Does the coronavirus stop the transfer portal? No, it emphatically does not. Iowa has been quiet on the transfer portal front for the most part this spring -- in terms of players coming and going -- but things have picked up a bit over the last few days. Two young Iowa football players, running back Samson Evans and defensive back DJ Johnson, have opted to continue their football careers elsewhere.
Evans was the first to declare his intention to leave Iowa City:
Excited for what the future holds. |John 13:7| pic.twitter.com/9L8vjHGBDB— Samson Evans (@Samson22Evans) May 18, 2020
Evans, a redshirt freshman from Crystal Lake, struggled to gain traction at a crowded running back position. He ends his Iowa career without seeing any game action, having redshirted in 2018 and not playing in 2019.
True freshman sensation Tyler Goodson emerged as Iowa's top running back by the end of the season, but Iowa also has two-thirds of the running back troika that carried the load in 2018, Mekhi Sargent (a senior in 2020) and Ivory Kelly-Martin (a redshirt junior in 2020). Kelly-Martin ended up redshirting in 2019, as Goodson, Sargent, and Toren Young handled almost all of the carries. Young also left the Iowa program after the season.
Goodson and Sargent will enter 2020 as Iowa's top running backs, with Kelly-Martin set to be their primary backup. Redshirt freshman Shadrick Byrd and true freshmen Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams will fill out the depth chart. Both Williamses were highly-touted recruits, but they could struggle to see snaps with Goodson, Sargent, and Kelly-Martin likely ahead of them in the pecking order. Byrd is a wildcard, a lightly-recruited back out of Alabama who redshirted as a freshman in 2019. In any event, Evans was going to have a difficult time carving out playing time in that running back rotation, so his decision to transfer elsewhere makes sense. We wish him well wherever his football journey takes him next.
Today DJ Johnson joined Evans in the transfer portal:
Proverbs 16:9 A mans heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps pic.twitter.com/7VPoDkziXd— DJ JOHNSON (@DjJohnson1127) May 20, 2020
Unlike Evans, Johnson was a contributor for Iowa in 2019. Johnson redshirted after playing in three games in 2018, but emerged as one of Iowa's main options at defensive back as injuries racked the secondary in the early going. Johnson started Iowa's season opener against Miami (OH) in the cash position that Amani Hooker made famous the prior season. Some early struggles nixed that experiment, but he returned to the starting lineup for Iowa's games against Iowa State, Middle Tennessee State, and Michigan. Brock Purdy picked on Johnson relentlessly in the Iowa State game, but after some early hiccups, Johnson made some key defensive plays late to help Iowa preserve its narrow lead. He finished with a season-high eight tackles (six solo) as well as two pass break-ups in that game.
After the Michigan game, Johnson's playing time nosedived. He didn't play at all against Penn State or Purdue and saw sparse action in Iowa's final six games of the season, recording just one tackle in that span. Johnson's playing time diminished as Matt Hankins and Riley Moss got healthier and took over Iowa's second and third cornerback spots. Iowa's top corner from 2019, Michael Ojemudia, is gone, but Hankins and Moss are both slated to return, and Julius Brents, who redshirted in 2019 after starting several games in 2018, should also be back. Johnson showed real promise at times, though, and it would have been exciting to see if he could have wedged his way into contention for more playing time.
Regardless, Johnson said playing time was not the reason he chose to leave Iowa:
I owe no one an explanation but understand PT was far from the issue. Im a team first guy wouldnt leave my team for those type of circumstances.— DJ JOHNSON (@DjJohnson1127) May 20, 2020
Johnson's departure leaves Iowa with three players at cornerback with significant experience: Hankins, Moss, and Brents. Terry Roberts, who will be a sophomore in 2020, played in 12 of Iowa's 13 games in 2019, though mainly on special teams or in mop-up duty; he recorded 11 total tackles. Beyond that quartet Iowa has a pair of players who redshirted in 2019, Jermari Harris and Daraun McKinney, and a pair of incoming freshmen: AJ Lawson and Brenden Deasfernandes. There's also Dane Belton and Sebastian Castro, who could see action at the cash position or at safety, but may also be in contention for cornerback action. That said, questions in the secondary usually come back to a familiar answer: In Phil We Trust.
It would have been interesting to see how Johnson would have developed under Parker's tutelage for the next few seasons -- we've certainly seen plenty of defensive backs who played inconsistently early in their careers before blossoming as consistently solid performers as juniors and seniors. More than a few of them even went on to become All-Big Ten honorees. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. We wish Johsnon well as he embarks on the next stage of his football career.