So Iowa's 2014 recruiting class is in the books now -- or thereabouts (JUCO DE Torey Hendrick isn't able to sign a letter of intent until summer, but otherwise everything seems set now). We've profiled each recruit individually, but what's the big picture look like for this class? What's it all mean?
1) Did Iowa address their needs with this recruiting class?
Um... yes and no. Based on the trends of the last few years (and the talent that Iowa was losing after the 2013 season), this figured to be a class heavy on defensive guys. And that's what happened -- 12 of the 20 players Iowa signed (or will sign, in Hendrick's case) are slated to play on the defensive side of the ball. The depth chart was looking particularly light at linebacker and (to a slightly lesser extent) at defensive back; Iowa added five defensive back prospects and four linebacker prospects. The depth chart looks much healthier there.
On the other hand, Iowa also needed help at defensive end and their success rate there was a little hit or miss. Iowa did add two defensive end prospects (plus Hendrick, when he signs in the summer), but it's not clear if any of them will be able to make an immediate contribution in 2014. One of them (Terrance Harris) looks like a project, while another one (Hendrick) won't even be an official member of the team until late summer. (And Friend of the Pants Marc Morehouse seems to think he'll have to redshirt next season anyway.)
Iowa didn't have a lot of needs on the offensive side of the ball this year, given the amount of players returning from the 2013 season on that side of the ball. Put it this way: Iowa is slated to return four (4) quarterbacks, eight (8) running backs, nine (9) wide receivers, and six (6) tight ends for 2014. And that's not including any walk-ons. So Iowa could afford to be a little picky on that side of the ball. Indeed, they wound up adding a quarterback (when a 4* prospect fell into their lap in the wake of Rutgers' implosion last year), a pair of running backs (you can never have enough), and one potential wide receiver (Jay Scheel, one of the top all-around athletes in Iowa last year).
The one area on offense where Iowa looks a little slight? Offensive tackle. Iowa has several players that project well on the interior spots of the offensive line -- they could probably go three-deep there -- but things are a little thinner on the outside, and that's even with Brandon Scherff returning for his senior season. Iowa added a trio of offensive linemen in this class, but only one (Lucas LeGrand) looks like he might be a potential tackle. Expect tackle to be a major priority in Iowa's 2015 recruiting class.
2) How's this class look in terms of star rankings and offers?
Decent. It's not a blowaway class loaded with 4-5* prospects and Iowa wasn't beating off the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, or Alabama for many of their commits. But it was a pretty solid class all the same. Per Rivals, 14/20 players are 3* or above and and nearly all of that group also had offers from other BCS-level schools. Iowa wasn't just fending off the likes of Central Arkansas and Southern Idaho for them. Even the six two-star prospects are less alarming than some of the 2* prospects in years past. Two of them are kickers, which... whatever. Recruiting services typically aren't great at ranking kicking prospects. (And kicking prospects rarely get more than 2-3* anyway.) There are also a couple "give 'em to Doyle for a few years and see what happens" local prospects (Hesse, Niemann) which tend to be the sort of projects that Iowa has a pretty good success rate with.
As Pat has documented in his breakdowns of the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes, where Iowa went awry was in loading up on 2* project-type recruits (they need to be seasoning, not the main dish) and on taking so many 2* project-types from faraway places (Florida, Texas, New Jersey, etc.). Historically, those are the types that the attrition fairy tends to make disappear the most. Iowa did grab two 2* types from Texas and New Jersey (DE Terrence Harris and DB Josh Jackson) and hopefully they stick around, but if they don't, at least Iowa would only be losing a pair of guys rather than half the class the way they did in 2008 and 2009.
3) Which players are most likely to play early? In other words... whose names should I get familiar with now?
Ferentz has always said that the further a player is from the ball on the line of scrimmage, the more likely he is to play early and, historically, that's been true at Iowa. The guys who see the field as freshmen have tended to be defensive backs (especially cornerbacks), running backs, and wide receivers. There's also been the odd defensive linemen (usually out of desperation and a lack of viable options) and tight end. That's probably going to remain true in 2014, too.
I think you can safely assume that the linemen Iowa brought in this year will be redshirted and saved for 2015 and beyond. The main exceptions there might be Matt Nelson (if he picks things up quickly at defensive end) and Torey Hendrick, if a) he signs with Iowa this summer, b) everything is A-OK with his eligibility, and c) he's able to be a difference-maker as a pass-rusher. Running back is usually a good bet for a true freshman contributor, but with the glut of healthy bodies projected to be available at that position next year (/KNOCK ON WOOD), it will likely take a seriously impressive fall training camp performance from C.J. Hilliard or Markel Smith to crack the RB rotation. You can also bet the farm on Tyler Wiegers redshirting next year, unless he's the greatest thing since sliced bread in practice.
No, as usual the most likely early contributors figure to come from the defensive back and linebacker ranks. In part, that's because Iowa returns just two starters among those five positions (CB Desmond King, S Johnny Lowdermilk). Players currently on campus (like Jordan Lomax and Nico Law) are the current favorites to win the starting spots opposite King and Lowdermilk, but there's no guarantee there -- just look at Desmond King's rise to prominence last year. So Omar Truitt, Jalen Embry, Marcel Joly, Miles Taylor, and Josh Jackson -- these are the guys most likely to make you go "hey, who's that?" and go scrambling for your programs next fall. And even if they don't crack the lineup -- or two-deeps -- in the secondary, they might still see the field as part of the special teams units. Defensive backs and linebackers historically form the backbone of those units.
4) Are there any new recruiting territories developing for Iowa?
Not quite. Nine of Iowa's 20 recruits came from a state in the current Big Ten footprint, with four of that number hailing from Iowa. If you add the states that will be in the B1G footprint as of July 1 (including D.C. because -- c'mon -- it's basically Maryland, right?), that figure jumps to 14 recruits from the Big Ten footprint. The biggest takeaways were that despite adding Greg Davis, Texas isn't turning into a hotbed for Iowa recruits (Iowa added just two players from the Lone Star State, K Mick Ellis and DB Josh Jackson), and that the Mid-Atlantic region remains a strength for Iowa even with Darrell Wilson's departure -- and with the relative lack of success Iowa's recent Mid-Atlantic players have had so far. Nico Law and Jordan Lomax were both begged to start last season, but both lost those spots (in part due to injury) early in the season. But both remain strong ambassadors for the program and they helped Iowa land a trio of defensive backs out of Maryland and D.C. (Joly, Taylor, Truitt).
5) Which coaches killed it in recruiting this year?
That would be Chris White, who (per Rivals) as the lead or co-recruiter on eight of Iowa's recruits in this class, including that aforementioned Mid-Atlantic trio. Thus far, between his success on the recruiting trail and with Iowa's special teams units (though there's still improvement to be made there), White is looking like a very strong addition to Kirk Ferentz's staff. Props also to Reese Morgan, who worked his usual magic on Iowa's in-state targets (although he couldn't get Ross Pierschbacher to resist the siren song of Nick Saban, sadly) and Phil Parker, who used his Michigan mojo to help land a promising defensive back (Jalen Embry) and quarterback (Tyler Wiegers).
6) Why is Iowa struggling to capitalize on the NFL success of alums at certain positions?
Good question. Iowa has sent a steady stream of tight ends and linemen (on both sides of the ball) to the NFL during the 15 years that Kirk Ferentz has been in charge of Iowa, so you'd think that would make it easier to land top prospects there. After all, a starting spot on the Iowa offensive line basically comes with an engraved invitation to the NFL --and if you're a left tackle, it practically comes with a guaranteed spot in the first round of the NFL Draft (see: Steinbach, Eric; Gallery, Robery; Bulaga, Bryan; Reiff, Riley, to name a few examples). So why is Iowa struggling to land recruits for those positions?
In terms of offensive tackles and tight ends, 2014 might be more of a blip than any sort of worrisome trend. Iowa's had great success getting highly-touted offensive tackle prospects in years past and they did have Pierschbacher for this year's class -- they just weren't able to keep him when Alabama came calling. So it goes. And Iowa didn't add a tight end this year in part because they didn't target the position very hard, given the wealth of options they already possessed at the position. But defensive end? Iowa sent Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard into the NFL after the 2010 season and that's on top of sending ends like Aaron Kampman and Matt Roth in years past. (It also doesn't mention the defensive tackles that Iowa has been able to send to the NFL, like Colin Cole, Jonathan Babineaux, Karl Klug, and Mike Daniels.) Yet Iowa replaced Clayborn, Ballard, et al. with spare parts and projects... and has basically been doing the same ever since. It's a little puzzling that more big-time defensive end prospects aren't willing to give Iowa more of a look given the success Iowa has had at the position in the not-so-distant past.
7) Flipping commitments? "Secret" recruiting visits? What the heck is going on?
This isn't your daddy's Iowa recruiting any more. The recruitment of Miles Taylor is probably "exhibit A" in support of that statement. Or maybe the recruitment of Tyler Wiegers. Or, if you believe Paul Rhoads, Allen Lazard. (More on that in a future post.) Either way, Iowa is pursuing recruits, even those committed to other schools, a bit more aggressively than in the past and doing things (like arranging seemingly "secret" recruiting trips) that would have seemed unthinkable in the past. By the standards of recruiting, this is basically just Iowa going a little bit deeper in the shallow end of the pool, but it's an interesting change nonetheless. Like some of the changes or not, for the sake of Iowa's ability to field a competitive team, it's probably a good thing that Iowa's at least starting to play the game by some of the same rules as everyone else.