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, tight end.
Previously on Positional Awareness:
|6||Ihmir Smith-Marsette||JR||6-1/183||Wide Receiver #2|
|12||Brandon Smith||JR||6-3/218||Wide Receiver #1|
|19||Max Cooper||JR||6-0/188||Wide Receiver|
|5||Oliver Martin||SO||6-1/200||Wide Receiver|
|9||Jack Combs||SO||6-1/188||Wide Receiver|
|13||Henry Marchese||SO||6-3/196||Wide Receiver|
|16||Charlie Jones||SO||5-11/192||Wide Receiver|
|3||Tyrone Tracy Jr.||FR(RS)||6-0/192||Wide Receiver #5|
|82||Calvin Lockett||FR(RS)||6-2/182||Wide Receiver #4|
|89||Nico Ragaini||FR(RS)||6-0/192||Wide Receiver #3|
|29||Jackson Ritter||FR||6-3/195||Wide Receiver|
|81||Desmond Hutson||FR||6-3/200||Wide Receiver|
|83||Alec Kritta||FR||5-11/185||Wide Receiver|
|87||Javon Foy||FR||5-11/175||Wide Receiver|
WR #1: BRANDON SMITH (#12, Junior, 6'3", 218 lbs., Lake Cormorant, Lake Cormorant, MS)
Could this be the year everything clicks for Brandon Smith? The big, physical, and intimidating wide-receiver enters his second year as a starter and looks to improve on a sophomore campaign that saw him catch 28 balls for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Those stats don’t jump off the page, as Smith’s bugaboo has always been consistency, but there were a couple of highlights last season which could foreshadow some great things to come. The most notable came against Minnesota:
That’s what Smith can do, right? He isn’t the fastest guy on the depth chart but at 6’3", 218 lbs he’s unquestionably the largest and has the strength to make circus catches like that. With those strengths, there’s the question as to why he has consistency issues. One potential answer is that since Smith doesn’t have top-end speed, he has to rely on his size and leverage to get separation, skills that can take players years to perfect. Plus, a quarterback has to trust his wide receiver to come up with jump balls. That trust might not have been there between Smith and Stanley early on. Now, it sounds like it is.
In the past two seasons, Iowa has more or less gotten by without having to rely on their wide receivers. Admittedly, it wasn’t pretty. Now, with no Fant or Hockenson, Nate Stanley doesn’t have the luxury of two first-round NFL Draft picks as a security blanket at tight end and needs something on the outside. With his size and power, Smith is the ideal candidate to become Stanley’s most reliable target. It finally sounds like the trust is there. Is the technique? Wait and see.
WR #2: IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE (#6, Junior, 6'1", 183 lbs., Weequahic, Newark, NJ)
For the second straight year, Kirk Ferentz singled out Ihmir Smith-Marsette for his offseason performance, this time at Big Ten Media Days. The quote, from Hawkeye Insider:
"I'm not using the word 'dog-house' but I think we all felt that there were some things he could improve upon coming out of last season," Ferentz said. "The thing I would say just being around the last month and a half-- watching the guys train and workout is I've seen impressive growth with him. He's training really well, carrying himself really well and he's got a really positive demeanor about himself."
“He's been tremendous this offseason. I don't want to call him a trainwreck in January but there were a lot of loose edges and details. Really trivial stuff but it's important. I think we are seeing a different guy right now. He's really being mindful and that he's paying attention to details. To be a really good player you have to be that way, wired that way and I think we're seeing it. I'm excited to see him on the field in a couple of weeks."
Well, that’s one way to motivate your speedster wide receiver that has the potential to make game-changing plays. The tale of the tape for ISM this season is the same as it has been the last two: he’s got the acceleration, speed, and moves to alter the course of the game. Just look at his growth from year one to year two. Despite only catching five more passes, his yardage increased from 187 to 361 and his yards per catch went from 10.39 to 15.70. He had three games with at least a 30+ yard reception, including a 60-yard touchdown against Minnesota:
On one hand, Smith-Marsette can make these tremendous plays where he breathes life into Iowa’s offense:
Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Incredible play pic.twitter.com/mDvAXER0Ro— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) November 10, 2018
On the other, he had three dropped passes early on in the season and while this wasn’t an offensive play, I think we’re all comfortable saying this is the type of stuff that Ferentz was talking about:
WHOOOOOOOP pic.twitter.com/0h580KbKyD— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) January 1, 2019
Ihmir giveth, Ihmir taketh away.
This “lack of focus” aka “balls out football” is why he’s been such a mercurial player the past two seasons. If the focus is there, look for a true breakout junior campaign. If not, expect a better year but probably also another season of us saying, “Well, he could be better.”
WR #3: NICO RAGAINI (#89, Redshirt Freshman, 6'0", 192 lbs., Notre Dame, East Haven, CT)
With the graduation of Nick Easley, it’s officially SLOT RECEIVER COMPETITION SZN in Iowa City. As of right now, the winner of that battle looks to be Nico Ragaini, a one time 3-star recruit whose only other offers were from Boston College and Yale. He was one of 12 true freshmen to see action last season, redshirted after three games, and is now your #1 slot receiver because he checks every one of those cliché slot receiver boxes. Marc Morehouse, who wrote extensively on Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy this spring, quoted wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland as saying “He can track balls that even a good receiver might struggle with. He’s got very confident hands.”
Translation: He isn’t afraid to go across the middle.
Copeland continued with “I wouldn’t label him a ‘blazer’ as far as top-end speed, but he’s fast.”
Translation: He’s not fast, but he’s “quick.”
Morehouse also quoted defensive line coach Kelvin Bell as saying “You watch his tape, it goes on and on and on with runs after the catch. Similar body type to Easley, McCarron, that type of guy. He can make tough catches in a short area.”
Yeah, hard to tell how Ragaini would draw comparisons to Nick Easley and Riley McCarron.
You’re hearing all of the right things about Ragaini from the coaches and none of this should come as a surprise when you look back at his commitment profile. He worked hard at camp, he’s a versatile athlete, and he once scored a touchdown on an end-around in high school, which makes one wonder why Kirk Ferentz didn’t offer him a scholarship immediately after that game. It sounds like the slot receiver spot is in good hands unless…
WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS
WR #5: TYRONE TRACY (#3, Redshirt Freshman, 5'11", 200 lbs., Decatur Central, Indianapolis, IN)
Unless Tyrone Tracy has something to say about it SO FIRE UP THAT TYRONE TRACY HYPE MACHINE, BABY.
Flashing back to his recruitment, Tracy was a 3-star recruit with a long list of offers, including Cincinnati, Indiana, Louisville, Navy, and Northwestern. You might remember him as the kid who put Tigerhawks in his eyes. I doubt a medical professional would approve of Tigerhawking your eyes. Especially with certain Tigerhawks that I will not post here because they should be illegal.
Like Ragaini, Tracy played last season and kept his redshirt, but he actually caught a pass! One whole pass for 22 yards (against UNI). Morehouse also wrote about him this spring, quoting Copeland as saying:
“His skill set going back to when I was evaluating him out of high school, you saw things out of Tyrone Tracy that were magnetic,” Copeland said. “This young man has magnetic ability. Anytime he has the ball in his hands, he has the ability to make plays. ... He’s obviously dynamic and can do a lot of things for us.”
If you want a refresher on what Tracy looked like in high school here you go:
Oh, and here’s him this summer:
Honestly, the Ragiani v. Tracy fight for slot wide receiver might be the best battle leading up to week one.
WR #4: CALVIN LOCKETT (#82, Redshirt Freshman, 6'2", 182 lbs., Largo, Largo, FL)
Let us not forget Calvin Lockett, an impressive 3-star 2018 recruit who chose Iowa over the likes of Wisconsin, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Purdue. Last season he was listed at 6’2", 170 pounds so it wasn’t all that surprising when he redshirted and didn’t see any game action. Heck, at 182 lbs he’s still one of the lightest wide receivers on the roster. So, Lockett has put on some weight but he’s still a thinner wide receiver for his size. He’s listed as your #4 wide receiver, backing up Brandon Smith, a spot that might ultimately go to…
MAX COOPER (#19, Junior, 6'0", 188 lbs., Catholic Memorial, Waukesha, WI)
Max Cooper, a guy who has seen steady playing time since he was a true freshman. Not so fun fact, back in 2018, I noted that Cooper won the Jay Scheel Award for Spring Game Excellence Presented by Don Nordmann. The joke was that typically a guy who played well for Iowa in the spring game disappeared or had something terrible happen to him the following season. I tempted fate by writing “The spring game superstar has sort of become the new AIRBHG, as they almost never pan out. Is there an Angry Iowa Spring Game Hating God? AISGHG doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?”
So, anyway, Max Cooper tore his ACL last fall and I’m just not going to talk about this any longer.
OLIVER MARTIN (#5, Junior, 6'1", 200 lbs., West, Coralville, IA)
Let’s try to summarize this in as few words as possible. Oliver Martin, native of Iowa City, 4-star recruit, #1 recruit in Iowa class of 2017 per Rivals, commits to Michigan. Thus, Oliver Martin = bad. In two years at Michigan, he caught 11 balls for 125 yards and a touchdown, entered the transfer portal, and made his way back to Iowa City to join the Hawkeyes this June. Now, Oliver Martin = good. The NCAA has yet to say whether he can play this season and there are two established wide receivers in front of him so there are plenty of obstacles in 2019 for Martin. Yet, you could be looking at Iowa’s #1 receiver of the future…even if it isn’t this season.
JACK COMBS (#9, Sophomore, 6'1", 188 lbs., East, Grand Rapids, MI)
HENRY MARCHESE (#13, Sophomore, 6'3", 196 lbs., Stevenson, Vernon Hills, IL)
CHARLIE JONES (#16, Sophomore, 5'11", 184 lbs., Deerfield, Deerfield, IL)
You might Marchese’s name, just not at wide receiver. He spent the first two seasons at Iowa as a defensive back, playing in four games last season, primarily on special teams. He moved to wide receiver, the position he played in high school, this spring. Jack Combs has the unique distinction of walking on at TWO colleges. First, he walked on at Central Michigan in 2017, caught a couple of passes in 2018, and then walked on at Iowa this summer. Charlie Jones… wait, what? Charlie Jones pretty much did the same thing?! He played at Buffalo and then decided to walk on at Iowa? How many ex-MAC players are going to walk on for the Hawkeyes?
They Were Only Freshmen
JACKSON RITTER (#29, Freshman, 6'3", 195 lbs., Lincoln-Way East, Frankfort, IL)
DESMOND HUTSON (#81, Freshman, 6'3", 200 lbs., Raytown, Raytown, MO)
ALEC KRITTA (#83, Freshman, 5'11", 185 lbs., North, St. Charles, IL)
JAVON FOY (#87, Freshman, 5'11", 175 lbs., Moline, Coal Valley, IL)
Ritter, whose mother played volleyball at Iowa from 1988-91, walked on from the suburbs of Chicago. Kritta also comes from the Chicago burbs, walking on and passing on scholarship offers from Dayton, Valpo and Morehead State. Hutson is a 3-star recruit scholarship player who didn’t have any FBS offers but is from Missouri and as Marvin McNutt was from Missouri he should basically be the next Marvin McNutt, right? Right. Javon Foy walked on from Moline and passed on offers from Quincy University (it’s in Illinois) and Southwest Missouri State. Iowa lists Foy as 5’11", 158 pounds, which has to be a typo because someone playing football at 5’11", 158 pounds legitimately sounds dangerous.