Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
Assume the Position comes to an end with a position group that we still don't much understand: Cornerback, where just one player is a listed upperclassman and Iowa went on its most recent shopping spree this February. The roster is currently a bit of a mess, then, and this weekend's depth chart did little to sort out how it will actually play out. And that's before we figure in that two players listed at safety, including one listed starter, are filling holes left by Iowa's horrendous free safety recruiting and could end up at cornerback anyway.
Thank God for Phil Parker. Without him, I'd be nervous.
The King Is Back
Desmond King (#14, Sophomore, 5'11, 190 lbs., East English Village HS (Detroit, Mich.))
This is the annual spot where we praise Iowa's track record of getting cornerbacks to the NFL, where a senior who had a good season looks poised to get himself paid with a big final year. We're going to have to reserve that position for at least one year, though, because Iowa's best cornerback in 2013 and almost-surely best cornerback in 2014 won't be eligible for the Draft until 2015 at the earliest.
King's 2013 was a perfect storm. For one, he almost didn't end up at Iowa. He held offers from Indiana and a host of MAC programs, and had committed to Ball State in July of 2012. Michigan State and Wisconsin started showing interest late after King posted an absurd senior season for his high school (he set the Michigan high school record for career interceptions and was one of Detroit's top halfbacks), and Phil Parker put on a full court press in January 2013. Iowa finally offered eleven days before Signing Day, King committed the next day, and Iowa had another Parker-endorsed cornerback from Michigan.
With B.J. Lowery entrenched at the top of the depth chart and Jordan Lomax patiently waiting for his turn, it didn't look like King would have much of a chance to play as a freshman. But Lomax was injured in early September, opening a cornerback spot. King stepped in without missing a beat and -- with all due respect to Lowery -- quickly became Iowa's best corner. He was solid in coverage, as expected from a guy who picked off more than 30 passes in high school, but the revelation came in King's ability against the run. Iowa has moved away from Norm Parker's all-cover 2 philosophy, but it's still Iowa's base defense and used far more than anything else, and the corner's responsibility to assist on outside runs is just as important to that system as his duties on receivers. King was a sturdy tackler and shockingly good at play diagnosis, two things that aren't often found in true freshmen at defensive back.
The fact that we can expect a healthy level of advancement from King over his first offseason in the program should make you giddy. It's OK. You can feel the love.
Greg Mabin (#13, Sophomore (RS), 6'2, 195 lbs., Calvert Christian Academy (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.))
Pretty sure nobody saw this one coming: Greg Mabin, a once-completely-overlooked-recruit-turned-wide-receiver-turned-defensive-back-who-has-never-played-a-down-of-college-football afterthought, is your week 1 starter at cornerback.
Mabin was a true rarity: A small-school find in Florida. He played high school football at Calvert Christian Academy, a private school that plays in Florida's smallest high school division. His senior stats: 52 catches, 877 yards, 15 touchdowns. His recruiting tape was borderline comical, just defenders taking good angles at Mabin, followed by Mabin turning on the jets and leaving them grasping at air.
Despite his consensus three-star rating, Mabin didn't catch fire with recruiters. Iowa was the only major program to offer him a scholarship, and his small-school pedigree likely scared off potential suitors like Miami, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin. He was certainly going to be a project, but all that speed had to be useful somewhere.
Surprisingly, Iowa has apparently found it's useful on defense. After the obligatory redshirt, Mabin changed positions during spring practice in 2013 and lost a second year during the transition. And while most were talking about Draper, Fleming and Rucker, the coaches were singing Mabin's praises all August. That materialized in writing this weekend.
It's certainly not guaranteed that Mabin will hold the job for good; past Iowa post-August depth charts are littered with the names of one-hit cornerback starters (Greg Castillo somehow did it twice). Sometimes a great leap forward in August translates onto the field; sometimes it's just camp stuff. But the fact that Mabin can make this big a jump in the course of eight months, essentially going from someone incapable of contributing in any way to a starter at a new position, says a lot for him.
While You Wait for the Others
Maurice Fleming (#28, Sophomore (RS), 6'0, 200 lbs., Curie Metropolitan HS (Chicago))
Mabin's jump also might say something for Fleming, who got into the depth chart as a redshirt freshman and played in eight games, but recorded just three tackles (and two of those were in a glorified scrimmage against Western Michigan). It's ridiculously early to say anything definitive about a guy who was largely blocked out of the lineup by three fairly good cornerbacks, though. Fleming should play a much bigger role in 2014, especially in passing situations, and could well break through into the starting lineup at some point.
Sean Draper (#7, Junior, 6'0, 190 lbs., Glenville HS (Cleveland, Ohio))
"Expect Draper to play significant minutes this year on special teams and in the defensive backfield, get into the starting lineup if there is an injury, and make cornerback one of the first entries in ATP 2014."
We might have been just a bit wrong about Draper's effect on 2013. As it was, he played occasionally, recording four tackles (again, mostly against Western Michigan) and a pass deflection against Nebraska. But with Lowery gone and safety a mess, Ferentz and Parker would love nothing more than to have an upperclassman in the defensive backfield to join with Johnny Lowdermilk and show King and Lomax where to be. They obviously don't think they have that yet from Draper, and the clock is ticking.
Malik Rucker (#2, Freshman (RS), 6'0, 175 lbs., Robbinsdale Cooper HS (Minneapolis))
A redshirt was always in the cards for Rucker, who came to Iowa with plenty of accolades (two-time all-Minneapolis metro, with a ridiculous 83 tackle/5 forced fumble/3 interception line as a senior) and scholarship offers (Illinois, Arizona State, Duke, Minnesota, and Texas Tech, among others) but few pounds. He hasn't added much since getting to campus, which is going to make a move to safety difficult. Still, he did enough in practice to earn a team leader award for work on special teams despite not taking a snap in an actual game. He'll get there eventually.
Omar Truitt (#5, Freshman, 5'11, 180 lbs., St. John's College HS (Washington, D.C.))
Jalen Embry (#22, Freshman, 5'11, 180 lbs., Martin Luther King HS (Detroit, Mich.))
Marcel Joly (#8, Freshman, 5'11, 180 lbs., Forestville (Md.) HS)
Josh Jackson (#15, Freshman, 5'11, 175 lbs., Lake Dallas (Tex.) HS)
Iowa certainly has a type, doesn't it? Parker, looking at a depth chart devoid of defensive backs in 2015, went a bit crazy on the recruiting trail last year and landed four new cornerbacks and a safety. And while Iowa's previous forays into the mid-Atlantic for defensive backs haven't exactly worked out -- Jordan Lomax might finally break through this year, and Nico Law left the program after four years without a start -- we're going to assume that Chris White is bringing along an uncanny ability to spot excellent defensive backs in and around the nation's capital.
Iowa generally has no problem playing a freshman at cornerback, and could well do that if the rest of the depth chart is decimated or underperforms. Truitt's recruiting accolades would make him the favorite, which is why we're going with Jalen Embry instead. Phil Parker coaches defensive backs. Phil Parker recruits Michigan. Phil Parker finds defensive backs. Those defensive backs play. These things are not coincidental.