The transfer portal has now been open for one week and the frenzy continues to build with new entrants every day and several big names already finding new homes. The Iowa Hawkeyes, however, have been relatively quiet in the portal thus far.
And for good reason. On Friday, we outlined the current scholarship situation for Iowa as we head into the meat of the portal window. In short, things are tight and in all likelihood the Hawkeyes are going to enter spring practice over the scholarship limit. That is particularly true if we see any number of seniors with COVID eligibility remaining opt to come back. While none have made a formal announcement as of yet, it seems likely at least a couple super seniors will be roaming the sidelines in Kinnick come 2024.
Without knowing for sure who will be back and who will depart following Iowa’s New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl matchup with Tennessee, it’s difficult to know for sure what they should be looking for in the transfer portal. But we can make some assumptions and get close. Beyond assumptions, we also know who the staff is following on social media and can make some connections to where they perceive the needs for next year.
As things stand right now, Iowa is set to lose a slew of starters on the defensive side of the ball to graduation, as well as a few pieces on offense. Let’s start with Phil’s group.
Both starting linebackers, Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson, were seniors this season and could head to the NFL. Add in backup Kyler Fisher to that group and the linebacker room looks a little thin and could be a prime spot for the staff to target a portal player. Except, as we noted on Friday each of those three players may be coming back.
Fisher is almost certainly returning to Iowa City for 2024, but Higgins and Jackson sound like they may be a package deal. Higgins has a COVID year he could use while Jackson would need to petition the NCAA for a 6th year based on his senior season at Virginia being cut short due to the shooting tragedy there.
In the secondary, the Hawkeyes also have things up in the air. Safety Quinn Schulte is poised to graduate, but like Higgins and Fisher he has a COVID year at his disposal. Similarly, CASH Sebastian Castro and CB Jermari Harris could opt to try their hands at the NFL or use COVID years in 2024. On the other side, Cooper DeJean is widely expected to leave early for the league, but has also hinted that he might be open to returning. If either of those two depart, corner will be a position of need. If both are gone, things could be very thin at the position. That’s especially true given we’ve already seen depth piece Brenden Deasfernandes hit the portal this cycle.
Up front, defensive Joe Evans has exhausted his eligibility but Iowa will return or bring in a total of ten defensive ends for next year. In the middle, Logan Lee has graduated and is not planning to return while Anterio Thompson has already entered the portal. That could leave things thin at DT if Yahya Black chooses to test his NFL draft stock. He is rumored to be coming back and when combined with the depth of guys like Aaron Graves and Jeremiah Pittman, the loss of Thompson is something Kelvin Bell could overcome.
Over on offense, things are a bit more certain. For better or worse, Iowa is almost certainly returning starter Cade McNamara and backup Deacon Hill. The transfer of Joe Labas leaves Marco Lainez at third string and with the addition of prep James Resar this cycle, Iowa should be set with four QBs in 2024.
In the backfield, there has been speculation that the Hawkeyes might lose one or two RBs to the portal, but more recent rumblings have been that everyone will be back. With five guys who all saw reps this year and a pair of freshmen coming in, there’s no need for an addition here.
Up front, we’ve seen Iowa be active in the portal the last few years looking for immediate fill ins. They took Rusty Feth and Daijon Parker last cycle and while Parker never made an impact, both are graduating. The Hawkeyes still return four seniors who started this year and along with juniors Beau Stephens and Mason Richman, there will be six players with starting experience returning. Don’t expect much action from Iowa on the OL this cycle.
Things get a bit more interesting out wide. Iowa has already seen Diante Vines leave and Nico Ragaini graduates from a wide receiver room that left much to be desired this season. The Hawkeyes will return their two portal additions from a year ago with Kaleb Brown and Seth Anderson. Beyond that, though, it’s all question marks. Jacob Bostick saw some time down the stretch this year, but has been banged up seemingly his entire career. None of Iowa’s three freshmen saw time this season behind walk-ons Caden Wetjen and Alec Wick. If Iowa has room, this is one spot it seems like they could look for another body.
Between the line and out wide is another interesting scenario at tight end. Both stars Luke Lachey and Erick All were injured this year. Now it sounds as though All will be moving on while Lachey is still up in the air. If both are gone, Iowa would lean on guys like Addison Ostrenga and Zach Ortwerth who gained valuable experience this year. But given the scheme over the last two decades, it would seem the Hawkeyes could use another impact player here. Again, that’s if Lachey opts to go pro. If not, they’re probably all set.
Over on special teams, sadly it’s time to say goodbye to superstar punter Tory Taylor. The Hawkeyes are expected to bring in a new Aussie in this class so they may not have a need in the portal, but it’s also possible they take a one year rental to get through a first year with the incoming freshman (it’s worth noting the Aussie punters are typically older than a traditional high school senior). At kicker, Iowa is set to return starter Drew Stevens. However, his struggles down the stretch and history of social media comments from his family leave open the possibility that he looks elsewhere post-bowl game. That would likely leave Iowa looking for a kicker in the portal.
Positions Set: DE, S, QB, RB, OL
Positions of Need: CB, WR
Up in the Air: LB, DT, TE, P, K
Unsurprisingly based on the above, the majority of Iowa’s early interests have seemed to be targeted at two key positions with a few others sprinkled in. Let’s look position by position.
The Iowa staff has begun following four different CB portal entrants this cycle. That’s in addition to a player they were already in touch with last cycle who finds himself back in the portal this year.
Toriano Pride - Clemson
Pride is a player the staff offered out of high school. The St. Louis-area native chose Clemson but was in the portal with a no-contact tag this cycle. While the Iowa staff followed him again on socials, he committed to Mizzou last week.
Will Lee - Kansas State
Kansas State corner Will Lee is another St. Louis-area player who had an Iowa offer out of high school. He hit the portal when it opened and was followed right away by the staff. However, he has already committed to Texas A&M.
Jalen Huskey - Bowling Green
As with Lee and Pride, Maryland native Jalen Huskey was on and off the market within a week. The Bowling Green corner was another quick follow for the staff last week, but he committed to his home state Maryland over the weekend.
TJ Crandall - Colorado State
A native of Washington, Colorado State corner TJ Crandall finished his freshman season with 19 total tackles and one interception. While he was not offered by Iowa as a prep, he was quickly followed by the staff last week upon entering the portal. Unlike the others listed above, Crandall has yet to make a decision. However, formal contact from the Iowa staff has not yet been confirmed and he is not currently scheduled to visit Iowa City. Originally a member of the class of 2022, Crandall would have four years to play three.
Alex Washington - Boston College via Harvard
Perhaps Iowa’s most likely portal commit this cycle is former Harvard corner Alex Washington. The Hawkeyes made the cut a year ago and got a visit from Washington. However, he ultimately chose to stay out east and enrolled at Boston College. After playing in the first three games of the season, he announced intentions to enter the portal after week four and has been on the Iowa radar ever since. As a grad transfer, Washington would still be eligible immediately at his new home.
Will Sheppard - Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt wide receiver Will Sheppard is a player with no prior connection to Iowa, but a very good receiver who appears to have the physical tools to be exactly what Iowa needs on the outside. At 6’2” and 180 pounds, Sheppard is the big X receiver that’s been missing.
WATCH: Vanderbilt WR Will Sheppard (@willshep20) clocked 20.9 mph on this 85-yard touchdown reception from Ken Seals (@KenSealsQB). #ReelSpeed @CoachAlexBailey— Reel Analytics (@RAanalytics) October 11, 2023
Originally a member of the class of 2020, he is poised to be a redshirt senior with the potential for a COVID year as well, giving him two years to play two. As a commodore, he finished with 2,067 yards and 21 TDs on 152 career receptions for an average of more than 13.5 yards per reception.
Jaden Richardson - Tufts
Similar to Will Sheppard, Tufts WR Jaden Richardson is poised to be a fifth year senior, but will have a COVID year so exits his current school with two years to play two. And like Sheppard, he has ideal size for an X receiver in Iowa’s system at 6’3” and 210 pounds.
Originally from San Mateo, California, Richardson was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. He finished his career at Tufts with 1,564 yards and 20 TDs on 92 catches (note Tufts plays a 9-game schedule) for an average of 18 yards per reception.
Given the shorter season, Richardson has been a noted portal entrant for some time and was one of the first players the staff followed. On3 has reported there is mutual interest between Richardson and Iowa, but to this point only UCF has received a visit and Iowa is yet to offer.
Donaven McCulley - Indiana
As of this writing, the only other receiver to note is former Indiana Hoosier Donaven McCulley. If Richardson and Sheppard had great size for what Iowa is looking for, McCulley is ideal. He’s listed at 6’5” and 200 pounds and finished 2023 as Indiana’s leading receiver with 644 yards and 6 TDs on 48 catches.
McCulley is a former 4-star prospect from Lawrence North High School, where Kelvin Bell has had some success and offered the former Hoosier as a prep. Notably, beyond Iowa’s staff following McCulley, he is also followed by Iowa QB Cade McNamara. Originally a member of the class of 2021, McCulley took a redshirt as a freshman but has played the last two. He will have two years to play two at his next stop.
Justice Akinmoladun, DT - Washburn
Washburn defensive tackle Justice Akinmoladun is a recent follow for the Iowa staff. The Hawkeyes were not involved as a prep, but did recruit his brother Freedom who ended up at Nebraska. In three seasons with Washburn, Akinmoladun totaled 100 tackles and 4.5 total sacks.
At 6’ and 300 pounds, his builds reminds a bit of Noah Shannon. With three years to play two, including a COVID season, Akinmoladun would be a nice addition to replace the departing Anterio Thompson. Notably, Akinmoladun was also an All-American in the shot put at Washburn competing in two sports.
Dion Washington, DE - Nevada
Listed as a defensive end, Nevada’s Dion Washington is an interesting developmental story. He’s listed on the Wolfpack roster as a DE largely because he came into his collegiate career at 243 pounds. At 6’3”, he’s been able to pack on the pounds and is now bulked up to 288 pounds.
He totaled 34 tackles and three sacks in two seasons for the Wolfpack and now looks for a new home where he will have two years to play two. Given his added bulk and Iowa’s need in the middle, Washington may be a candidate to move inside if he ends up in Iowa City.
Matthew Bedford, OG - Indiana
Originally a 2019 commit, Indiana’s Matthew Bedford is taking his COVID season outside of Bloomington. At 6’6” and nearly 310 pounds, he played guard at IU but seems to have the size to go inside or outside in a new home. While the Iowa staff has been following (and notably, he’s the only OL being followed as of this writing), Bedford has already taken a visit to Auburn and seems like to end up there.
Sterling Smith, SS - Holy Cross
A product of Indianapolis’ Cathedral Prep, Sterling ‘Stu” Smith is another follow for Kelvin Bell who has been laying the inroads in Indy for several years. As a freshman at Holy Cross, Smith totaled 36 tackles with 2 passes broken up as the starting safety. The numbers don’t jump off the screen and Iowa doesn’t have a pressing need at the position, but keeping the pipeline open in Indianapolis with a depth player who has four years to play three is something to keep an eye on.
Jahsiah Galvan, LB - UNI
Similar to Smith, the follow of Jahsiah Galvan seems to be more of a hedge on depth than anything looking for immediate impact. Galvan is a redshirt freshman from UNI who had 77 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in his first year of game action. A native of West Liberty, Iowa, Galvan was once thought to be a P5 prospect but ended up at UNI despite a reported offer from Nebraska. He has the frame at 6’2” and 200 pounds and was productive as a freshman. Perhaps the Hawkeyes are looking for depth or perhaps they think they can get a developmental steal without a scholarship given the tight situation.
This list is current as of Tuesday, December 12th. The transfer portal is obviously dynamic situation that will change hour to hour, much less week to week. We’ll continue to monitor targets and will publish a weekly update until this portal window closes on January 2nd.