Depth Chartin': Projecting the 2020 Iowa Depth Chart

By Mike Jones on September 23, 2020 at 10:33 am
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In a normal age, we wouldn’t have to guess what Iowa’s depth chart would look like in late September because they’d already be 3-0, and the majority of the fanbase would be clamoring for the backup quarterback to see more playing time. We’re not in a normal age, though, and as the announcement that the Big Ten is set to resume play only came last week, everyone has a lot of catching up to do.

The Hawkeyes lost a lot of talent and leadership this offseason. First and foremost, they lost a three-year starter at quarterback in Nate Stanley. Several senior role players on offense including Brady Ross, tight end Nate Wieting, left guard Landan Paulsen and his brother Levi graduated. Junior right guard Tristan Wirfs made the wise decision to forego his senior season and was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On defense, both starting tackles, Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff, aged out. End A.J. Epenesa and safety Geno Stone declared for the NFL Draft early and middle linebacker Kristian Welch and cornerback Michael Ojemudia graduated. Somehow, Iowa went from having two punters to having no punters as Michael Sleep-Dalton and Colten Rastetter graduated as well.

Overall, the Hawkeyes lost a combined 11 starters, five on offense and six on defense. Here’s what we think the depth chart might look like to kick off 2020:

OFFENSE

  FIRST STRING SECOND STRING
QB Spencer Petras (RS SO) Alex Padilla (RS FR)
rb Tyler Goodson (SO) Mekhi Sargent (SR)
fb Turner Pallissard (RS SO) Colton Dinsdale (SR)
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (SR) Tyrone Tracy Jr. (RS SO)
WR Brandon Smith (SR) Nico Ragaini (RS SO)
TE Sam LaPorta (SO) Shaun Beyer (SR)
LT Alaric Jackson (SR) Jack Plumb (RS SO)
LG Mark Kallenberger (JR) Cody Ince (SO)
C Tyler Linderbaum (RS SO) Jeff Jenkins (RS SO)
RG Kyler Schott (JR) Cole Banwart (SR)
RT Coy Cronk (SR) Jack Plumb (RS SO)
K Keith Duncan (SR) Caleb Shudak (SR)

Spencer Petras was the only other quarterback that saw any playing time last season, which is probably why Peyton Mansell transferred to Abilene Christian: the writing was on the wall. Alex Padilla falls into the backup spot by default, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Deuce Hogan here in the future.

No changes at running back as Tyler Goodson continues to be Iowa’s playmaker. Even though he’s listed as a backup, you can probably expect it to be a timeshare between Sargent and Goodson, as both are effective. The only real change at backup is Toren Young, as he left the program for the NFL. With that, you could see Ivory Kelly-Martin return to the mix as Iowa’s third option.

There are zero questions at who is going to be catching the passes, be it at wide receiver or tight end. With ISM, Smith, and Tracy back, Iowa has its best trio of wide-receivers since…ever? By the way, did you know that Nico Ragaini was Iowa’s leader in receptions last season? True story! Sam LaPorta looks to be another brilliant pass-catching tight end for the Hawkeyes and Shaun Beyer will be Iowa’s blocking TE.

The offensive line is substantially intact with Jackson returning for his final season at left tackle and Linderbaum holding his position at center. Indiana graduate transfer Coy Cronk (CRONK) should take over at right tackle, which will be an adjustment considering he spent his entire career starting at left tackle for the Hoosiers, but he’s quite the talent so it should work. There aren’t necessarily “concerns” at guard for the Hawkeyes, just questions about who is going to start due to all of the experience. Mark Kallenberger started four games at right guard and one at left guard in 2019. Kyler Schott started six games at right guard last season. Cole Banwart only started two games at right guard last season but started seven in 2018. 

Kallenberger entered last season as Iowa’s #2 left tackle and is the only one of the three that has any starting experience on the left side of the line, so we’re putting him at left guard. As Kyler Schott closed out the season as Iowa’s right guard, he’ll hold that position. Banwart could certainly challenge either guy for a spot but we’re slotting him as Schott’s backup for now. Cody Ince, Justin Britt, Jack Plumb, and Justin Britt (not listed) will all see playing time this season but with the experience ahead of them, they’ve got steep hills to climb to become starters.

No worries at kicker!

In this house, we respect our troll king.

DEFENSE

  FIRST STRING SECOND STRING
DE Chauncey Golston (SR) John Waggoner (RS SO)
DT Daviyon Nixon (JR) Noah Shannon (SO)
DT Jack Heflin (SR) Austin Schulte (SR)
DE Zach VanValkenburg (SR) Joe Evans (RS SO)
MLB Nick Niemann (SR) Jack Campbell (SO)
WLB Djimon Colbert (SO) Seth Benson (SO)
CASH Dane Belton (SO) Sebastian Castro (RS FR)
LCB Matt Hankins (SR) Terry Roberts (SO)
FS Jack Koerner (JR) Sebastian Castro (RS FR)
SS Kaevon Merriweather (SO) Dallas Craddieth (SO)
RCB Riley Moss (JR) Julius Brents (SO)
P Tory Taylor (FR) Nick Phelps (SO)
KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (SR) Tyrone Tracy, Jr. (SO)
P Max Cooper (SR) Sebastian Castro (RS FR)

No questions about Golston or Nixon as Daviyon has been waiting for a few years and Chauncey is the only returning starter on the line. The other side? Well, that’s complicated. Austin Schulte was going to be your #1 defensive tackle by default, as he is a senior and started a couple of games last season. But then came Jack Heflin, a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois that earned honorable mention All-American honors from Pro Football Focus, was named second-team All-MAC by coaches, and named NIU’s defensive player of the year by their coaching staff. You don’t bring a guy like that in if you aren’t going to play him so it looks like Schulte will be the first guy off the bench if they’re rotating tackles.

Chauncey’s opposite end could be Joe Evans, John Waggoner, or Zach VanValkenberg. Evans was second in sacks last season and Waggoner and VanValkenberg each played in 10+ games. The thing about Evans though, is that he’s 6’2", 248 pounds. That’s not big! Considering VanValkenberg is a senior with previous starting experience (at a DII) school he seems like the best bet to be the technical starter, with Evans coming in for passing downs. Waggoner could be your DE of the future but for now, he continues to wait.

Iowa has increasingly moved to a 4-2-5 look on defense in recent years, and I don't think that's likely to change this year, given the lack of returning standouts at linebacker -- and the fact that Iowa opens Big Ten play against Purdue and Northwestern, two teams that figure to spread the field. In light of that, Nick Niemann and Djimon Colbert look like the two linebackers most likely to start this year. They're the most experienced options and they've generally played well over the last few years. Jack Campbell (who is huge: 6'5", 243 lbs) and Seth Benson are two younger guys who should push for spots on the two-deeps, and maybe we get a glimpse of former big-time recruit Jestin Jacobs? That would be neat. 

Aside from Hankins, the only returning senior, there are lots of questions in the defensive backfield. Koerner is your presumptive free safety (assuming he’s healthy after an offseason boating accident, though he was reportedly a participant in Iowa's practices last weekend, which seems like a good sign), but strong safety looks messier. Iowa's starting strong safety has left early for the NFL each of the past two seasons (Amani Hooker in 2018, Geno Stone in 2019), which leaves quite a void there this season; there isn't a clear replacement waiting in the wings to step up there. Kaevon Merriweather seems like the most likely name right now, given that he has some experience and seems to have taken on more of a leadership role in the Iowa defense during this offseason. Dane Belton could be an option as well if Phil Parker opts to move him away from the cash role and Dallas Craddieth was a much-hyped recruit once upon a time, but he's failed to sniff the depth chart in recent years; is this the year that changes?

The cash role seems like it has overtaken the third linebacker as a starter on defense and it occupies a critical position in Iowa's defense scheme. Amani Hooker rode that role to Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honors in 2018 and Iowa's defense solidified last year after Dane Belton took over the cash position. Belton should be the favorite to play there again this year -- unless he's needed more at strong safety. Sebastian Castro ought to be a name to watch in Iowa's secondary this year -- he was a standout athlete in high school and he earned some buzz while redshirting last year.

Last year I figured that D.J. Johnson would be Iowa’s next starting cornerback opposite of Hankins. Well, he transferred to Purdue, so that plan is out the window. Brents' length and recovery ability should make him a good fit at the other outside corner spot, but Parker has favored Moss there a lot in recent seasons. I won't be surprised to see Moss begin the season as one of Iowa's starting corners. Terry Roberts also played in 12 games last season and Jermari Harris seems like every other Phil Parker project before him, so they should factor into the two-deeps as well.

My kingdom for a punter. Poor Ryan Gersonde has spent the last two seasons injured so I’m not optimistic about 2020. Nick Phelps is an Iowa native that walked on with the Hawkeyes after spending a season with North Dakota State in 2018, where he didn’t see any action. Tory Taylor is an Aussie that's never played American football but attended Prokick Australia, a program/academy that transitions Australian football players to the States. Considering this program has sent more than 100+ players to FBS, including presumptive starters Haydon Whitehead at Indiana and Mark Crawford at Minnesota, I like his odds to be Iowa’s next punter. 

Ihmir Smith-Marsette established himself as one of the best kick returners in college football last season and should be back in that role this season -- though how often teams will actually kick to him remains to be seen. Max Cooper ended 2019 as Iowa's main punt returner, so we've penciled him in there again this year, but punt returns were not a strength for Iowa last season, so it would be no surprise to see another face emerge there. 

What say you, Hawkeye fan? Agree with the depth chart? Disagree? Put in Wiegers? Hit the comments.

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