The Iowa Hawkeyes have a long, storied tradition of finding unheralded recruits and developing them into NFL draft picks. While Phil Parker has his Phil Parker Special and has really taken over the headlines in this role over the last decade or so, the tradition has its roots in Kirk Ferentz and former coach Reese Morgan’s ability to identify athletes who could add bulk and be a difference maker on the offensive line.
In 2023, the Hawkeyes looked to get back to those roots with the addition of Illinois big man Cannon Leonard. At 6’9” and 270 pounds, Leonard was a giant human, but not nearly as filled out as you’d expect for his frame when he first committed to the Hawkeyes. He’s already added bulk as a senior at Iroquois West in Illinois, but he remains a talented piece of the same AAU basketball team that has brought the Hawkeyes Owen Freeman and Brock Harding in the same class.
Today, Leonard made things official for the Hawkeyes as he signed his national letter of intent to play football at the University of Iowa.
Joining a storied O-Line tradition. Welcome home, Cannon!@CannonLeonard1 x #SWARM23 pic.twitter.com/OyGY0xky74— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 21, 2022
As noted, Leonard is a versatile athlete who shows tremendous lateral ability for a player his size. But given his 6’9” frame, his size is actually what makes him a project. That frame could easily take another 40-50 pounds of mass, which would make him an absolute monster at tackle.
But that takes time. And that’s how the Hawkeyes have built in the trenches over two plus decades.
On film, Leonard shows you all the things you’d hope to see in a project prospect. He has a great nasty streak and seems to enjoy using his much larger frame to absolutely obliterate defenders in his way. But he also uses that hoops athleticism to get out in space and hunt down smaller linebackers and defensive backs. Given the 6’9” frame, he will obviously need to work on keeping his pad level low and maintaining leverage at that height could be a struggle, but the tools are in the toolbox and you simply can’t teach the size of this particular tool box.
Iowa is set to sign four offensive linemen in the class of 2023, including another tackle prospect in 4-star Trevor Lauck, who appears more developed as a prep but perhaps without the same upside given a more traditional frame and background. The Hawkeyes are set to return 13 scholarship linemen in 2023, assuming senior Justin Britt is able to continue his career. That means there’s ample time for Leonard to learn, develop and most importantly, add bulk.
Look for Leonard to come to Iowa City and happily take his redshirt year, plus 1-2 additional years to fill out. He’s likely a candidate to push for a tackle spot in 2025 or 2026 as a redshirt sophomore or junior. At that point, much of the depth lined up in front of him will have graduated and his body will have fully matured into one of the next great stories on Iowa’s offensive line.
Welcome aboard, officially, Cannon Leonard!