Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, running back.
Previously on Positional Awareness:
|40||Parker Hesse||SR||6-3/261||Defensive End|
|90||Sam Brincks||SR||6-5/275||Defensive End|
|82||Jack Kallenberger||JR||6-5/272||Defensive End|
|98||Anthony Nelson||JR||6-7/271||Defensive End|
|57||Chauncey Golston||SO||6-5/265||Defensive End|
|74||Austin Schulte||SO||6-4/275||Defensive End|
|93||Brandon Simon||SO||6-0/250||Defensive End|
|94||AJ Epenesa||SO||6'5/277||Defensive End|
|Nathan Nelson||FR||6'3/230||Defensive End|
|John Waggoner||FR||6'5/245||Defensive End|
Defensive end is hands down the strongest and most exciting position on the defensive side of the ball. The depth chart boasts three upperclassmen, two of which are multi-year starters and one of the most physically talented players in Kirk Ferentz history. Every sophomore is a 3-star player or better. One of the freshmen was the best prospect in the State of Iowa for 2018. In summation: Defensive end is going to be awesome in 2018 and should be awesome for the years to come.
LE1: ANTHONY NELSON (#98, Junior, 6'7, 260 lbs., Waukee, Urbandale, IA)
Nelson started every game last season and was, statistically, Iowa’s most disruptive defensive lineman. In 13 starts he amassed 41 total tackles, 9.5 of which were TFL, 4 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles. Of greater importance was his dominance in the pass rush, where he notched a team-high 7.5 sacks. A few highlights from last season include his sack to seal the win in the Battle for the Floyd of Rosedale:
Then there’s this strip/sack late in the 4th quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl, which would set up Iowa’s game-winning drive (highlight at 3:10):
As a point of reference, consider that Nelson has played in 22 games over the past two seasons, with only 14 of those being starts. Doing the math, he’s averaged 3.1 total tackles, .75 TFL and .6 sacks per game. In comparison, Parker Hesse, who has played/started in 25 games over the past two seasons, averaged 2.7 total tackles, .66 TFL and .26 sacks per game. This is not a knock on Hesse. This should simply demonstrate that Nelson is big, strong, explodes off the line and has the length to disrupt the passer.
Nelson is one of Iowa’s tallest, athletic and underrated (in my opinion) players and is only a junior. When he came to Iowa he was a mere 210 pounds. Now he’s 260 pounds and has an opportunity to be one of the most troublesome ends Iowa has seen since the days of Adrian Clayborn.
The Little Lion
RE1: PARKER HESSE (#40, Senior, 6'3, 261 lbs., Waukon, Waukon, IA)
Raise your hand if you haven’t doubted Parker Hesse.
Yes, you. Put your hand down.
I know you’re lying.
Hesse has been a starter since his redshirt freshman year and enters his senior season with 33 career starts under his belt. He’s a two-time Hustle Award winner on defense, is a multi-year Academic All-Big Ten winner and generally has a very high motor. And yes, I can joke all I want but the numbers show Hesse’s natural progression as a player. From 2016 to 2017 his total tackles increased from 36 to 43, his total tackles for loss went from 7.5 to 10.5 and his total sacks went from 3.5 to 4.0. He also intercepted a pass, so there’s that. Oh, and despite the fact that he’s Iowa’s smallest defensive end on the depth chart, he continues to be disruptive in the passing game, with 8 pass deflections over his career.
Ultimately, Hesse’s size will always be his easiest point of criticism. He can be pushed around by larger offensive tackles and flat out disappear if he is forced to the interior. The counterpoint is that Hesse is also Iowa’s most polished and technically advanced player. He has excellent hands and frequently outmaneuvers larger tackles, making him a dangerous pass rusher. When it’s all said and done, Hesse will go down as one of Iowa’s most dependable defensive ends during the Kirk Ferentz era.
LE2: SAM BRINCKS (#90, Senior, 6'5, 275 lbs., Kuemper, Carroll, IA)
Brincks enters his senior season as a backup, yet again, to Anthony Nelson. As a refresher, he was a 221-pound defensive end/tight end/fullback out of high school that walked on, redshirted and worked through the Chris Doyle Advanced Program of Getting Really Big. He’s seen consistent playing time since his sophomore year and solidified his spot in the rotation when Parker Hesse missed time with injury. Perhaps his greatest contribution came last season, when he hit Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, forcing a Josey Jewell interception:
Last season I was concerned that Brincks could be the odd man out of the rotation unless someone moved to tackle. Well, Matt Nelson moved to tackle. So Brincks maintains his status as a solid rotational player who, like Hesse, will outwork the guy opposite of him on the line of scrimmage.
The Samoan Knuckle Sandwich
RE2: AJ EPENESA (#54, Sophomore, 6'5, 270 lbs., Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL)
A.J. Epenesa doesn’t need much of an introduction, other than saying that he was probably the greatest recruit of the Kirk Ferentz era (so far). As a true freshman, he saw action in all 13 games last season, recording 15 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He often came in as a change of pace behind Parker Hesse on third and fourth downs, blowing offensive tackles back and rushing the outside edge. His performance in limited time had (has) fans calling for him to start in place of Hesse but Epenesa’s father has some wise words:
I've seen plenty of discussion on A.J. Epenesa not being listed as a starter on Iowa's spring depth chart. Then I saw what his father posted on Facebook. pic.twitter.com/OKQTJGAzru
— Rob Howe (@RobHoweHN) March 21, 2018
Eppy isn’t just saying this for show. He’s correct. A.J. does have a lot to learn and he can learn it from Hesse. Epenesa visibly struggled against the run, over-pursuing and found himself out of position. He also only used one move last year: the bull rush. Epenesa has the talent to become the greatest defensive end of the Kirk Ferentz era (and Iowa football history), but becoming a great end isn’t just about being the strongest player on the field. He needs technique. And that’s something he can learn over time. Epenesa’s snaps should increase this fall, his technique should improve this fall and by 2019, he will be a demon wearing an Iowa uniform.
While You Wait for the Others
JACK KALLENBERGER (#82, Junior, 6'5, 272 lbs., Bettendorf, Bettendorf, IA)
The only other junior on the roster at defensive end is Mark Kallenberger’s older brother, Jack, who walked on after spending two years at Iowa Central Community College. Jack was an outstanding athlete at Bettendorf High School, leading 4A schools with 14 sacks as a senior. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his grades high enough to qualify for an FBS scholarship, so he had to go to ICCC in Fort Dodge. As a sophomore, he recorded 6 sacks and 52 tackles and was named first-team all-conference despite the Tritons going 0-11. After his sophomore season, he returned home to Bettendorf, finished his AA, worked out with Pat Angerer and Julian Vandervelde and was eventually offered a walk-on opportunity by Reese Morgan. He accepted.
Jack is a bit of an enigma as he’s excelled at defensive end in high school and JUCO but we have no idea what to expect at the FBS level. If he can maintain his high level of play, he can find himself in the rotation this season.
CHAUNCEY GOLSTON (#57, Sophomore, 6'5, 265 lbs., East English Village Prep, Detroit, MI)
AUSTIN SCHULTE (#74, Sophomore, 6'4, 275 lbs., Pella, Pella, IA)
BRANDON SIMON (#93, Sophomore, 6'1, 250 lbs., Don Bosco Prep, Newark, NJ)
Not much has changed for this group of sophomores since the last time we saw them. As a refresher, all of these guys were three-star recruits that redshirted as freshmen. As a redshirt freshman, Golston was the only one to see any action, playing in 12 games last season. There’s a lot of depth at defensive end and it looks to be a 5-6 man rotation. Golston has broken through and is seeing playing time, now it’s on Schulte and Simon to do the same.
They Were Only Freshmen
NATHAN NELSON (Freshman, 6'3, 230 lbs., Waukee, Waukee, IA)
Yes, that is obviously Anthony Nelson’s younger brother. Well, maybe it's not fair to assume it is Anthony’s brother. It could’ve been Matt’s brother, right? Either way, Nate Nelson had offers from Augustana, Sioux Falls, and NW Missouri State but decided to try his luck at Iowa, walking on back in January. As a senior at Waukee, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks. But as he only weighs 230 pounds, I’d say a redshirt is imminent.
JOHN WAGGONER (Freshman, 6'5, 245 lbs., Dowling, West Des Moines, IA)
Then there’s John Waggoner, the number one recruit out of Iowa in the class of 2018. Waggoner attended powerhouse Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines and was rated a 4-star recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, UCLA, a number of other FBS programs, and Iowa State. As our CIC explained, he lost a star for no apparent reason but then went back to a 4-star recruit because lol recruiting rankings don’t really matter. At one point in the process there was concern that Iowa wouldn’t have room for him but surprise: they made room for him.
All hype aside, the depth chart continues to be ridiculously full and Epenesa and Nelson aren’t going anywhere. For that reason, Waggoner will likely redshirt and put on some weight. We could see him in 2019.