The transfer portal can taketh, as we've seen with the departures of Samson Evans and DJ Johnson (as well as Ezra Miller)... but it can also giveth. Iowa added a potential starter on the offensive line in the long ago time of January in Indiana's Coy Cronk. And they picked up another potential starter for the other side of the trenches last week, in Northern Illinois transfer Jack Heflin.
Blessed to say I will be playing my last college football season for The Iowa Hawkeyes— Jack Heflin (@jack_a_sac_51) May 21, 2020
Heflin, who's listed at 6'4", 319 lbs, hails from Prophetstown, a small town in western Illinois and was reportedly a big Iowa fan growing up. That certainly gave the Hawkeyes an advantage in wooing him when he opted to leave Northern Illinois with one year of eligibility remaining. In 2018, Heflin recorded 33 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks; in 2019, he had 31 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. But, as is often the case with defensive tackles, raw stats alone don't tell the full picture.
Pro Football Focus named Heflin an honorable mention All-American last year and considered him the highest-rated returning DT among Group of Five schools.
Iowa lands Northern Illinois transfer Jack Heflin.— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 22, 2020
He would've been the highest graded returning Group of Five DT in 2020 - 90.1 pic.twitter.com/30Ku1qiInj
ESPN (using PFF stats) rated him the 7th best returning DT, period, for the 2020-21 season. "Heflin put forth one of the biggest breakout years at the position in 2019 after he raised his grade from 76.9 to an elite 90.1 that ranked seventh among the 316 FBS interior defensive linemen who played at least 300 snaps on the year. Heflin was only one of five Group of 5 interior defensive linemen who recorded 80.0-plus grades as both a pass-rusher and run defender."
So what's the catch? Well, if there is one, it's probably this: ESPN dinged him for his tackling -- 13 missed tackles on 44 attempts -- so that will be an area where he'll need to improve. That said, the fact that he still rated so highly even with some tackling gaffes is pretty encouraging; if he can clean up the tackling a bit, the ceiling for his play at Iowa seems very high.
Adding a player of Heflin's quality would be a win for Iowa no matter what -- you can never have enough good football players, particularly ones with considerable on-field experience -- but adding a player of his quality at a position like defensive end is an even bigger coup. Iowa has lost three starting defensive linemen in each of the past two offseasons, so the cupboard has been getting a bit empty there, at least in terms of experienced production.
Defensive tackle was a particular concern with Iowa losing both senior starters from last year's front four, Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff. That left Daviyon Nixon and Austin Schulte as the next men in at defensive tackle. Nixon is a hugely exciting option at DT and played starter-level snaps in the second half of the season last year. Schulte has provided solid rotational reps for Iowa, but it was unclear how he'd handle things as a first-choice starter. With Heflin's addition, he may not be thrust into a primary starting role now. At the very least, Heflin gives Iowa another very experienced option to use alongside Nixon and Schulte. This move seems like a big win all around for Iowa's defense.
Welcome to Iowa, Jack.