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Gazing Into the Crystal Ball: An Early Depth Chart Projection for Iowa Football in 2020

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Iowa has some serious holes to fill in 2020. Which returning players are ready to step up and claim these open positions?

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The 2019 Iowa football season may have just ended, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to 2020. Iowa brings back considerable talent next season but will also have the challenge of replacing several contributors who helped the Hawkeyes win ten games this year. While spring football is still months away, let’s take an early look at how the Hawkeye depth chart might shake out in 2020.

(Note: All players will be listed by the amount of eligibility they will have in the 2020 season, meaning a player who was a junior in 2019 will be referred to as a senior).

Quarterback:

Iowa’s biggest question mark on offense might be the quarterback position as the Hawkeyes attempt to replace Nate Stanley, who averaged nine wins pers season during his three years as the starter. The early favorite to fill Stanley’s shoes is Spencer Petras, a 6-5 sophomore with a big arm and a decorated prep career at California’s Marin Catholic where he broke several passing records set by Jared Goff. Junior Peyton Mansell should also be in the mix. He was the backup in 2018 before losing the job to Petras, is also a threat to make plays with his legs. Redshirt freshman Alex Padilla and true freshman Deuce Hogan will have a shot to earn the job, though Ferentz has historically been reluctant to turn over the keys of the offense to a freshman signal caller.

QB 1: Spencer Petras (SO)

QB 2: Peyton Mansell (JR)

Running Back:

Tyler Goodson appears to be firmly entrenched as the starter after wowing coaches with his athleticism as a true freshman, though there are plenty of intriguing players who will be competing for carries behind him. Seniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young are both established contributors who have earned the trust of the coaches. Toren Young is a battering ram who could replace Stanley as Iowa’s primary short yardage and goal line rushing option, while Sargent is a capable third down back who could continue to see time in the two-back sets that Brian Ferentz deployed more and more as the season progressed. Junior Ivory Kelly-Martin and redshirt freshman Shadrick Byrd could also challenge for carries, particularly if Iowa loses either Sargent or Young to graduate transfer. Incoming freshmen Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams are intriguing but aren’t likely to see the field much unless Iowa sees serious attrition at this position.

RB 1: Tyler Goodson (SO)

RB 2: Mekhi Sargent (SR) or Toren Young (SR)

Fullback:

Iowa has embraced more open offensive concepts under Brian Ferentz’s reign as offensive coordinator, but the fullback remains a key component of Iowa’s offense. Sophomore walk-on Turner Pallissard got second team reps last year behind departed starter Brady Ross but converted linebacker Monte Pottebaum also saw the field. Don’t count out Johnny Plewa either; his brother Macon was a key contributor at fullback on Iowa’s 2015 Rose Bowl team and won the Brett Greenwood award his senior year.

FB 1: Turner Pallissard (SO)

FB 2: Monte Pottebaum (SO)

Wide Receiver:

Iowa hasn’t returned this much production at receiver in at least a decade, which will immensely benefit whoever ends up winning the QB derby. Senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette and sophomore Nico Ragaini should get most of the reps at the “Z Receiver” position, and the competition between senior Brandon Smith and sophomore Tyrone Tracy for the starting “X” position promises to be fierce. All four players will see plenty of action regardless of who starts, however. Michigan transfer Oliver Martin should be in the running for more snaps after spending a year learning the playbook, and Charlie Jones (a Buffalo transfer who sat out last season) could also get into the mix. Add in sophomore Calvin Lockett and redshirt freshman Desmond Hutson and it’s tough to imagine Iowa’s incoming freshmen seeing the field much in 2020.

X Receiver 1: Brandon Smith (SR)

X Receiver 2: Tyrone Tracy (SO)

Z Receiver 1: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (SR)

Z Receiver 2: Nico Ragaini (SO)

Tight End:

Iowa didn’t get nearly the production from their tight ends in 2019 that they did the year prior, but they did manage to identify their heir apparent at the position. Sophomore Sam LaPorta has shown the athleticism, toughness, and receiving skills to make him Iowa’s next great tight end, and he is the clear frontrunner to start at that position in 2020. Senior Shaun Beyer will also see the field, and don’t be shocked if Josaiah Miamen, an exceptional athlete who redshirted in 2019, mounts a real challenge to Beyer as the season progresses. Iowa also nailed the tight end position with its 2020 recruiting class, and Luke Lachey and Elijah Yelverton will both have an opportunity to push for early playing time.

TE 1: Sam LaPorta (SO)

TE 2: Shawn Beyer (SR)

Offensive Tackle:

Iowa fans breathed a huge sigh of relief when left tackle Alaric Jackson announced that he would be returning for his senior season and are now anxiously awaiting to see if Tristan Wirfs does the same. If Wirfs does bolt for the NFL (which seems likely based on his first-round projections), junior Mark Kallenberger is his obvious successor at right tackle. Behind Kallenberger is 6-7 sophomore Jack Plumb, but freshmen Ezra Miller and Tyler Endres were both highly regarded prospects who could work their way onto the depth chart after spending a year bulking up with Chris Doyle. Endres is related to former basketball star Chris Street, so you know the athletic pedigree is there.

LT 1: Alaric Jackson (SR)

LT 2: Jack Plumb (SO)

RT 1: Mark Kallenberger (JR)

RT 2: Ezra Miller (RS FR) or Tyler Endres (RS FR)

Interior Offensive Line:

This was a real area of weakness for the Hawkeyes in 2019, but the coaches will be counting on the return of injured veterans and the growth of talented young players to improve things in 2020. Sophomore Tyler Linderbaum is a virtual lock to start at center, but junior Kyler Schott and senior Cole Banwart will have to hold off a challenge from gifted freshman Justin Britt to reclaim their starting positions at guard. The Hawkeyes missed 2018 starter Banwart for most of the season due to injury, and Kyler Schott injected real life into Iowa’s offensive line when he was healthy last year. Still, Britt’s talent is undeniable, and the coaches loved what they saw from him during his redshirt year. Mark Kallenberger, who saw a lot of action at guard this year, could also be in the mix if Wirfs returns to Iowa.

LG 1: Cole Banwart (SR)

LG 2: Justin Britt (RS FR)

RG 1: Kyler Schott (JR)

RG 2: Cody Ince (SO)

C 1: Tyler Linderbaum (SO)

C 2: Jeff Jenkins (SO)

Defensive End:

I would be shocked if A.J. Epenesa turned down the NFL, but Iowa will benefit immensely from having his savvy running mate Chauncey Golston returning for his senior year at left end. Joe Evans flashed as a talented pass rusher after racking up four sacks in his freshman season, but the former high school quarterback will need to show that he can also stop the run in order to earn a starting spot. Look for either sophomore John Waggoner or senior Zach VanValkenburg to lock down the right defensive end slot, at least early on. Iowa also has a whole stable of talented young defensive ends who could make an impact as situational pass rushers the way Epenesa and Evans did during their freshman seasons.

LDE 1: Chauncey Golston (SR)

LDE 2: Joe Evans (SO)

RDE 1: John Waggoner (SO)

RDE 2: Zach VanValkenburg (SR)

Defensive Tackle:

Iowa loses both of its 2019 starters to graduation, but junior Daviyon Nixon shined in a reserve role last season and appears ready for primetime. Senior Austin Schulte is a steady veteran who started some in place of Brady Rieff in 2019 and should get the first crack at the second starting gig. Sophomore Noah Shannon could get a look as well after working his way into Big Ten shape last season but look out for freshman Logan Lee. The talented recruit from Iowa’s 2019 class was projected as a tight end, but the coaches what he brings as an athletic option along the defensive line.

LDT 1: Daviyon Nixon (JR)

LDT 2: Noah Shannon (SO)

RDT 1: Austin Schulte (SR)

RDT 2: Logan Lee (RS FR)

Outside Linebacker:

Djimon Colbert and Nick Niemann seem solidified at the weakside and LEO positions respectively, though Niemann’s strong showing in relief of Colbert in the Holiday Bowl could see him push to supplant Colbert if Iowa ends up playing the Cash position more in 2019. The backup slots are wide open, however, and there is no shortage of talented contenders. Senior Barrington Wade has been Niemann’s backup for the past two seasons, and the coaches love what sophomore Seth Benson brings to the table. Keep an eye on freshman Jestin Jacobs. Hawkeye fans were thrilled when Iowa wrested the Clayton, Ohio native from his home state Buckeyes, and he’s one of the best athletes Iowa has recruited at linebacker in some time. It’s a question of when, not if, Jacobs breaks into the rotation.

LEO 1: Nick Niemann (SR)

LEO 2: Barrington Wade (SR) or Jestin Jacobs (RS FR)

WLB 1: Djimon Colbert (JR)

WLB 2: Seth Benson (SO) or Jestin Jacobs (RS FR)

Middle Linebacker:

Kristian Welch was the unsung hero of the Hawkeye defense in 2019, and sophomores Dillon Doyle and Jack Campbell will have their hands full filling his shoes next season. Doyle started three games when Welch was hurt this year, and while he occasionally ran himself out of position in run defense, it’s obvious what the coaching staff sees in him. Still, Jack Campbell is a tantalizing athletic prospect, and coaches raved about the rangy 6-4 youngster throughout 2019. Incoming freshman Ethan Hurkett projects as a future stud at this position but will likely need some seasoning before challenging for a starting spot.

MLB 1: Dillon Doyle (SO)

MLB 2: Jack Campbell (SO)

Cornerback:

Senior Matt Hankins returns at left cornerback, but it’s anyone’s guess who will start alongside him on the right side of the field. Riley Moss made huge strides during his sophomore season but will have to deal with a healthy Julius Brents after the sophomore redshirted amid an injury-plagued season. Brents showed lock-down potential as a freshman in 2018, and his 6-3 frame could make him an asset in covering big physical wide receivers. Sophomore D.J. Johnson struggled in coverage against Iowa State, but is oozing with potential, and shined as a physical defender against the run. Sophomore Terry Roberts and freshman Jermari Harris also showed potential in limited action this season. Whoever wins these jobs should not rest on their laurels, however, as Phil Parker has proven very willing to pull his starters at this position when they underperform.

LCB 1: Matt Hankins (SR)

LCB 2: D.J. Johnson (SO)

RCB 1: Julius Brents (SO)

RCB2: Riley Moss (JR)

Safety:

Strong Safety Geno Stone could turn pro, but my money is on him returning for his senior season to improve his draft stock. If Stone does go, Dane Belton could shift from his Cash role to take his place. Junior Jack Koerner was the latest walk-on to shine at free safety, but sophomore Kaevon Merriweather could push to reclaim his starting spot after returning from injury. Freshman Sebastian Castro is a hard hitter who can provide some depth, and there’s still time for sophomore Dallas Craddeith, the jewel of Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class, to break out. Belton could be pushed by D.J. Johnson at the Cash position, and don’t be surprised if the loser of the starting cornerback battle between Moss and Brents gets a look here as well.

SS 1: Geno Stone (SR)

SS 2: Dane Belton (SO)

FS 1: Jack Koerner (JR)

FS 2: Kaevon Merriweather (SO)

Cash 1: Dane Belton (SO)

Cash 2: D.J. Johnson (SO)

Special Teams:

Consensus All-American Keith Duncan will return to kick field goals for Iowa in 2020, while his fellow senior Caleb Shudak is back to handle kickoff duties. Junior Ryan Gersonde is currently the only punter on the roster, and the decision to redshirt him in 2018 to preserve his eligibility shows that the coaching staff believes he has what it takes to assume a starting roll. Ihmir Smith-Marsette will continue to terrify opposing coaches with his explosive ability as a kick returner. Meanwhile, I’ll go out on a limb and project Oliver Martin at punt returner; he certainly has the speed for it, and I think the coaching staff will look for ways to get him on the field more this year. If not, Max Cooper has proven that he can field punts very effectively.

K 1: Keith Duncan (SR)

K 2: Caleb Shudak (SR)

P 1: Ryan Gersonde (JR)

KR 1: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (SR)

KR 2: Charlie Jones (SO)

PR 1: Oliver Martin (SO)

PR 2: Max Cooper (SR)