This offseason, Black Heart Gold Pants is undertaking the unenviable task of ranking the greatest players of the Kirk Ferentz era. From 1999-2019, we’re emptying the memory banks, popping in the highlight tapes, and embracing the controversy as we try to determine who stands out as the best of the best. We’ll start by ranking the top five players at every position group before moving on to the top 25 players regardless of position. Rankings are based on college performance and do not take professional success into account.
Iowa’s football program has consistently produced top-level college talent and NFL prospects at several positions during the Kirk Ferentz era. The wide receiver position is not one of them. The Hawkeyes have had only three wide receivers earn first-team All-Big Ten honors at either their primary position or as a return man, and only three Hawkeye wideouts have been selected in the NFL Draft. Furthermore, each of the players drafted was selected in the 6th round, two of them were recruited by Ferentz’s predecessor Hayden Fry, and the other player was brought to Iowa to play a different position entirely.
Still, Iowa has produced a few real standout wide receivers during the Ferentz era who managed to leave their mark on the program in a significant way. One player who just barely missed making my top five list was Mo Brown, a dynamic playmaker who caught 48 passes for 966 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior in 2002. Brown would have finished much higher in the rankings had he done much on the field before 2002 or been healthy as a senior, but injuries caused him to miss five games in 2003 and continued to impact his play even after he returned to the field. Still, Brown deserves major credit for being Brad Banks’ #1 playmaker on the outside and being virtually un-guardable in Iowa’s 2002 win over Northwestern.
5. Kahlil Hill (1998-2001)
A PED suspension kept Hill off the field during the 1999 season, but the talented Iowa City native certainly knew how to make his presence felt any time he was on it. Hill’s speed and athleticism made him a dynamic weapon in both the short passing game and as a deep threat. Hill ranks 5th in Iowa history in career receptions (152) and eighth in career receiving yards (1,892) and touchdowns in both a single season (eight in 2001), and in his career (15).
Hill was also an elite return specialist, arguably the most effective to come through Iowa under Ferentz. Hill returned two kicks and two punts for touchdowns over the course of his career, won the 2001 Mosi Tatupu Award for the nation’s top special teams player, and is one of the program’s leaders in career all-purpose yardage.
Perhaps no game better highlighted the full extent of Hill’s gifts better than Iowa’s win against Northwestern in 2001 in which he had six catches for 133 yards in addition to 100 return yards on only three attempts.
4. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (2007-2010)
The player best known as DJK was a star among Iowa fans before he ever stepped foot on campus. A dynamic prospect from Youngstown, Ohio, DJK had exceptionally high expectations for Iowa career and largely managed to live up to them on the field. DJK was a four-year starter who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2010 and ranks second among all Hawkeyes in career receptions (173) and receiving yards (2,616) in addition to ranking fifth in career receiving touchdowns (17) and all-purpose yards (4,256).
DJK’s legacy with Iowa fans is a decidedly mixed one in light of his suspension for his final game in the 2010 Insight Bowl, as well as his…contentious relationship with Ferentz and the Iowa program in his years as an alumni. But DJK’s legacy of on-field production is undeniable, and few Hawkeye fans will forget how he humiliated Minnesota in the program’s final game in the Metrodome
or how his 99-yard kick return touchdown against Ohio State nearly saved Iowa’s Big Ten championship bid the following season in 2009.
Regardless of his current standing with the program and its fans, DJK’s exhilarating highlights and career productivity make his inclusion on this list a no-brainer.
3. Clinton Solomon (2002-2005)
Solomon was only a two-year starter for the black and gold, but he was certainly productive during this period. A big, athletic target at 6-4, Solomon could beat a defender on a jump ball, burn them deep, or just punish them by going to work after the catch. Solomon earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after his 58 catch, 905-yard, 6 touchdown performance as a junior in 2004, and mounted a successful follow-up campaign by snagging 46 catches for 800 yards and 7 TDs in 2005. Solomon’s career numbers might have been much higher had he not spent his sophomore season at Iowa Central Community College, but he still ranks in the top ten for career and single-season receiving yards, as well as for career touchdowns.
Perhaps Solomon’s finest moment came during Iowa’s 33-7 route of Ohio State in 2004. The junior simply could not be covered for most of the game, resulting in seven catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which erased any doubt about whether the Buckeyes would be able to hang with the Hawkeyes on that day.
A former quarterback, Solomon also posted about the best career passing stat line a player could ask for: 1-1 for a touchdown (1:49 below).
2. Kevin Kasper (1997-2000)
How good was Kevin Kasper’s 2000 season? The speedy senior posted 1010 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns in a year when no Iowa quarterback passed for more than 877 yards. Whenever Iowa went to the air, the second-team All-Big Ten honoree was likely on the receiving end.
Kasper shares the Iowa football records for most receptions in a game (13) and season (82), and his 1010 yards is the third best single season total in program history. These numbers alone are enough to justify Kasper’s place on this list, but one can’t really appreciate his accomplishments without considering how bad his supporting cast was during this period. What kind of numbers might Kasper have put up if someone other than Randy Reiners, Scott Mullen, Jon Beutjer, or young Kyle McCann had been throwing him the ball? Just look at some of the balls he had to catch in this highlight video:
It’s a shame that Kasper is so often forgotten by fans due to the terrible teams he played on, but he is easily one of the most talented wide receivers to come through Iowa, and happened to have the best NFL career of any Ferentz alum at that position.
1. Marvin McNutt (2008-2011)
McNutt came to Iowa as a talented dual-threat quarterback who many Iowa fans (myself included) hoped would develop into the next Brad Banks, the player whose #7 jersey he shared. Instead, McNutt left Iowa City as the Hawkeyes’ leader in both career and single season receiving yards and touchdowns and left his mark as the undisputed greatest receiver of the Ferentz era, and possibly in the history of the program. As tnels20 writes:
“I’m not sure if there is a position with a more clearly defined number one during the KF era. McNutt had all of the skills you could want out of a receiver, and the production showed.”
McNutt emerged as offensive star during both his sophomore and junior seasons, but developed into a nearly unstoppable force as a senior in 2011, earning first-team All-Big Ten recognition and becoming the only Hawkeye to ever win the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year award. McNutt tied Kevin Kasper’s single-season record with 82 catches and translated these receptions into 1315 yards 12 touchdowns. During one stretch in conference play, McNutt posted five straight games with over 100 yards receiving and 6+ catches, including during Iowa’s signature upset victory over Michigan and a win over Purdue which gave the Hawkeyes bowl eligibility.
Yet for most Iowa fans, McNutt will forever be remembered in connection with three words: “Seven Got Six.”
Iowa may not have produced as many elite wide receivers as other Big Ten schools during the past 21 seasons, but McNutt is as good as almost any wideout to come through the conference in recent memory.
BHGP Composite Rankings:
5. Mo Brown
4. Kevin Kasper
3. Clinton Solomon
1. Marvin McNutt
Next week we try to tackle ranking the players who most excelled at not getting tackled: running backs.