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Is Iowa’s Receiving Corps Already in Trouble (Again)?

It’s déjà vu all over again as Iowa’s receiving corps limps through an injury-plagued Spring. Is it too late for the coaching staff to seek more help at this position?

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Iowa football has not typically been very active in the transfer portal but seems to have made an exception this offseason. Before the portal closed in February, the Hawkeyes had already snagged seven potential impact players for both 2023 and beyond, including six players to help jumpstart the Hawkeyes’ moribund offense. While many of Iowa’s larger schematic and coaching problems still remain on the offensive side of ball, there was some hope among Hawkeye fans that Iowa’s portal haul might help improve an offense that was historically bad last season.

Now that the transfer portal has opened again, however, it appears that Iowa may need to act to address one significant area of concern from last year’s offense which appears entirely unresolved this spring: wide receiver. The Hawkeye receiving corps was a disaster last year after being plagued by injuries and inconsistency and produced only 796 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year as a unit (for reference, there were 83 players at the FBS level with more receiving yards than that in 2022). Despite losing Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV to the transfer portal after last season, the surprise return of Nico Ragaini for his COVID year and the arrival of former Charleston Southern standout Seth Anderson created reason for optimism that the receiving corps could form a more reliable target for Iowa’s new QB Cade McNamara than it did last season for Spencer Petras.

Iowa’s hopes for stability at the receiving corps have diminished this Spring, however. Talented sophomore receiver Brody Brecht left the team to focus on baseball, depriving Iowa of a big athletic target with a tremendous amount of potential. Brecht’s departure left Iowa with only four scholarship wide receivers this spring, and two of them (Anderson and redshirt freshman Jacob Bostick) have missed most of spring ball due to injury. Aside from Ragaini, the remaining players have very little experience in the black and gold. Vines missed half of last season due to injury, Bostick missed the entirety of 2022 and most of his senior year of high school due to injury, and Anderson has played all of one game against a division one opponent in his career. None of these players have any experience playing with McNamara, who has also missed significant time this spring while recovering from a surgical operation undergone last fall.

Beyond Iowa’s current four scholarship players are a handful of walk-ons and three incoming freshmen; perhaps some of them will be able to make contributions next season, but it perhaps unreasonable to expect them to carry a significant load in the passing game. Finally, while Iowa is blessed with a formidable tight end duo in Erick All and Luke Lachey, the Hawkeyes will still need weapons on the perimeter who can threaten the defense vertically and give McNamara more speedy options to throw to. Excellent tight end play wasn’t enough to elevate the Hawkeyes above being the 123rd-best passing offense last year, and it cannot single-handedly do so this year either.

Iowa’s coaching staff must address this growing concern at wide receiver the same way it sought to fill gaps across the team’s roster during the early months of the offseason: hitting the transfer portal. The portal re-opened again on April 15 and will remain so until the end of the month. Many players who had hoped to make bigger contributions this season may be disabused of this notion during spring practice and look to seek out greener pastures or do as Charlie Jones did during his first transfer and seek a step up in competition (let’s not talk about his second transfer). The Hawkeyes are admittedly not an attractive destination for wide receivers due to their abysmal offensive reputation and tendency to heavily feature tight ends and running backs in the passing game, but there is a case to be made for playing the numbers game and trying to grab as many DI-caliber players at the position as possible and hoping at least one of them sticks.

Iowa may not be in panic mode just yet at the receiver position. Ragaini is a proven contributor who has made some huge plays in his career, the coaches have been very high on Vines this offseason, Anderson has an NFL pedigree and was a highly coveted player in the portal, and maybe one of the incoming freshmen like Alex Mota, Dayton Howard, or Jarriett Buie will be ready to contribute from day one. Maybe the upcoming open practice will showcase a dynamic passing game and put these concerns to rest. However, longtime fans observers of Iowa football should know by now not to expect the best-case scenario to play out when it comes to the receiver room, especially after watching the Hawks play with one scholarship wideout at times last season. The arrival of McNamara, the growth of running back Kaleb Johnson, and improvements along the offensive line might be enough for Iowa’s offense to take a step forward in 2023, but its ceiling will remain low if the wide receiver position continues to be a black hole. An aggressive approach in the transfer portal between now and the end of April could at least inject a few more contenders into the mix at the position who can develop chemistry with McNamara during the summer and be ready to hit the ground running in fall camp. The transfer portal has done wonders for the Hawkeyes so far this offseason. Iowa’s coaches would be wise not to forget that lesson so soon.