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2022 position previews: Wide receivers

Can Keagan Johnson lead a passing resurgence?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It is easy to be pessimistic about Iowa’s ability to move the ball through the air (or on the ground) after last year’s results. But really, the reasons for that pessimism do not exist, in my opinion, because of the talent in the wide receiver room. The group is as talented as any bunch, according to past recruiting rankings, and showed plenty of promise last season.

The question will be twofold - can they hold up, health-wise and can Iowa get them the ball enough to turn the offense around?

Keagan with two “a”s

In writing this up, I innately started with an incorrect spelling of Iowa’s #1 returning wideout, according to yardage. Thanks, Sacramento Keegan. But there is a ton to be excited about with the return of Keagan Johnson. As Scott Dochterman has noted, only two other wide receivers have averaged a higher yardage per catch while snagging 15 or more passes.

And this is where the pessimism comes in: that 15 catches is doing a ton of work as the filter because Maurice Brown and Marvin McNutt had 48 & 34 receptions, respectively in the seasons referenced above. So are the above seasons templates for what Johnson can accomplish in the black and gold? I sure hope so. The kid is as talented as any receiver over the last decade:

In the above clip, Johnson doesn’t show track speed a la Ihmir Smith-Marsette but plenty of football acumen and decent speed to get behind defenders, especially if they’re playing lazy press-ish coverage. Perhaps his most impressive attribute is his ability to break tackles and make something out of absolutely nothing. Plays against Penn State and Minnesota, among others, demonstrate his ability to be a game-breaker out wide.

The other guy in the highlight video

Since Greg Davis has taken over, the slot receiver has regularly led the Hawkeyes in receiving. That should bode well for Arland Bruce, who looked every bit the jack-of-all-trades as he was sold as ahead of his freshman season.

All told, he finished with 34 touches for 278 yards and four touchdowns. He was regularly used on end arounds and found the end zone on three of those plays. It’s the type of constraint play Iowa fans have desired to help open up the running game. The area for opportunity in Bruce’s game is to get him the ball in situations where he can simply...gain more yards. His 8.4 yards/catch were 7th on the team.

Like Johnson, he’s got good ability to break tackles despite (because of?) his height and demonstrated the best hands among Iowa’s wideouts.

The veteran

This would be a deeper section, except Iowa saw two of last season’s receivers depart to Purdue. Au revoir Charlie Jones & Tyrone Tracy. I’ll see you in West Lafayette on November 5th. As it stands, Nico Ragaini returns for his fifth season (he’ll have one more available to him) and has 91 catches & 968 receiving yards to his name. He’s also got last season’s absolute high point: the game winning tuddy against the Nittany Lions.

He led the Hawkeyes in receptions in 2019.

The depth

Flamethrowing redshirt freshman Brody Brecht is the most intriguing of guys not already listed. He stands 6’4” & 217 pounds which is exactly how Iowa wants a receiver out wide a la Brandon Smith. He turned down MLB offers to come play football (and baseball) for the Hawkeyes.

Brecht will competing for playing time with similarly sized Jackson Ritter, a walk-on junior out of Illinois. He had three catches last season and looked to be as good a blocker as Iowa had as a wide receiver, which is something which definitely matters.

Diante Vines & Jacob Bostick are the remaining scholarship receivers for the Hawks. Vines playing time has been limited in his two seasons while Bostick is already receiving some high marks from current guys on the roster.

Iowa has the top-line talent at wide receiver to have success in the passing game. Others will have to step up around them to maximize their ability and build the depth of the position.