Perhaps the biggest area Iowa football has changed over the course of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure is how defensive line is managed. I remember the time when iron men roamed the gridiron for better or worse and the deepest a rotation got was 5. Now, the Hawkeyes more or less rotate 8-10 guys to max out their physical attributes while keeping them fresh. Part of the depth is how two starters opted to take the extra year afforded to them. The other part is there’s no real template for a defensive lineman anymore.
The super seniors
Noah Shannon is, in my opinion, the most important guy on this defense. Phil Parker & Seth Wallace will be breaking in two new starting linebackers with the departure of Jack Campbell & Seth Benson and nothing makes their job easier than simply not getting blocked by offensive linemen. Shannon has done all the little stuff in his career - I’m not sure there’s a more “defensive tackle” stat than no tackles in a game where they allow just 97 yards rushing & 297 total yards (at Maryland, 2021) but increasingly does the big stuff.
Last year, he had 2 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss among his 44 tackles. His 24 solo tackles are up from 20 in the prior season. He’s a hoss.
Out wide is Joe Evans who is what I mean when I say there’s no real template for a defensive lineman any more, at 6’2”, 246 pounds. He shifted down from linebacker early in his Hawkeye career and seems to make big plays at big times. 4th quarter sack in 2019 against a highly ranked Minnesota team. Again against Goldy in 2021. Safety against South Dakota State to extend Iowa’s lead. A pick six against OSU to give the Hawks a fighting chance. On his career, he has 18.5 sacks. Half a sack puts him in Iowa’s top 10 & 8 (his career high is 7) would put him in the top 5.
These two have 41 of the 68 starts among the returning starters.
The next great linemen?
Opposite Evans is redshirt junior Deontae Craig. Despite not starting a single game yet, he’s made a huge impact as a rush end with a team-high 7 sacks last year. He tied Lukas Van Ness with 10.5 tackles for loss. He’s 6’3”, 266 which was a couple inches and a few pounds smaller than Van Ness which maybe lowers his draft ceiling. But as far as 2023 is concerned, he’d be the guy due for a break out season except for the fact that he’s already broken out. You just haven’t realized it.
The real breakout candidate is sophomore Aaron Graves, who made the most of his limited snaps in 2022 to the tune of 3 sacks, 6 tackles for loss among his 16 tackles overall. While Iowa’s depth along the line precluded him from having the same game-to-game impact as A.J. Epenesa, his 2022 compares favorably to Epenesa’s 2017 of 15 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Perhaps the most insane thing about Graves is that he entered at a crisp 271 and Iowa’s roster has him at 293. If that’s true...holy smokes. (I’m not sure it is because his player card still has him at the 271)
While he’s not a starter, he should see his snap count skyrocket this season as he has the ability to play inside & out.
The ole ball & chain
A play on the fact that Logan Lee is the Hawks’ only married man, the defensive tackle has 27 starts to his name and, unlike Shannon who does his best work when his name isn’t called, was fifth on Iowa’s tackle charts last year with 53 as an iron man up front. He’s a senior but has another year available should he choose to accept it.
Other guys on the depth chart
Yahya Black is someone I keep waiting for to put it together in a huge way but remains a solid contributor as a backup tackle. Injuries may have hampered his impact last year, as he missed four games in the middle of the season. He’s classically built (6’5”, 306 lbs) and there were rumors of him testing out a offensive tackle in the spring after Shannon decided to return. Maybe his trajectory is that of Matt Nelson, who went college DL to NFL tackle. But he’s a high-floor backup which is really all you can ask of a tackle.
Two guys I definitely thought went from walk-on to contributors were Ethan Hurkett & Max Llewellyn last year. Those are just classic Iowa walk-on names. But their high school careers were enough to warrant scholarships and the pair (Hurkett a RS Jr, Llewellyn a RS So) found their way onto the field last year in backup roles. Hurkett piled up 15 tackles last year while Llewellyn had 3. Both remain on the lighter side, though, around 250 lbs, but they’ll be solid in the roles they’re in.
Jackson Filer & Anterio Thompson came over from Iowa Western after impressive juco careers. Filer is hilariously light (225 lbs) but racked up the stats - 15.5 sacks last year & 3 forced fumbles. And he’s walking on! Thompson is ready-made as a tackle at 6’3”, 293. He’s got three years available to him.
Brian Allen, Caden Crawford, & Andrew Kraus are a part of the 2022 class and should factor in 2024. Others rostered are: Luke Gaffney (RS Fr), Will Hubert (RS Fr), Jeff Bowie (So), Jeremiah Pittman (So), Anu Dokun (Jr), & Chris Reames (Sr).