Cornerback was a bit of a question mark going into last season. We knew what we had in Michael Ojemudia, and most of us were more than pleasantly surprised to see he turned into a true No. 1 corner his senior season at Iowa. Behind him were Matt Hankins and Julius Brents, two young guys who had the right size and showed flashes in 2018.
Before the season started, we learned Brents — who started five games as a true freshman — wouldn’t be available due to injury. This opened the door for DJ Johnson and Riley Moss. the former, now on the Purdue roster, and the latter had struggled mightily against ... Purdue, among others, in 2018.
We won’t talk much about Johnson, but Moss seemed to redeem himself a bit last season, earning one start and picking balls off against Purdue and Minnesota in nine games of action. He’s penciled himself into the No. 3 corner role while Brents and Hankins cover what they can.
Hopefully, that’ll be a lot.
So let’s talk about Hankins a bit here: the table is set for him to be the next big breakout corner at Iowa. A senior, he’s started 19 games in his career, 10 coming in 2019. He missed three starts in the middle of the season due to injury, but finished the year fifth on the team with 58 tackles, had 2 picks and 7 pass break-ups.
His tackle numbers show his ability to stop the run, and at 6-0, 190 lbs (probably closer to 200 now) he has the size that Phil Parker likes to see in his cornerbacks.
I suspect we’re going to see Hankins on opposing No. 1’s at the beginning of the season, but Brents won’t be far behind him.
Despite his missing 95 percent of last season, some of us here at the Pants are higher on Brents than others. Looking back at film from two years ago, and taking into account Brents’ more favorable size (6-2, 205) the No. 1 leash attached to Hankins could be short.
I particularly like this clip from Brents’ first career start, at Minnesota in 2018. He gets beat, but is still able to put himself in a position to keep Chris Autman-Bel from completing the catch:
Backing these two up will almost certainly be Riley Moss. Moss found himself entrenched in the doghouse of Iowa fans this year with the memories of his 2018 performance against Purdue fresh in our minds.
I think it’s fair to say he rebounded in 2019, and at least met the reasonable expectations we have of a young Iowa cornerback.
Compare that with his performance against Minnesota the year prior, and I think we’re all a little more comfortable with Moss seeing significant action.
A world-class sprinter and Drake Relays champion, I wouldn’t mind seeing Moss take one of these picks to the house, or start to see some action as a returner. For now, we’ll wait and see how he does in the shadows cast by Julius Brents and Matt Hankins.
Terry Roberts is the only other corner who saw any real action at the position in 2019, and that was primarily in garbage time and special teams. Still, he appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman last year and will likely find his way on the field if one way or another this season.
There’s been talk of Jermari Harris making a push for playing time, but it could be behind Dane Belton at ca$h or at one of the safety positions.
Sebastian Castro and Daraun McKinney redshirted last year. They’re each listed at 5-10 and 190 lbs, which is close to the sweet spot build of an Iowa corner.
And it seems every year we’re surprised by a true freshman in the defensive backfield. The main candidates this year are Reginald Bracy, Brenden Deasfernandes, and AJ Lawson. Bracy was the highest recruit of the trio, and has the best size at 6-0, 190 lbs, so I give him the best chance of seeing the field as a frosh.
As of now, I see Matt Hankins and Julius Brents holding down the CB 1&2 spots. Moss will fill in at CB 3 when needed, and take CB 2 roles if someone needs a breather or goes down with an injury. It’s easy to project Terry Roberts at filling out the depth chart (which I don’t think we’ll see officially until virtual media days) so that’s what I’m going to do.
After those four guys, your guess is as good as mine.