Oops, it happened again?
An Iowa wide receiver has entered the transfer portal this offseason and, per reports, is headed to Purdue to play next season. No, this is not a (belated) write-up of Tyrone Tracy's decision to transfer from Iowa -- the same damn thing has actually happened again. Charlie Jones is also taking his talents from Iowa City to West Lafayette to suit up in black and (a different shade of) gold.
Sources: Iowa grad transfer return man will commit to #Purdue.— Tom Dienhart (@TomDienhart1) June 3, 2022
Jones was the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year in 2021. He will join the Boilermakers as a grad transfer with one year of eligibility.https://t.co/HUyZ3eQNoa pic.twitter.com/4ifSNGhQUQ
To be clear, I don't blame Charlie Jones for this decision (nor Tyrone Tracy for his). This bit from an article by Chad Leistikow in The Des Moines Register last week sheds some light on his decision:
Jones had said in November that while mulling a return for a sixth-year senior season, he needed to prove himself as a wide receiver before taking a shot at the NFL.
"I want to have as much film as I possibly can,” he said ahead of the Hawkeyes’ home finale vs. Illinois.
If you're a wide receiver and you have NFL aspirations... why in the world would you stay at Iowa for another season? What kind of film are you going to get as Iowa calls three-yard out routes and five-yard crossing patterns? Or when the ball sails five feet beyond you on the rare occasion Iowa does call a deeper route?
As a graduate transfer, Jones would have immediate eligibility to transfer anywhere. It certainly stings for him to choose Purdue, but that decision also makes sense from his standpoint. If you want to stay close-ish to home (he's from Deerfield, Illinois, originally) and play for a high-major school with an extremely capable passing game, well, Purdue's a pretty damn good choice. As Iowa fans we're certainly well-acquainted with what Jeff Brohm can do with the passing game there. (Purdue also had further need at wide receiver with the news that Milton Wright will be academically ineligible for the 2022 season this fall, too.)
Tracy's decision to leave Iowa made complete sense from a playing time standpoint; he was phased out of Iowa's offense as the 2021 season progressed, getting only a handful of snaps in the final games of the season. On the other hand, Jones' role in the Iowa offense only increased as the season progressed -- he saw more and more snaps in the finals weeks of the season, which included the Minnesota game (2 receptions, 106 yards, 1 TD), the Nebraska game (3 receptions, 31 yards), and the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan (2 receptions, 41 yards). Of course, he also posted zero-reception games against Illinois and Kentucky (in the Citrus Bowl) in that timeframe as well, further testament to the woeful inconsistency of Iowa's passing attack in 2021.
But Jones figured to be a key part of Iowa's receiving corps, alongside Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce IV, and Sam LaPorta. He also would have been a big part of Iowa's special teams; lest we forget, he was the Big Ten Returner of the Year last season and led the league in punt return yards (285 yards on 37 returns, a 7.7 yards per return average) and kick return yards (635 yards on 25 returns, a 25.4 yards per return average). His kickoff return touchdown was vital in Iowa's comeback win against Illinois last season and his punt returns routinely helped Iowa win the hidden yardage battle and give the offense improved field position to start drives. As a returner and a receiver, Jones would have been a big part of Iowa's attack next year. And now he'll be a part of the Boilermaker attack instead.
His decision to transfer is, in a small way, an indictment of Iowa's quarterback situation -- it doesn't seem like he was thrilled at the prospect of a further 12 games catching passes from Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla. But the decision is, in a much bigger way, a searing indictment of Iowa's pathetically inept offense and particularly its woeful passing attack, which was one of the very worst in the nation last season (109th in passing yards per game, 116th in passer rating). And the blame for that falls on Kirk and Brian Ferentz. This is the offense they have constructed and the offense that they oversee each fall. It is a disaster of their own making.
The reason for optimism next season is... blind faith? "It can't get much worse"? Largely the same personnel is back running the offense, except for arguably the two best players on that side of the ball (Tyler Linderbaum and Tyler Goodson). The only coaching change was Ken O'Keefe's retirement, which resulted in Kirk Ferentz doubling down on Brian Ferentz and installing him as QB coach in addition to offensive coordinator. There was some chatter in spring football to certain aspects of the offense being "simplified" and becoming easier to grasp, but we'll have to wait until September if that amounts to anything on the field. The only rational approach to have with the Iowa offense is extreme skepticism and bottom-rung expectations. We can be pleasantly surprised if the actual offense exceeds that, but they're very much going to have to prove it on the field.
If the offense -- and the passing game in particular -- can't find a path to improvement, whether that's through the current coaches finding a way to make the existing structures succeed or bringing in new coaches and schemes (ha), then Tracy and Jones won't be the only Iowa receivers looking for the exit door.