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Iowa Football Recruiting: National Signing Day Postmortem

Both signing days are officially in the rearview mirror. We’ve looked at each individually, as well as the large group of walk-ons headed to Iowa City. But how does Iowa’s class of 2018 look in its entirety?

NCAA Football: NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa
Iowa’s recruiting class of 2018 appears to be very talented. Will they prove it on the field?
The Des Moines Register-USA TODAY Sports

With both of college football’s national signing days officially in the rearview mirror, it’s time to reflect on how the recruiting class of 2018 as a whole for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Previously, we’ve taken a look at the group which signed in December and the group that signed in February separately, as well as the large group of walk-ons headed to Iowa City. But how does the group look as a whole? Let’s dive in.

In total, the class includes 22 scholarship players and 20 walk-ons. That’s pretty big. In a typical class, Iowa would have 20-25 scholarship players and 10-12 walk-ons. As pointed out earlier this week, this year’s group of walk-ons isn’t just big, it’s quite good. In many years of past, several of the players walking on would have received last minute scholarship offers from the Hawkeyes. With the new early signing period, things changed this year.

They appear to have changed for the better for Iowa. The class of 2018 is ranked 39th nationally according to Rivals and 40th according to the 247 Composite. That’s good enough for 7th in the Big Ten according to Rivals - behind only Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Maryland - and 8th in 247 behind the same group and Minnesota.

It’s also good enough to be Iowa’s best recruiting class since 2011 and the 4th best going back to 2002.

Historical Iowa Recruiting Class Rankings

Year Rivals 247 Composite
Year Rivals 247 Composite
2018 39 40
2017 40 41
2016 42 47
2015 59 59
2014 56 58
2013 51 56
2012 44 40
2011 30 26
2010 45 36
2009 69 64
2008 53 50
2007 29 29
2006 42 37
2005 11 6
2004 52 114
2003 46 40
2002 51 NR

There seems to be a general consensus among Iowa fans that recruiting rankings and stars and all that jazz don’t mean anything. That’s almost certainly true on an individual level. Recruiting services depend largely on people who have played very little, if any, actual football to go out and identify talent and assign some objective rating to them. There are thousands and thousands of players to evaluate and the recruiting services may have a couple hundred people doing evaluations in the best case scenario. Players are bound to fall through the cracks.

Historically, Iowa has done a tremendous job of both finding those players who have fallen through the cracks as well as taking players who may have been properly rated and developing them into much better players. That’s been integral to the Hawkeyes’ success under Kirk Ferentz.

But success has also been highly correlated with finding honest to goodness talented players who the recruiting services didn’t miss. The major difference between Iowa and your run of the mill blueblood program who looks to amass as many stars as possible is the need to keep those players in the system. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and the rest can simply reload. They look to add a bunch of 4- and 5-star players and plug them into the 2-deeps in year one or two. At Iowa, those high quality players are typically asked to develop and contribute as juniors and seniors.

When you look at Iowa’s recruiting classes compared to their on-field success when those athletes are upper-classmen, the correlation is pretty obvious.

We’ll dive into this a bit more in a later post as there are obviously other factors to consider, but this chart shows a pretty clear picture: Iowa football is better when it lands better recruiting classes. This looks like one of those better classes.

Assessing Needs

Aside from simply being good, this class addressed some needs for the Hawkeyes. Thought there weren’t many pressing needs, there were a few. In addition, there are a few positions, like QB, where the staff likes to take at least one commitment in every class to keep solid depth and allow players to develop. This year was no different.

Here’s a look at how things shook out from a positional standpoint relative to perceived needs at the beginning of the cycle.

From a need fulfillment standpoint, the most notable position was linebacker, where Iowa signed 4 in the group. That was a critical need with the departure of 3 starters at the position.

They did so by adding some quality athletes. Local product DIllon Doyle, fellow Iowan Logan Klemp and South Dakota-native Seth Benson all appear like solid pickups, ranging from 2-3-stars. But the potential star of the group is the late addition - Georgia-native Jayden McDonald.

While the other linebackers all show decent ability in coverage and solid skills in run support, McDonald brings speed and quickness at the position the Hawkeyes simply haven’t had since the departure of Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. Given some of the things Phil Parker asks his linebackers to do schematically, the addition of McDonald could be a big deal.

The other position-group with a bit of a need was the WR group. While the staff brought in a number of athletes in the 2017 class, the group is still young and looking for contributors, especially with the recent departures of Matt Quarrels and Adrian Falconer.

With the need out there, the staff landed three true WRs and another athlete who could project there. Indianapolis-native Tyrone Tracy is a bit of a hybrid who put up video game numbers during his senior season at Decatur Central while playing both WR and RB. He will start at WR, but has the skillset to be utilized creatively if offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz so chooses.

Calvin Lockett is a pure outside receiver from Florida who may be just what the Iowa fans have been asking for. He’s got great size at 6’2” and he can get behind the defense from the outside. With the return of Ken O’Keefe, we may see a trend back toward some of these bigger frame receivers (a la Brandon Smith a year ago).

Nico Ragaini was a bit of a surprise addition. He didn’t sign in December, but committed in early January and promptly enrolled in classes. He’s in Iowa City already and working with the team. He’s a bit smaller than Lockett at 6’ even and could project either on the outside or in the slot. I think a young Matt VandeBerg is a good comp.

FInally, Illinois-native Samson Evans is an athlete who could potentially end up at WR. He’s said he’ll start his career at RB and that probably makes sense. He spent his high school career as a QB in an option offense where he was options 1, 2 and 3. He amassed more than 2,000 rushing yards and 37 TDs as a senior. On his career, he rushed for nearly 6,400 yards, setting the state record in Illinois and finished as the state’s Gatorade Player of the year. But his official announcement from the staff lists him as a WR. It’s entirely possible he ends up at the position.

Wherever he lands, he looks like a player.

Adding Quality

While positions like linebacker and wide receiver were a need based on the current roster construction, other positions had more flexibility due to existing depth. In such cases, the staff did a tremendous job of finding high level talent to build on that depth.

No position group speaks to that philosophy quite like the defensive backs. After sending Thorpe Award winner Desmond King to the NFL, Phil Parker had some ammo when he hit the recruiting trail early in this cycle. When Josh Jackson made a run at the award this year, catching national attention with his ridiculous performance against Ohio State, that ammo turned into an arsenal.

Parker cashed in, landing a pair of 4-star safeties in Indianapolis-native Julius Brents and St. Louis-native Dallas Craddieth, who was the surprise of the early signing period. He also beat out Notre Dame and a slew of others for Indianapolis CB DJ Johnson, who more than a few services had as a 4-star at one point.

With the star power locked up, Parker supplemented with athleticism. Erie, PA native Terry Roberts was a 2-star back with he committed to Iowa, but the CB who could also project as a WR has since been upgraded as scouts begin to see what the Iowa staff saw all along - an athlete with speed and quickness to make plays on either side of the ball.

Then came the late signing day surprise - a complete unknown in Michigan safety Kaevon Merriweather. When he committed, he didn’t even have a recruiting profile for football. He didn’t have any football scholarship offers. What he did have was a ton of athleticism, a great frame and division one basketball offers. Not a bad way to wrap up a position where you aren’t going to ask a kid to play right away.

A similar approach was taken on the defensive line. It’s not a position where immediate playing time is obviously available and the staff was able to use the existing depth to focus their efforts on high quality prospects. The strategy paid off.

A year after securing 5-star defensive end AJ Epenesa, Iowa landed 4-star West Des Moines Dowling end John Waggoner. The thought of those two coming off the edge for 2-3 years should scare opposing QBs and excite Iowa fans.

As impressive as Waggoner is on the edge, the defensive tackle spot is where Iowa really made waves in this group of DL prospects. It started with the addition of Iowa Western CC tackle Daviyon Nixon. You’ll recall that Nixon originally committed in 2017 but ended up in Council Bluffs due to an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse which was ultimately cleared up. He’s now in Iowa City (despite efforts and an offer from Alabama) and at 6’5” and 295 lbs, he has the size and athleticism to contribute right away.

In addition to Nixon, the class includes a pair of other high-potential defensive tackles. Illinois-native Noah Shannon is another big body to plug the middle at 6’2” and 285 as a high school senior. Like Nixon, he has good explosiveness to go with that size. Then there’s the local product, Solon’s Tyler Linderbaum. He flew a littler under the radar as an Iowa kid who committed pretty early. He doesn’t have the bulk of Nixon or Shannon at 6’2” and only 255 lbs, but he’s no less talented.

Linderbaum was selected to participate in January’s Army All-America game. After an impressive week in practice where he more than held his own, he earned a start. As a defensive tackle, he didn’t put up spectacular numbers, but he showed he belonged among the nation’s top high school players. Paired with Nixon, Shannon and Waggoner, he makes an already impressive group of defensive linemen very, very good.

On the other side of the ball, the Iowa staff did about what you would expect them to do in any given year: they went out and got a solid group of guys with the frame and athleticism to be molded into potential starters in the NFL. There’s Jeff Jenkins, high school teammate of Samson Evans. He comes in at 6’4” and 272 lbs and projects as a guard. He has plenty of footage of him leading the way downfield for Evans and has great footwork to pull.

Then there’s Cody Ince of Wisconsin. He’s a bit taller than Jenkins at 6’5” and 260 lbs. He projects more as a tackle. Like Jenkins, he has solid footwork, but perhaps less of a future pulling across the formation.

And finally, there’s Jack Plumb, also of Wisconsin. Plumb played tight end in high school, but he’s got a huge frame at 6’8” and 245 lbs. He was used almost exclusively as a blocker at TE except near the goal line and he really just abused people in that role.

As has become tradition (though Tristan Wirfs certainly bucked the trend a year ago) expect each of these three to spend a year redshirting then likely another year or even two buried on the depth chart adding bulk and refining their skills before they burst onto the scene. Each looks incredibly talented with lots of potential.

Being Selective

While certain position groups had enough depth to allow the coaching staff to focus their attention on adding quality, others allowed them to be flat out selective. That was certainly the case at running back. While the sheer numbers may not be there on the depth chart, having a pair of returners ready to step in who are only sophomores means the staff doesn’t need anyone to step in immediately.

Instead, they could focus on finding a player with the skillset they like and the potential to develop into a star. Their choice was Wisconsin-native Henry Geil. The Hawkeyes found the big back early and locked him up early in the cycle. At 6’ and 211 lbs as a senior, Geil will remind Iowa fans of fellow Wisconsin-native and part of the expected RB duo for 2018 Torren Young.

Like Young, Geil is a bruiser with some wiggle. He shows good vision and burst and he has the top-end speed to finish runs in the end zone if he gets to the second level. He finished with 1,479 yards and 16 touchdowns last season on 6.6 yards per carry. Look for him to potentially step in and contribute if there are any injuries to Ivory Kelly-Martin or Torren Young. Redshirt freshman Kyshaun Bryan is often forgotten, but will also vie for work this year if healthy and if Toks Akinribade can get healthy, he could muddy the waters further. However, if Iowa fans know anything it’s that you can never have enough depths at RB. Last season should have proven that even with quality players on the depth chart, freshmen can find their way onto the field. Henry Geil could be in that group.

Finally, with the QB position seemingly set for the next few years as Nate Stanley has two more seasons with the Hawkeyes, quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe was able to scour the country looking for the perfect fit with this year’s opening. He appears to have hit a home run.

Spencer Petras, a native of Kentfield, California, looks to come in to Iowa and contribute early. Beating out an incumbent QB who nearly broke the school record for touchdowns in a single season is unlikely, but with the departure of Tyler Wiegers, the backup spot is open and Petras enrolled early. He has a legitimate shot at surpassing Peyton Mansell, last year’s fan favorite from Texas, in his first year on campus.

During his senior season at Marin Catholic High School, the same school as current LA Rams QB Jared Goff, Petras set a few records of his own.

Senior Season Comparison of Jared Goff and Spencer Petras

Player G Passing Cmp-Att-Yards TD-INT Rushing Yards-TD
Player G Passing Cmp-Att-Yards TD-INT Rushing Yards-TD
Jared Goff 16 235-368-3,692 40-12 332-8
Spencer Petras 13 199-313-4,157 50-2 223-8

He shows very good vision and an ability to make nearly every throw you could ask of him. He has a good frame at 6’5” and 225 already. He isn’t the fastest guy in the world, but he has some mobility and escapability. He looks a lot like Nat Stanley.

Hats off to Ken O’Keefe and the staff on finding a very high quality prospect and reeling him in late in the process for the early signing period. Having a talented bench at quarterback should allow the offense to continue expanding and hopefully attract more athletes at the skill positions going forward.

Midwest Focus, National Reach

Geographically, this class looks pretty similar to what Iowa fans have grown to expect. There’s a big contingent from the midwest with four players hailing from the Hawkeye state. That’s the most of any state in this class.That’s followed closely by three each from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Importantly, the staff may have been able to build some inroads with those commits from Illinois and Indiana. Teammates Jeff Jenkins and Samson Evans are from the same town as Trevor Keegan, a 4-star offensive tackle prospect in the class of 2019 with an Iowa offer.

In Indiana, recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell has working to build a pipeline. All three of the 2018 commits came from the Indianapolis metro area. That was good enough for SBNation to declare the Hawkeyes the winner of the state recruiting battle for 2018.

In 2019, the Hawkeyes are looking to continue that trend with offers to seven more from the area. If Bell can continue his success in the state, next year’s group of would-be Hoosiers, Boilermakers, Irish, etc. could be even better.

While the class is midwest-centric, it is also far-reaching. There are players from as far west as California and as far east as Connecticut. The efforts to get into Georgia paid off with the late addition of Jayden McDonald and the hopes for building more inroads in Florida bore fruit with Calvin Lockett.

Here’s a look at the class geographically. Click the icons to see who hails from where.

It’s a Wrap

All in all, the class of 2018 looks to be very good. Needs were addressed, quality depth was added and the staff was opportunistic in adding very high caliber athletes at some positions where they could afford to swing big and miss.

The rankings tell us it was a good year on the trail and historically that has translated to good seasons on the field down the road. We won’t know for certain just how good this group is for years to come, but things appear headed in the right direction in Iowa City.

Hawkeye fans should expect some members of this group to contribute as early as next season. I’ll let you speculate as to who that will be. Others will take a few years to develop but may make an even bigger impact.

At the end of the day, Hawkeye fans should feel good about the class and the future. Both look to be quite good. On to 2019.

Here’s one final look at the class of 2018 in its entirety.

Iowa Football Class of 2018 Commitments

Name Pos Hometown Ht Wt Stars Commitment Date Signing Period
Name Pos Hometown Ht Wt Stars Commitment Date Signing Period
Jeff Jenkins OL Crystal Lake, IL 6'4" 272 3 1/22/2017 Early
Dillon Doyle LB Iowa City, IA 6'3" 215 3 3/20/2017 Early
Henry Geil RB Green Bay, WI 6'0" 211 3 4/23/2017 Early
Tyrone Tracy Jr. ATH Indianapolis, IN 6'0" 187 3 4/29/2017 Early
Tyler Linderbaum DT Solon, IA 6'2" 255 3 5/1/2017 Early
Samson Evans ATH Crystal Lake, IL 6'1" 190 2 5/21/2017 Early
Terry Roberts DB Erie, PA 5'10" 169 3 6/5/2017 Early
Cody Ince OL Balsam Lake, WI 6'5" 260 3 6/19/2017 Early
Jack Plumb TE Green Bay, WI 6'8" 245 3 6/26/2017 Early
Noah Shannon DT Oswego, IL 6'2" 285 3 7/4/2017 Early
DJ Johnson DB Indianapolis, IN 6'0" 170 3 8/22/2017 Late*
Julius Brents DB Indianapolis, IN 6'2" 180 4 9/1/2017 Late*
John Waggoner DE West Des Moines, IA 6'5" 245 4 12/5/2017 Early
Calvin Lockett WR Largo, FL 6'2" 170 3 12/13/2017 Early
Spencer Petras QB Kentfield, CA 6'5" 225 4 12/15/2017 Early
Dallas Craddieth DB Florrisant, MO 6'1" 180 4 12/20/2017 Early
Seth Benson LB Sioux Falls, SD 6'1" 210 2 12/21/2017 Early
Nico Ragaini WR West Haven, CT 6'0" 190 3 1/8/2017 NA
Logan Klemp LB Jewell, IA 6'3" 210 2 2/2/2018 Late
Kaevon Merriweather S Belleville, MI 6'2" 195 2 2/2/2018 Late
Jayden McDonald LB Suwanee, GA 6'1" 210 3 2/5/2018 Late