There's only room for one C.J. in the Iowa locker room, it seems. And since C.J. Beathard isn't going anywhere, the lesser-known C.J. on that side of the ball is heading elsewhere. Running back C.J. Hilliard is leaving Iowa City for... somewhere. Hilliard announced that he was leaving via Instagram (though you can't see it, because his Instagram is private), which was later confirmed by Iowa.
Iowa confirms C.J. Hilliard departure.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) August 21, 2015
Hilliard becomes the third Iowa player to leave this month and the second member of the Class of 2014 to depart in the last few days (after Jalen Embry announced his decision to transfer). Like the other recent transfers, Hilliard was buried on the depth chart -- among running backs, he was behind LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley, and Derrick Mitchell, Jr., as well as redshirt freshman Marcel Joly and true freshman Eric Graham. It's hard to recall much buzz about Hilliard from any practice sessions before this month, either.
Given Hilliard's spot in the running back pecking order, a transfer isn't surprising -- and it's even less surprising when you recall that he wasn't one of the players invited to training camp this month. If you're a scholarship player and you don't get invited to training camp... that's not a good sign. At all. The writing was on the wall for this move as soon as Hilliard didn't get that invite.
Hilliard was probably better-known for being the older brother of Justin Hilliard, a 5* mega-recruit OLB/DE who ended up committing to Ohio State. At the time C.J. committed to Iowa, there was certainly some hope that he might be able to swing his brother here as well -- although C.J. himself didn't seem too interested in being part of that process:
I don't want to get in his ear because if that was me I would be pretty annoyed,
Iowa having a middling year and Ohio State being, well, Ohio State probably had far more to do with the younger Hilliard's decision to attend an in-state powerhouse program than anything C.J. said (or didn't say) about Iowa. That said, we also liked C.J. at the time he committed and thought he had some skills that could work at Iowa. It didn't work out here -- that happens.
On the bright side, Iowa still has a lot of running backs on the roster -- and projects to stay that way for a while. Of the six running backs listed above, only Canzeri is a senior -- the rest should be back in 2016. Iowa has also added several running backs in their 2016 recruiting class, including Toks Akinribade, Toren Young, and Barrington Wade (although the coaches have apparently talked to him about playing other positions as well), so the cupboard is hardly bare at running back.
Losing Hilliard isn't a blow to Iowa's 2015 hopes -- he wasn't going to play -- but it does continue an unsettling trend of recruits finding the exit door in Iowa City. As Friend of the Pants Marc Morehouse noted, he's the eighth departure this year (and that doesn't include Conor Kornbrath, aka Iowa's gone-but-not-totally-gone punter).
I've got Hilliard, Jalen Embry, Jake Rudock, Reggie Spearman, John Kenny, Malik Rucker, Solomon Warfield and Reid Sealby. I think that's it.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) August 21, 2015
Outside of Spearman and maybe Kenny, these departures aren't likely to impact Iowa much on the field this season. (Quantifying the impact of Rudock's departure is tricky, because there's a good chance that Beathard would have left if Rudock had stayed; is it better for Iowa to have Beathard around for the next two years and no Rudock or to have a two-year starter Rudock back this year? Plenty of digital ink has certainly been spilled on that topic already.) But down the road? As we said when writing up Embry's departure a few days ago, we've seen first-hand what happens when attrition hammers away at a lineup, especially at a particular position -- watching Iowa's linebackers last year was painful and offensive tackle could be similarly hard to watch this season. So far Iowa's 2015 departures have mostly been spread around the roster, but the sheer number of departures could become problematic in the future if it doesn't slow down soon. It's hard to be a developmental program if there's no one around to actually develop.