In simplest terms, a good way to look at any college football team during the preseason is examining who they have to replace. Who graduated? Who left early for the NFL Draft? Curiously, for having a reputation as a “developmental program”, Iowa had an unusually high number of players leave early for the NFL last year. Not so interesting, though, is that regardless of reputation, Iowa lost a lot of talent following the 2018 season and has to fill a number of key positions. Let’s look at who Iowa lost in 2018 and who they’ll gain in 2019.*
* - Yes, we’ll still be doing Positional Awareness.
Offense: 5 New Starters
Note: Iowa’s depth chart technically lists two starting tight ends, bringing their number of listed starters to 12. As fielding 12 players is…well…illegal, we’ll only count one tight end for the purposes of tabulating how many starters Iowa has to replace on offense.
|TE Loss: Noah Fant, Junior||TE Gain: Nate Wietling, Senior|
Fant, arguably the most athletic tight end in Iowa history declared early for the NFL Draft, foregoing not only his senior season but the Outback Bowl as well. Over the last two seasons Fant combined for 1,012 and 18 touchdowns on 69 receptions. Nice.
Fant’s replacement is Nate Wietling, a blocking tight end that has caught three passes for 68 yards. Number of career starts: 2.
|TE Loss: T.J. Hockenson, Sophomore||TE Gain: Shaun Beyer, Junior|
If Fant was Iowa’s most athletic tight end, Hockenson was the most productive. Somehow, Iowa has to replace a guy who caught 46 balls for 717 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore.
Iowa will be replacing said guy with Beyer, a junior that has never caught a pass as a Hawkeye. Number of career starts: 0.
|LG Loss: Ross Reynolds, Senior||LG Gain: Landan Paulsen, Senior|
It honestly seemed like Reynolds spent majority of his career on Iowa’s depth chart but was never able to actually break through as a consistent starter. That changed in 2018, when he started all 13 games at left guard, being named second-team All Big Ten by coaches and third-team by the media.
Paulsen, the one time four-star recruit will finally have his chance to shine. Number of career starts: 0.
|C Loss: Keegan Render, Senior||C Gain, Cole Banwart, Junior|
Arguably, Render is the third most important loss on the team behind the tight ends. He was one of the most versatile players on the offensive line, playing left guard, right guard and center. In 2018 he started all 13 games, being named third-team All Big Ten by media and honorable mention by coaches.
Like Render, Banwart comes to the center position with starting experience as a guard. He’s what you would call a “good story.” Number of career starts: 7.
|WR Loss: Nick Easley, Senior||WR Gain: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Junior|
Iowa took a chance on a JUCO guy from Iowa Western CC and it paid off, as Easley turned into one of Nate Stanley’s most reliable targets. How reliable? In only two seasons Easley finished 23rd on Iowa’s all-time career receptions list.
ISM has been an on and off starter since he arrived on campus but continues to struggle with…consistency. As in he has the dropsies. Number of career starts: 6.
|FB Loss: Austin Kelly, Senior||FB Gain: Brady Ross, Senior|
Kelly actually came into the fold later in the season and earned the Next Man In Award on offense.
Ross was the guy who Kelly replaced, as Brady suffered a high ankle sprain against Indiana. Number of career starts: 1.
Defense: 7 New Starters
|LE Loss: Anthony Nelson, Junior||LE Gain, Chauncey Golston, Junior|
When Nelson signed with the Hawkeyes out of Waukee High School he had five other offers, three being from FCS schools, and Iowa State. He redshirted as a freshman and by his sophomore year he was seeing consistent playing time, finishing his career with 27 starts. In the last two years alone he amassed 23 TFL, 17 sacks, 5 pass deflections and 2 forced fumbles. Technically, as Epenesa was never a starter, Nelson was easily Iowa’s most disruptive starter on the defensive line.
Golston has spent time at both defensive tackle and end, being recruited out of high school as a strongside defensive end. While he saw a decent amount of playing time, he’s never actually started. Number of career starts: 0.
|LT Loss: Sam Brincks, Senior||LT Gain: Cedrick Lattimore, Senior|
Brincks was your typical walk-on turned reliable starter as a senior.
Now, Lattimore will have his chance, after seeing starting time as a sophomore, losing his job to [insert multiple players here] and backing up Brincks in 2017. Number of career starts: 6.
|RT Loss: Matt Nelson, Senior||RT Gain: Brady Reiff, Senior|
The Other Nelson had one of the more interesting careers as an Iowa Hawkeye. As a redshirt sophomore he started all 13 games at defensive end and appeared to be Iowa’s rock on the edge. Then came the health problems. Then came the move to defensive tackle. His junior year was a hit and miss experience but as a senior, he was solid, starting all 13 games and being named honorable mention All-Big Ten by both coaches and the media.
Iowa continues its never-ending chain of nepotism by replacing Nelson with Brady Reiff, who is Riley Reiff’s brother. Did you know that Brady Reiff is Riley Reiff’s brother? Number of career starts: 0.
|RE Loss: Parker Hesse, Senior||RE Gain: A.J. Epenesa, Junior|
Parker Hesse was a 2-star linebacker from Waukon, Iowa that ended his career starting nearly 50 games at defensive end for the Hawkeyes. His senior year highlights were: Academic All-Big Ten for fourth year, Forest Evashevski Scholastic Achievement Award, Big Ten Conference Sportsmanship Award recipient, honorable mention All-Big Ten by league media, Permanent Team Captain, defense, Hayden Fry Award, defense, Coaches Appreciation Award, defense, Iron Hawk Award, Team Hustle Award, defense, semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Award, presented by the National Football Foundation…is that good?
Hesse’s replacement is an actual Greek God:
A.J. Epenesa’s number of kills: 5. Number of career starts: 0.
|MLB Loss: Jack Hockaday, Senior||MLB Gain: Kristian Welch, Senior|
Middle linebacker has been a revolving door since the graduation of Josey Jewell but Hockaday finished his career holding down the starting job.
Welch was one of the guys who shared starts at middle linebacker with Hockaday and also saw starts at the weakside position. Number of career stars: 6.
|SS Loss, Amani Hooker, Junior||SS Gain, Kaevon Merriweather, Sophomore|
What can even be said about Amani Hooker, Iowa’s biggest playmaker at safety since Tyler Sash? He was starting since his true sophomore year and by his junior year he was named the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year. A tremendous loss of a tremendous talent.
Fortunately, his replacement is the type of player who saw action in nine games as a true freshman last season. I think the coaches see something special in Merriweather. Number of career starts: 0.
|FS Loss: Jake Gervase, Senior||FS Gain: Geno Stone, Junior|
Would you believe that Gervase, a one-time walk-on, actually led Iowa in tackles last season with 89? Would you believe that Gervase, a one-time walk-on, was molded into an honorable mention All-Big Ten player? Hard to believe, right?
His replacement is a familiar face, Geno Stone, Iowa’s one time starter at strong safety. Why the change? Well, Stone sometimes took…poor angles when it came to stopping a ball carrier. Maybe they thought free safety was a better place for him. Number of career starts: 8.
Putting a bow on this whole thing, Iowa needs to replace a total of 12 starters on both sides of the ball. Defense is of greater concern, as they lost 63% of their starters, including their entire defensive line. The good news is that the replacements on the line have a decent amount of experience. In fact, the same could be said about majority of the new faces coming into the fold: they don’t have a lot of starting experience but they’ve seen the field enough.
Well, except for tight end…
That needs work.