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Iowa Football Recruiting: Grading the Hawkeyes’ Early Signing Class of 2020

The class of 2020 is one of the best in the Ferentz era. How good can it be?

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Northwestern at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The dust has settled and the early signing period has come to a close in college football. To recap, Iowa had 22 prospects in the class of 2020 committed heading into the period. On the first day of the signing period, 19 announced they had submitted their national letter of intent. Thursday, number 20 came in.

The two remaining NLIs will be waiting until February and the traditional signing day. Reports indicate Florida defensive back Keylen Gulley is waiting on some test scores this semester before signing his letter.

Defensive end Michael Lois, on the other hand, is working closely with the University of Iowa to ensure all the Ts are crossed and Is are dotted. You’ll recall Lois was involved in a tragic accident over a year ago which left him paralyzed for some time. He’s now regained all motion, but has yet to be cleared to play football.

There’s no doubt the Iowa staff would like to honor his scholarship, but the logistics of keeping that scholarship without it counting against the limit of 85 need to be finalized. There remains hope Lois could some day play again. He has been cleared for non-contact sports and rather than enrolling at Iowa this January as planned, he is now staying in high school another semester to participate in baseball - the lone sport he’ll get to enjoy as a senior.

The possibility of Lois later being cleared to play is the likely complicating factor. If not for that hope, he could simply take a medical scholarship. The chance he is never cleared also hinders the coaches who would typically just keep a player on athletic scholarship through a major injury such as an ACL tear or offseason hip surgery.

At any rate, 20 of Iowa’s 22 commits are signed, sealed and delivered. Now it’s time to grade out the class as it currently stands. We’ll do that position-by-position.

Quarterback: A

This one is pretty hard to argue. The Hawkeyes started the 2020 class with the addition of a highly recruited QB out of the state of Texas a year and a half ago. Deuce Hogan is really everything you want in a pro style QB.

He has a perfect frame at 6’4” and north of 200 lbs. He has a big arm and can make all the throws. More importantly, he has the moxie and ability to command a huddle you need in a leader (see the story from Scott Dochterman of The Athletic linked in our signing day peice).

While it’s still unlikely to see a true freshman earn the starting spot on a Kirk Ferentz-led team, look for Hogan to make an impact before his time is done in Iowa City.

Running Back: A-

The 2020 class included a pair of running backs. The staff made it easy on fans by getting two guys both named Williams. Both Leshon and Gavin are very good backs with similar skill sets.

Neither one has the dynamic ability in space that freshman Tyler Goodson displayed this year, but both have the potential to become 3-down backs at Iowa. Gavin Williams is slightly bigger with 2 extra inches, but Leshon is a bruiser in his own right, often running over or through defenders.

Look for one of the two to find his way into some playing time next season despite an already crowded running back room. These two should have long, impactful careers at Iowa.

Wide Receiver: B

This year’s crop of wide receivers was smaller than we’ve seen in recent years. That’s both in terms of the number taken and their actual size. Since the departure of GDGD, we’ve seen Iowa trend back toward bigger, more physical receivers in the mold of Brandon Smith. This year’s group only included two wide receivers, thanks to some tremendous depth already on the roster, and neither is taller than 6’0”.

What they lack in size, they make up for in speed and playmaking ability. That is music to Iowa fans’ ears. There are questions about how good Quavon Matthews can be when fully healthy, but he looks like he’s in the Ihmir Smith-Marsette mold. Diante Vines, meanwhile, looks like the next great Iowa slot receiver. He just needs the two tremendous ones on campus to give him some room.

Tight End: A-

With Iowa’s recent success putting tight ends in the NFL, it should come as no surprise they were able to land a pair of highly sought after recruits at the position in this class. While they missed out on an A+ grade when Theo Johnson opted to head to Happy Valley, he was always a cherry on top of this delicious ice cream sundae.

Elijah Yelverton looks like the prototypical Iowa tight end. He has great hands and acted as a security blanket on a Texas state championship team with Deion Sanders as his OC. Luke Lachey looks like the type of prospect Chris Doyle would like to turn into a Pro Bowl offensive tackle in the mold of Robert Gallery.

But Lachey is simply to athletic and talented to convert to a lineman. Despite being massive at 6’7”, he runs likes Noah Fant (OK, OK, nobody runs like Noah Fant, but he’s close). Despite the emergence of Sam LaPorta this season, the Iowa offense is still looking for impact players at their favorite position. Both Yelverton and Lachey could be that guy as early as next season.

Offensive Line: A

We all know things begin and end for Iowa in the trenches. We also saw this season how important it is to have solid line play for an offense that wants to establish the run. In the class of 2020, Tim Polasek got a trio of guys who can help out in the run game.

Mason Richman is an athlete Polasek had to steal from Kelvin Bell and Phil Parker. We saw this year what a converted defensive lineman can do on the offensive line and it’s hard to argue with the potential of Richman in a couple years.

Tyler Elsbury is the highest rated of the group and he looks like a tremendous tackle prospect. He has great feet and a mean streak that are the building blocks Doyle and Ferentz love.

But Josh Volk is the guy who has a chance to come in and contribute earliest in my opinion. As a guard, he fits a position of need for Brian Ferentz. And Volk is an absolute mauler. He has a Big Ten ready frame and he lives to serve up pancakes. It’s rare to see true freshmen start on the Iowa offensive line, but Volk has a shot.

Defensive Line: A

On the other side of the ball, Phil Parker and Kelvin Bell clearly saw the writing on the wall last offseason that A.J. Epenesa was destined to be a top-15 pick. They loaded up on defensive linemen in the class and the filled every imaginable need.

The Hawkeyes inked 6 defensive linemen this week with the 7th, Michael Lois, a question mark based on his medical situation. Of the six they have already, there’s a pretty even split between guys that project inside and out.

Deontae Craig is the headliner on the outside as the group’s lone 4-star commit. You turn on the film and know immediately which one is Craig. He’s bigger, faster and he’s wrecking plays. This is a guy with a chance to play situationally as a pass rusher from day 1 in Iowa City.

On the inside, it’s hard not to like what Isaiah Bruce shows in potential. Despite being a 270 pound defensive lineman, Bruce ran for more than 1,000 yards en route to an Illinois state championship. The big man has speed and quickness that will pay dividends in the middle.

But the real gem in this group may just be Yahya Black (which is pronounced Why-yay according to the pronunciation guide from the UI). The Minnesota big man was rumored to be a prize for Tim Polasek, but Kelvin Bell said enough is enough and fought to keep him on defense. Makes sense since Black’s player questionnaire apparently just said “hit people” under what you like to do. Get this man a helmet.

Note: Go to 0:48, watch the next two plays then say a prayer for those poor kids’ families.

Linebacker: A

This year’s crop of linebackers is small. In fact, it’s singular. It’s just one guy, but when you have Jay Higgins, you don’t need anyone else. The kid put up the stats of three linebackers as a senior at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indy last year (no really, he had 151 tackles - 151!) and he has the potential to be a star at Iowa in a couple years.

He has all the makings of an Anthony Hitchens from the pass coverage skills to the play diagnosis to the tackling ability. He’s going to be a good one.

Defensive Back: B+

Defensive back is becoming a really interesting position for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had nearly as much success with DBs as they have TEs. Over the last few years, we’ve grown accustomed to landing a plethora of 4-stars in this group.

In 2020, there were no 4-stars, but there were several Phil Parker Specials. With Florida DB Keylen Gulley still to sign, Iowa adds backs from Illinois, Alabama and Michigan.

While all have potential, Reginald Bracy looks like the one to watch early on. He can do it all in the secondary and with Parker behind the wheel, that should lead to some national recognition.

Overall: A-

Overall, this class is one of Kirk Ferentz’s best. That’s not hyperbole, it’s shaping up to be the highest ranked class since 2005. Rivals ranks it as the 29th best class in the country to-date while 247 Sports has it 31st.

That may not make headlines in places like Ann Arbor or Columbus, but in Iowa City that’s a hell of an accomplishment. The Hawkeyes have had a ton of success with recruiting classes in the 40s and 50s nationally.

This group addressed positions of need. They added soem star power at positions where they have the ability to go whale hunting. And they found the typical under the radar guys we always expect this staff to uncover and develop.

All in all, this has the makings of a group that makes an impact for years to come.