-pounds. With that said, as a player, Nixon is about as raw and technically unrefined as they come and his pad level may present a serious issue at the next level. If Nixon is able to iron out the issues with his technique, we could be looking at an impactful contributor here.


6-4 | 185 | P | Marquette University (Wis.) High School

Rivals: N/A; Scout: N/A; 247Sports: N/A

Analysis: Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know about punter mechanics because I don’t. So, my analysis is this: Ryan Gersonde is seemingly a competent punter and he can boot it a considerable distance. That’s good enough for me.

2017 Recruiting Class Overview:

After going through each recruit’s film, it’s clear to me that there was a hard emphasis placed on adding athleticism during this recruiting cycle. Additionally, there was seemingly another emphasis placed on bringing in receivers who could not only go up and get jump balls but make plays as well and after watching this past season, I think it’s pretty clear why that was a point of emphasis.

Overall, this was an incredible haul for the Iowa program, as they were able to fill up at many key positions of need. In addition, I think the coaching staff did an excellent job at bringing on players not only fit a specific mold but also players who possess true star potential. Five to six years from now, I think we’ll all take look back on this class and view it as one of the best classes of the Kirk Ferentz era.