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12 Days Until Hawkeye Football: Brandon Smith

Can the big receiver from Mississippi be Spencer Petras’ go-to target in 2020?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa
Brandon Smith has been Iowa’s reliable 1st down target. Can he be more in 2020?
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The countdown to kickoff keeps rolling with Iowa’s biggest redzone target and one of its most reliable targets when a first down is needed.

Brandon Smith, Senior
Lake Cormorant, MS (Lak Cormorant)
6’2”, 215 lbs
2020 Projection: Starting X Receiver

At first glance, Brandon Smith is your prototypical Iowa X receiver. He’s got a big frame at 6’2” and 215 pounds. He isn’t a burner, but he’s fast enough to go deep if he gets a release. And he has hands. Boy does he have hands (if you haven’t heard by now that he has XXXL gloves, have you even watched an Iowa game on TV the last three years?)

What sets Smith apart from big-bodied outside receivers of Iowa past is his mindset. He’s 100% a “my ball” guy. When you turn on the film, the highlight reel is almost puzzling. You see the standard possession receiver clips where he’s running curls and out routes at the sticks, but then you see him jumping over defenders to catch passes behind their heads or hauling in balls with on hand while being interfered with with the corner of the endzone.

Brandon Smith has a knack for going to get the ball that few former Hawkeyes have displayed.

That playmaking ability made Smith a favorite target of former QB Nate Stanley. Despite missing five games in 2019, Smith finished with 439 yards and 5 TDs in 8 games. Now he enters 2020 looking to go out with a bang.

Iowa will be breaking in a new starting QB in Spencer Petras and early reports are he looks like a Big Ten quarterback. Candidly, it would be hard not to look like a quality QB given the talent Iowa has in the WR room this year. And Smith is a big part of that.

Look for the big-bodied Mississippi native to act as Spencer Petras’ security blanket this season. Ihmir Smith-Marsette is the dynamic playmaker who gets the looks on jet sweeps, tunnel screens and deep throws down field, but Brandon Smith moves the chains. When there’s a 3rd and 8 coming up, Smith will be standing 9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and he won’t drop the ball.

What’s more, he’s as good a redzone target as you’ll find. There’s nobody better on Iowa’s roster to go up and get a 50/50 ball in the endzone than Brandon Smith and we’ve seen him make some incredible plays in those situations.

The question on Smith in 2020 will be whether his route tree expands to include more targets down the field or across the middle. Smith average 11.9 yards per catch in 2019, less than ISM, Tyrone Tracy or starting tight end Sam LaPorta. He has excellent hands and a big frame that seems well-suited for crossing routes and deep posts where he can use his length and leaping ability (in case you missed it, Smith was a state champion high jumper in Mississippi) to go win the ball. Adding more depth to his targets could further open up the offense and create opportunities in the running game.

We should see whether that’s in the game plan as early as next Saturday when the Hawkeyes travel to Purdue.