Ah, receiver. The thankless position Iowa fans love to hate.
All due respect to Kevonte Martin-Manley, Keenan Davis, Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg, it just really feels as though Iowa hasn’t game-changer at the position since Marvin McNutt.
BUT with generational talent at quarterback and tight end and some solid running backs, this could be the year Iowa has a receiver approach 1,000 yards. We always talk about how Iowa overperforms when expectations are low...so maybe the same thing can be said of our receivers.
The problem there of course is the fact that our expectations are always low for Hawkeye split ends.
This year, the Hawkeyes return a known quantity at the position. They also return a slightly lesser-known quantity. And after that? It’s anyone’s guess!
Lucky for you, I am in fact anyone, and I will in fact guess how things are going to shake out for Iowa’s receivers this year.
The known quantity
Nick Easley came out of nowhere last season. A JUCO transfer from Iowa Western, I don’t think anyone expected an undersized white guy from Newton to come in as a junior walk-on and contribute immediately, but he did.
Easley ended the year with a team-high 51 receptions and 530 yards to go with 4 touchdowns. He also ran the ball twice, with less success.
Easley became one of Nate Stanley’s favorite targets almost immediately, and his role in the offense only increased as Matt VandeBerg’s production waned.
At 5-11, 205 lbs, Easley isn’t scaring anyone with his size. But his catching ability and elusiveness could turn him into a favorite of Stanley’s and Iowa fans this fall.
Perhaps I was a little unfair when I alluded that Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a lesser-known quantity than Easley above.
His inconsistency, however, presented itself early and often last year.
ISM was the savior of the Iowa State game. Four receptions, 36 yards and two touchdowns. Including the following score in Ames (NSFW).
As the season wore on, however, ISM seemed to do the following more often than not:
Plays like that earned him distrust from the Iowa signal-callers and play-callers alike. And so, one of the most athletic players on the roster ended the season with just 18 catches for 187 yards and the 2 scores in Ames.
Back in the spring, ISM was buried a little bit in the depth chart. Then Kirk Ferentz started taking some potshots at his young receiver. I’m reading all that as motivation for ISM, who is poised to become one of Iowa’s most electric players in 2018.
The Mississippi Marauder
No one on the Iowa roster had as much fanfare surrounding his recruitment than Brandon Smith last year.
At 6-3, 219 lbs, he was largest receiver Iowa had pulled in awhile. His track and field accolades caught up with the Iowa press, and the rest is history.
History that will be forgotten.
As a true freshman, Smith accumulated just 3 catches for 15 yards and a whole lotta drops.
For his lackluster play last year, Smith was awarded a starting role in this spring’s depth chart. To me that’s equal parts optimism and the fact there’s really no one else to trot out there. Which brings us to...
Kyle Groeneweg joined the Iowa football team this offseason with virtually zero fanfare. So when his name was listed on the two-deeps in the spring, you can see why Hawkeyedom had a minor conniption when they read an unrecognizable name.
So let’s get you up to speed: you probably know by now that Groeneweg is a senior walk-on from the University of Sioux Falls. He had to sit out last year due to transfer rules, and is ready to put pads on again.
As a native of West Lyon, Groeneweg could instantly become a fan favorite. But he hasn’t played football since 2016, and it’s not like USD is some FCS powerhouse. But his numbers in D-II are impressive (36 receptions for 635 yards and six scores) and he’s had a year to learn the offense and get Doyleized.
Will he contribute in 2018? Who knows. At this point we’re just happy to have options.
Devonte Young. Max Cooper. Dominique Dafney. Henry Marchese. Drew Thomas.
These are all names you’re familiar with. Consequently, all these names are unfamiliar with playing time at Iowa.
None of the guys above have recorded a catch for Iowa. Only Young, Cooper and Dafney have seen any game action — albeit largely on special teams.
In terms of playing time, Cooper likely has the leg up on everyone else, simply because he was the offensive MVP in the most recent spring game, catching 8 balls for 82 yards. It is for this exact reason I also believe he’ll be a complete non-factor for Iowa this year.
Young and Dafney are the only other upperclassmen besides Easley of this position group — they might get the first look for snaps, but their limited use this far into their Iowa careers doesn’t spell optimism.
Marchese redshirted last year as a three-star recruit. He has good size, but I know nothing of his speed and hands. So he’ll be the starter week four.
Iowa brought in four receivers in its most recent recruiting class. At 6-2 and offers from Florida International, Boston College, Wisconsin and Oregon State, Calvin Lockett is the early favorite to get playing time from this haul.
Nico Ragaini got the last scholarship for Iowa’s recruiting class and had a couple plays in the spring game. He also has a number on the Hawkeye roster. There’s probably a reason for that.
Tyrone Tracy and Samson Evans are two freshmen who could play wide receiver. They could also play running back or defensive back. We really don’t know what’s in store for either of them.
Your walk-ons in this group include Drew Thomas, Blair Brooks and Groeneweg. Prepare accordingly.