Iowa’s receiving corps is undergoing a significant makeover in 2021 as it attempts to replace two three-year starters on the outside in Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. However, Iowa is fortunate to have a two-year starter returning to man the slot receiver position and is doubly privileged that this dependable offensive weapon still has two years left on campus before expending his eligibility.
Nico Ragaini– Junior
East Haven, CT (Avon Old Farms Prep School)
6’0”, 190 lbs
2021 Projection: Starting wide receiver
With two seasons under his belt, Ragaini has validated Iowa’s decision to take a chance on a lightly recruited prep school player from Connecticut, accounting for 640 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage over the course of 2019-20. Ragaini has improved both his hands and his body control since arriving on campus in addition to boasting impressive quickness and excellent footwork. Working primarily out of the slot, Ragaini has not only developed as a consistent weapon in the short passing game but has also shown an ability to produce big plays downfield, as evidenced by his abuse of poor Jordan Howden on his touchdown against Minnesota in 2019, as well as his big gain on a seam route to set up a Hawkeye field goal against Purdue in 2020.
Ragaini could get some opportunities to play in the “Z” receiver spot formerly occupied by Smith-Marsette, particularly if freshman Keegan Johnson proves more comfortable operating out of the slot. However, Ragaini’s reliable production from the slot position over the past two seasons makes it likely that the Hawkeyes will continue to feature him in that role, especially if some combination of Johnson, Tyrone Tracy, and Desmond Hutson emerge as the primary targets on the outside. Ragaini’s crisp route running and deceptive speed make him a strong candidate to lead the team in receptions in 2021, a feat which he previously accomplished during his freshman campaign. Ragaini could also receive more carries out of the jet sweep in which Smith-Marsette has been so regularly featured over the past few seasons, particularly after his only rush of 2020 resulted in the Hawkeyes’ first touchdown of the game against Minnesota.
Tyrone Tracy and Keegan Johnson may boast the greatest big play potential among the Hawkeyes’ wide receivers, and Brandon Hutson and Sam LaPorta may emerge as Iowa’s go-to redzone weapons in 2021. However, Ragaini’s consistency and versatility should guarantee him a high floor of production in his junior year and will allow him to continue to grow as a contributor in the Hawkeye passing game.