We've reached the Top 10, and as a wise commenter put it yesterday, if Josh Jackson is number 11 on this list, the Top 10 has to be ridiculous.
I think the Top 5 on this list were pretty easy to select. They're five of the best players in program history. Numbers six through ten aren't quite that, but they're close. They're some of the best players on their teams, and they were crucial to the program while they were here. They probably aren't on the tip of your tongue when you're arguing the best players of the last twenty years, though.
10. Amari Spievey
Class of 2006
Recruited as: Connecticut Player of the Year
Left as: Detroit Lion
You can't say that Spievey came completely out of nowhere. He had high school accolades. He had a Wisconsin offer. But Spievey's Iowa career almost never got started. He redshirted in 2006, then got shipped to Fort Dodge to resuscitate his grades in 2007. While at Iowa Central, he turned in a season for the ages: Seven interceptions, two pick-sixes, two kickoff returns for touchdowns and four blocked punts.
It was obvious from the moment he returned in 2008 that Spievey was a starting cornerback. Still, the numbers are staggering: 124 tackles, 86 solo, and six interceptions in just two seasons. He was big, he was physical, and he was fearless in pass coverage. Jon Gruden loved him.
It's no surprise that he's listed next to Josh Jackson on this list. There aren't many defensive backs who can go from two-star prospect to early-entry second-round pick. These two are in that group, and while Spievey didn't have quite the season that Jackson posted in 2017, he did it at nearly that same elite level for two years.
9. Adam Robinson
Class of 2008
Recruited as: A warm body in the backfield
Left as: A tragedy
The tradition of two-star halfbacks in Ferentz's zone system is deep, but there isn't another one quite like Adam Robinson. The Des Moines product didn't exactly have elite speed, spectacular agility, or love of contact. But Adam Robinson was damn near untackleable for two years through low center of gravity and force of will.
The two Robinson games that immediately come to mind for me in a two-year career where he compiled 2,145 yards and 16 touchdowns: The 2009 Penn State game, where his ability to extend runs allowed the Hawkeyes to run out the entire fourth quarter.
The other is the 2010 Michigan State game, for an entirely different reason. By that point in the 2010 season, Iowa was imploding at halfback, and Robinson was essentially the only man left standing. During Iowa's first touchdown drive of the day, television commentator Matt Millen spent a solid minute discussing how Kirk Ferentz loved Adam Robinson, that he was a hardworking kid who had played injured and consistently produced. Robinson had 101 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns that afternoon as Iowa romped over the nation's fifth-ranked team.
Twenty days later, he was knocked out with a concussion. Fifteen days after that, he was suspended for the Insight Bowl trip. While the team was in Arizona, he was riding through Des Moines in a friend's car with marijuana in the armrest, and that was it. Adam Robinson was no longer a Hawkeye.
In two years, while splitting time with Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton, Robinson managed to move to 18th in program history in rushing yards, 19th in rushing touchdowns, and 23rd in all-purpose yards. He was the workhorse of a team that might have played for a national championship had its quarterback not been injured in early November. He was a local guy who was easy to like, and it remains sad how it all went away.
8. Clinton Solomon
Class of 2002
Recruited as: The next generation of Iowa wide receiver
Left as: The template
Amari Spievey was not the first guy that Iowa farmed out to Fort Dodge for some grade resuscitation during the early Ferentz years. Clinton Solomon was so good after returning from Iowa Central that we informally renamed the Iowa JUCO strategy after him. It's not too much to say that Iowa has been looking for its next Clinton Solomon at wide receiver ever since.
First, the numbers: Solomon played three seasons at Iowa, and managed to finish seventh in program history in receiving yards, ninth in touchdowns and eleventh in receptions. If he merely duplicated his final season in a fourth year in the program, he would have finished fourth all-time in receptions, ahead of Kevin Kasper, and second all-time in yardage, ahead of DJK. Only one Iowa receiver in the last fifteen years has managed to match his 905 receiving yards in 2004 (Marvin McNutt in 2011, for those of you playing at home). He did all of that as a deep threat in an offense that really didn't take full advantage of deep threats, so much so that, when Drew Tate connected with Warren Holloway for the four-verts game-winner at the Capital One Bowl, Gary Dolphin assumed it was Solomon who had made the catch.
More than that, Solomon became the archetype for Iowa receivers in the Kirk Ferentz era, a lanky kid with good hands and enough speed to get separation. The mere fact that Solomon -- a high school quarterback recruited on pure athleticism -- worked is how we got to DJK and McNutt. The fact that we found Solomon in Texas led to Kevonte Martin-Manley and James Cleveland. Solomon confirmed that there were diamonds to be found at receiver, and Iowa has been mining those diamonds -- to varying degrees of success, admittedly -- ever since.
7. Jovon Johnson
Class of 2002
Entered as: Phil Parker Guy
Left as: Maybe the most underrated Hawkeye of his generation
How does a guy who went undrafted and recorded one tackle in the NFL get placed above two second-round draft picks? Well, does 17 interceptions do anything for you?
Jovon Johnson never had the right size for football. He's listed at 5'9" and that always seemed a stretch. But in four years at Iowa, and in a subsequent twelve years and counting in the CFL, Johnson has been dependable, tough, and excellent at pass defense. He started four years for the Hawkeyes, stepping in as a true freshman at cornerback across from Bob Sanders and Antwaan Allen, holding his own in that elite company, and never giving up the job. He finished one interception behind Nile Kinnick and Devon Mitchell, and none of the guys who came after him -- not Desmond King, not Tyler Sash, not Josh Jackson -- have come close to his total. He was as sure a tackler as you'll ever see on the edge, making 50 solo stops in his senior season. He was, in a phrase, the epitome of a Phil Parker cornerback.
He also hit like a goddamn truck and once suplexed an Iowa State wide receiver:
Johnson has spent the vast majority of his career north of the border, and was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. He's still playing now, because nothing ever really stops Jovon Johnson.
6. Mike Daniels
Class of 2007
Entered as: A New Jersey roll of the dice
Left as: Diesel
If you look closely at this list, there are a lot of small guys. In the fourteen players revealed so far, ten have been running backs, wide receivers or defensive backs. SPOILER ALERT: The final five are largely more of the same. And if you consider that for a second, it makes some sense. Players that are ready-made to contribute at Iowa are almost exclusively "perimeter" speed guys. Interior size and bulk takes some time to develop, and is far less certain to materialize. Guys who are big enough to really make a difference on the offensive or defensive fronts are relatively easy to identify, and three-star grades come with that size.
Mike Daniels never really had that problem. He was a 6'1, 230-pound defensive end when Iowa recruited him out of New Jersey in 2007, and his only other offer was from Temple. But Daniels looked like a prototype Iowa defensive lineman the moment he arrived, and he's only grown on that base from there. He looked like a monster in spot duty during the 2009 season, cashing in on limited opportunities behind the best Iowa defensive front of the Kirk Ferentz era by recording 1.5 sacks. When he entered the rotation in 2010, still surrounded by future pros at all four spots, he had clearly arrived. And when the deck cleared in 2011 and the Iowa defensive line was, for better or worse, the Mike Daniels Show, he did it all: 67 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 9 sacks as a defensive tackle.
He finished his college career with more sacks than any two-star recruit, second-most tackles for loss (behind only Karl Klug), and 123 tackles, all while trying to find space between Klug, Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns to work. And to be honest, he's been a better player after Iowa than just about all of those guys, earning a fourth-round pick and turning it into a 2017 Pro Bowl selection.
NEXT TIME: I BET YOU CAN GUESS WHO'S LEFT