Previously on Assume the Position:
Iowa has a ton of wide receivers at the moment. The eleven listed above don't even include walk-ons who aren't in the mix for playing time, which would bring the total to sixteen wideouts on the roster. This is what happens when you can't recruit a position: You take a lot of fliers on fast guys and hope they learn how to catch the football. Too often in recent years, Iowa's two-star picks haven't done that, and we end up with even more receiver recruits. It's a vicious cycle.
But hey, Tevaun Smith is really good.
Tevaun Smith (#4, Senior, 6'2, 205 lbs., The Kent School (Conn.)/Toronto, Ontario)
Obviously, Tevaun Smith's place on the depth chart this year -- arguably the most talented receiver as a junior and unquestioned leader as a senior -- mirrors that of Marvin McNutt, arguably the best Iowa wide receiver ever. Smith had 43 catches for 596 yards last season, three rushes for 43 more yards (though that gimmick was effectively dead after his 35-yard meandering scamper through the UNI secondary in the first week of the season) and plenty of opportunities for more with a quarterback who can get him the damn football. He's been immersed in the Davis offense for three years and can break world records for one-handed catches. For all intents and purposes, he should have a monster year and potentially break into the NFL Draft. It's what McNutt did in his senior season, catching 82 passes for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns in Ken O'Keefe's offense.
Of course, this is a Greg Davis offense. Greg Davis offenses love to use guys like Tevaun Smith as decoys to open up the middle of the field. Greg Davis offenses beg for a double team on the great receiver to free up a good one. Greg Davis offenses don't target one player. Yes, this should cause you to feel a bit skeptical about Smith's chances at a breakthrough campaign. And yes, it can be overcome by both Smith and his coaches, and it should. Because Tevaun Smith is really good.
Don't Even Know Her
Jacob Hillyer (#17, Senior (RS), 6'4, 210 lbs., Somerset (Tex.) HS)
Hillyer is supposed to be a "glue" guy for this team. He wins hustle awards and does little things well, like blocking on the edge. Unfortunately, what he hasn't done much of at Iowa is catch passes: He has 23 career receptions for 255 yards and three touchdowns despite two seasons on the depth chart and one as a starter.
In 2013, Hillyer caught a bunch of passes early in the year and faded. Last season wasn't much different: Ten catches in the season's first eight games, no catches through the remainder of the regular season, and one catch in the bowl game. In two seasons as (at least ostensibly) a starter, Hillyer has never caught more than two passes in a game, and has caught a grand total of three passes in November. Those are not the numbers that Iowa needs from a starting wideout.
The thing is, we know Hillyer can catch. He caught 159 passes for nearly 2,700 yards in his last two years of high school football, enough to make him a first-team all-state selection IN TEXAS. But whether it's by design or simply a lack of something physically, Hillyer has trouble getting open in this offense. Davis has praised big wideouts in the past, but there's a sense that they don't make much sense for what Iowa is doing offensively, and Hillyer would be Exhibit A if that hypothesis was ever tested. He's a good player and a good guy. He just might not be the right player for this group.
Matt VandeBerg (#89, Junior, 6'1, 185 lbs., Brandon Valley (S.D.) HS)
We all know the VandeBerg story by now: Iowa offered him a grayshirt that turned into a scholarship when players left over the summer of 2013. He then avoided a redshirt and played effectively as a true freshman. He spent last season returning punts and catching 14 passes for 256 yards. All in all, not bad for a guy who wasn't supposed to amount to much. He had a monster game against Northwestern, catching five passes for 90 yards, and his subsequent performances against Wisconsin and Tennessee showed that there is something to work with.
VandeBerg's place on the team changes dramatically this fall. He's set to inherit the slot position that Kevonte Martin-Manley so capably manned for the last four seasons. He appears prepared for it; after all, the only thing more terrifying than going over the middle of the field after a pass is receiving a punt. If Smith is double-teamed out of existence by opposing defensive coordinators and Hillyer continues to Hillyer his way through his senior season, VandeBerg could have a gigantic season. All hail the return of the IGWWR, taken back from Minnesota like the pig we should have won.
Also Maybe Meercat
Riley McCarron (#83, Junior (RS), 5'9, 186 lbs., Wahlert HS (Dubuque, Iowa))
While everyone else was looking at the shiny object that is Jay Scheel, former walk-on and current afterthought Riley McCarron was positioning himself as the backup to everyone at wide receiver. McCarron has the size to play in the slot and the speed to play outside, and so the staff just decided he should go everywhere. Now that Iowa is finally teaching its receivers to play all positions (a fact that is so Ferentz/Davis that it's funny to say out loud), McCarron's role can be everything.
That McCarron is in this spot is sort of amazing, given that he did not catch a pass in 2014 and has just three career receptions. It's even more amazing when you realize that Iowa used a boatload of scholarships on receivers that aren't touching McCarron at the moment. So keep asking about Jay Scheel. McCarron will be over here catching passes.
While You Wait for the Others
Andrew Stone (#20, Senior, 5'11, 175 lbs., Cedar Falls (Iowa) HS/Iowa Western C.C.)
Stone set a school record at Iowa Western with 110 receptions in two seasons, but managed just three garbage-time receptions last season. Still, he's a playmaker with a proven record of making something happen with the football (those three receptions totaled 48 yards and a touchdown) on a team lacking in both, so he could get some legitimate time this season.
Jonathan Parker (#10, Sophomore (RS), 5'8, 185 lbs., Christian Brothers HS (St. Louis, Mo.))
Yes, there was that play. But before that play, Parker had been one of the best kick returners in the Big Ten through nearly the entire 2014 season. Yes, there was that other play. But Parker's ability on the jet sweep had been transformational for an offense desperate to get to the edge and keep defenses honest just one week before. Jonathan Parker's freshman season was the story of being put in horrible positions (by the third week, every defensive coordinator knew he was getting the ball on a jet sweep the minute he entered the game, for instance) and making the worst possible decision from said position. It can be fixed, and it should, because there is quite obviously some talent there.
Jay Scheel (#3, Freshman (RS), 6'1, 195 lbs., Union HS (La Porte City, Iowa))
Scheel, a prospect with all the hype that a four-star in-state skill position player commonly receives, can't stay on the field long enough to put it to use. He was injured last August, missed most of camp, and eventually redshirted for a team that could have probably used him. He was getting some play this August, but another injury took him out and let McCarron into the depth chart. He'll see the field this year, because Iowa can't afford to not give him a chance, but I don't think we can expect anything revelatory just yet.
Jerminic Smith (#9, Freshman, 6'1, 180 lbs., South Garland (Tex.) HS)
Why hello Mr. Smith: Jerminic (pronounced "German-ique") was one of two freshmen on the initial two-deep Friday, signaling the staff's intent to use him if possible. He was one of the few bright spots on the offense during Kids' Day, as well, so it's unlikely that this becomes a pocket redshirt. He was inarguably the top prospect in Iowa's trio of incoming wide receivers (TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma were at least interested), and the recruiting hype appears warranted.
Andre Harris (#84, Sophomore (RS), 6'0, 185 lbs., Kirkwood (Mo.) HS)
From the massive haul of wideouts in the 2013 recruiting class, just two remain: Matt VandeBerg and Andre Harris. And while VandeBerg has been returning punts and receiving some substantial playing time for two seasons, Harris hasn't seen the field. He was just 155 pounds out of high school, and a redshirt was needed just to make sure he wasn't cut in half by a Big Ten defender. But the fact that he didn't play at all last year is certainly disconcerting.
Emmanuel Ogwo (#6, Freshman, 6'0, 170 lbs., Horn HS (Mesquite, Tex.))