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Iowa Football Recruiting: Top Remaining Needs, Targets for Hawkeyes in Class of 2018

With the first ever early signing day in the rearview mirror, we turn our attention to the remaining needs and top available targets as the Hawkeyes look to fill out their class of 2018 before the final signing day in February.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin
With early signing day in the rear-view mirror, Kirk Ferentz and staff looks ahead to the second signing day in February.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been less than a month since the first-ever early signing period in college football and yet we are also less than a month away from the final signing day for the class of 2018.

We are also at the end of the current dead period in recruiting which disallows face-to-face communication between prospects and coaching staffs (read that as no in-person visits to a prospects home, school etc. and no visits to campus by prospects). With a live contact period beginning today, there’s no better time to take a look at the remaining needs in the class of 2018 and who the top targets are to fill those needs.

To understand the remaining needs, it’s best to first recap where the class stands today. You’ll recall from our early signing day postmortem that all seventeen of Iowa’s verbal commitments signed during the first signing period December 20-22. In addition, the Hawkeyes landed another WR commit in Connecticut product Nico Ragaini earlier this week. Add in 2017 commit Daviyon Nixon who spent the first semester at Iowa Western CC and you’re looking at 19 commits in the fold already.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz has said a number of times the team plans to take between 20 and 22 commitments in this class. Depending on where you think Nixon fits (as a JUCO transfer coming in at semester, he can count toward either 2017 or 2018) that means anywhere from 1-3 additional commitments before February 7th.

Remaining Needs

A quick look at the assumed positional needs lends some guidance on what types of athletes those final commits may be. As you can see, the Hawkeyes are at or above our assumed needs for every position except linebacker.

Given that, it’s a safe bet one of the final commits will be a linebacker. Beyond that, things get a little fuzzy. The departure of center James Daniels opens the door for the staff to take an additional linemen in this group. They already have a trio committed in Cody Ince, Jeff Jenkins and former TE Jack Plumb, but none are likely to convert to center.

There have, however, been rumors of 2017 DL commit Levi Duwa taking reps at center during bowl prep. Rumors have also surfaced that the staff may ask 2018 commit and Army All-American DT Tyler Linderbaum to take a shot at center duties given the additions of the aforementioned Nixon and Oswego, Illinois native Noah Shannon at the defensive tackle position in this class. If either of those make the move, it becomes less likely the staff takes a center as they already have some options on the roster with Keegan Render having filled Daniels’ void in the season opener last year and youngsters Cole Banwart and Spencer Williams with the potential to step up.

Beyond that, it sounds as if any other additions would be best available type commitments. There has been little attention paid to the running back spot since the commitment of Wisconsin-native Henry Geil and the announcement that Samson Evans will also start at RB rather that WR would indicate little need for another back in the class. However, there are rumors swirling of potential departures, despite the comments made by Kirk Ferentz during his most recent press conference. Marcel Joly is a prime candidate for a graduate transfer and there’s speculation that Toks Akinribade may not be healthy enough to participate this season, which could lend to hanging up the cleats altogether. If those were to happen, Iowa would be left with only 5 running backs, three of which would be in the freshman class. Perhaps a RB would be on the table after all.

Other potential additions would be at wide receiver. The class already has a trio committed with Tyrone Tracy, Calvin Lockett and now Nico Ragaini. As mentioned above, it’s also possible Samson Evans ends up as a receiver and defensive back commit Terry Roberts looked quite good in that role on his Cathedral Prep team.

Top Targets

Jayden McDonald

Hometown: Suwanee, GA (North Gwinnett)
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 210
Stars: 3

McDonald is a former Rutgers commit out of Georgia who appears to check all the boxes for a linebacker to round out this class. He has OK size for an outside linebacker at 6’1”-6’2” depending on your site of choice and he can easily build out from his 210 pound frame now to north of 225. What he really brings to the position is the speed and lateral quickness many Hawkeye fans have been looking for.

That speed and quickness allows him to play in coverage very well. He shows good instincts in undercutting routes and stepping in front of receivers. His speed really shows as he breaks away from would-be tacklers on interceptions.

Aside from the athleticism, McDonald also brings a penchant for the big hit as well as the big play. There are several instances of him delivering a big shot in pursuit and nearly as many where he foregoes the big hit to make a play on the ball, stripping the ball-carrier and using that athleticism to get into the endzone.

McDonald has an official visit scheduled to Iowa City on January 26th. He will also receive an in-home visit from linebackers coach Seth Wallace next Tuesday, according to Blair Sanders of Rivals. The Hawkeyes are in good shape here, offering him shortly before he announced his decommitment from Rutgers.

In addition to Iowa, McDonald plans to visit Kansas State and Ole Miss prior to signing day.

James Miller

Hometown: Seffner, FL (Armwood)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 220
Stars: 3

Miller is the only linebacker listed who projects as a potential inside linebacker at the collegiate level. The Florida-native was a name the Hawkeyes were in on early and have now circled back to.

Unlike the other two prospects, Miller’s strong-suit is in run support. He shows great instincts sniffing out plays and getting into the backfield. His closing speed once he makes a decision is excellent. When he gets to the point of attack, he is a hard hitter.

Miller is a bit less likely than McDonald given the cooling off period Iowa had with him. The Hawkeyes have had some success in Seffner previously, but Miller may be difficult to lure with offers from slew of teams in the southeast, including LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Louisville and several others.

Jasir Cox

Hometown: Shawnee Mission, KS (Bishop Meige)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 200
Stars: N/A

Cox is a bit of a hybrid, playing some outside linebacker as well as safety in high school. He formerly prepped at Raytown South in Kansas City, but finished his prep career at Bishop Meige. As you might expect given he spent time at safety, Cox’s strength is in coverage.

He shows a good ability to stick with receivers through breaks and make a read on the ball. He has good quickness to recover if beaten and good tracking skills. He’s the smallest of the linebacker prospects listed and probably plays the least physical of any of them. But at 6’2” he has the frame to add bulk and seems to have some toughness.

Cox is unrated by the major recruiting services and is primarily being recruited by FCS schools at this point. He has offers from South Dakota and North Dakota State, where he’s planning an official visit January 19th.

Drake Stoops

Hometown: Norman, OK (Norman North)
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 175
Stars: 3

Stoops is a name we’ve covered a few times here previously. He’s a shifty slot receiver who could do well in the role currently played by Nick Easley. However, as time marches forward, the likelihood of him ending up in Iowa City dwindles. He’s rumored to be strongly leaning toward accepting a walk on opportunity at Oklahoma. It’s also rumored he would have his tuition paid for due to Bob Stoops’ prior position at the school. The addition of Nico Ragaini makes it even less likely.

**Update: Drake Stoops has now announced his decision attend Oklahoma.**

Nikia Jones

Hometown: Wagoner, OK (Wagoner)
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 210
Stars: 3

Nikia Jones is a new name on the Hawkeyes’ board, He’s a guy whose skillset resembles more of Calvin Lockett’s in this class or perhaps Brandon Smith in last year’s group. He would be a nice complement to guys like Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini.

At 6’3” and 210 pounds, he has a very good frame for a receiver. He does a good job of using that to his advantage. He doesn’t have elite speed, but with his size it’s certainly adequate. He also shows good hands and an ability to utilize his frame to go up and get the ball.

Jones doesn’t yet have an Iowa offer and with the recent addition of Ragaini he may not get one. He could certainly fit in that “best available” category as things wind down if space is available. He currently has offers from Oregon State, Kansas, Iowa State and some mid-majors. While ther’s nothing imminent here, it’s a good name to monitor down the stretch.