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, quarterback.
|5||Jestin Jacobs||FR (RS)||6-4/235||Linebacker|
|55||Yahweh Jeudy||FR (RS)||6-0/212||Linebacker|
* These are their current eligibility status, but the NCAA's decision to grant a blanket eligibility waiver to fall athletes (even those who compete this year... which is essentially just football players) mean that everyone here would also have a year of eligibility to use next year. We'll have to wait and see how that decision impacts things moving forward.
NOT JUST NIEONE
Nick Niemann (#49, Senior, 6'4", 233 lbs, Sycamore, Sycamore, IL)
With Djimon Colbert opting out of the 2020 season, Iowa has essentially one experienced linebacker in the fold: Nick Niemann, now entering his fifth year in Iowa City. Niemann has played at virtually every position among the linebacker roles, but is set to start at weak-side linebacker this year. After posting 43 tackles as a sophomore in 2018, Niemann had 32 as a junior last year. Niemann stood out in Iowa's last game, the Holiday Bowl victory over USC, despite posting just two total tackles; one of those two tackles was a sack and he also had an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Iowa will be hoping for a little bit more of that big play ability out of Niemann at linebacker this year, but more than anything Iowa probably just needs Niemann's steady presence on the field. The experience gap after Niemann is precipitous, and things could get shaky in a hurry in the center of Iowa's defense if Niemann isn't on the field.
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Jack Campbell (#31, Sophomore, 6'5", 243 lbs, Cedar Falls, Cedar Falls, IA)
Campbell was listed as Iowa's starter at MLB on the most recent depth chart, although given his current listed size -- 6'5", 243 lbs! -- it seems like "MLB" might now stand for "Massive Linebacker" rather than "Middle Linebacker." Campbell has spent most of his time in Iowa City to this point working on #gains in the weight room; now it's going to be time to show what he can do on the field. Campbell did play as a true freshman last season, mainly on special teams, racking up five tackles, with four of those coming against Purdue. Campbell was monstrously productive as a prep at Cedar Falls, particularly as a senior: 168 tackles (!), 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, five pass break-ups, and two blocked kicks. Of course, it's a big leap from 4A football in Iowa to the Big Ten, so we'll have to see how Campbell can navigate that jump in quality. On paper, Campbell does seem to have the size, strength, and speed to do very well at linebacker -- we just need to see what he can do on the field. Middle linebacker is a critical position in Iowa's defense, especially in terms of leadership and organization, so there's a lot resting on Campbell's (hulking) shoulders. That's cause for some anxiety -- Campbell is the first underclassmen MLB at Iowa since Josey Jewell's early days -- but there's also cause for plenty of excitement for what Campbell might be able to do in the middle of Iowa's defense.
THE THIRD WHEEL
Barrington Wade (#35, Senior, 6'1", 236 lbs, Niles North, Skokie, IL)
Wade feels a bit like a player out of time at Iowa. He arrived here as a running back -- only for Iowa to begin to transition away from big, bowling ball-style running backs. Then he moved to linebacker -- only for Iowa to transform the defense away from a base 4-3 look to a 4-2-5 scheme emphasizing the use of a "cash" position as a hybrid safety-linebacker. In both cases, Wade found himself as the odd man out, which has limited his playing time. Wade has seen action in 25 games over the last two seasons, but started just once -- against Wisconsin last year. Which makes sense: Wade is going to see action when Iowa needs a lot of linebackers on the field for defense and Wisconsin is one of the few teams where Iowa needs that many players around the line of scrimmage. In those 25 games of action, Wade has racked up 11 total tackles. How often Wade sees the field in 2020 is likely a function of how often Iowa goes with three-linebacker sets; given the number of spread offenses Iowa is going to see and their increasing comfort with the "cash" position (and with Dane Belton in particular), I'd probably bet the under on Wade's snap count this year. He's probably most likely to see action in some high-leverage situations, such as short yardage running downs or plays around the goal line; it would be great if Wade is able to make a few key stops when he is called into action. His Iowa career hasn't gone the way we (or he) thought it might, but there's still time for it to end with a few big moments.
SEE YOU IN 2021
Djimon Colbert (#32, Junior, 6'1", 225 lbs, Bishop Miege, Shawnee Mission, KS)
Colbert jumped into the starting lineup at weak-side linebacker as a redshirt freshman three games into the 2018 season -- and basically never left. He started the remaining 10 games that season, then followed that up with 13 starters in that same role last year. With all the tumult at linebacker in the post-Josey Jewell era, Colbert has been one of the few rocks of consistency in the lineup. He had 52 tackles in 2018 and followed that up with 61 tackles last year; he also had 2.5 tackles for loss last year and an interception. His absence this year will leave Iowa with a significant experience gap at the linebacker position, though we don't fault his decision in the least and we look forward to seeing him suit up in black and gold next year.
WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS
Jestin Jacobs (#5, Freshman (RS), 6'4", 235 lbs, Northmont, Englewood, OH)
It's been a while since Iowa's had a linebacker prospect as buzzed-about as Jacobs. Jacobs was a 4* recruit (per 247Sports) but stayed firm to his Iowa commitment -- even after Ohio State entered the picture with a scholarship offer. That sort of attention turns heads -- it's not often Iowa goes head-to-head with Ohio State for a player and comes out on top -- and starts a drumbeat for him to see the field. Alas, almost two years after his commitment became official, we're still waiting to see him make his formal debut for Iowa. He redshirted in 2019 but is set to be part of Iowa's linebacker rotation this year. The depth chart lists him as Niemann's backup at WLB, but he's likely capable of playing at any of the linebacker positions. His frame and his quickness suggest that he could excel at both run support and pass coverage, always critical for a potential outside linebacker. Iowa fans have been wanting to see what Jacobs can do for a while now; it looks like we should finally start to see some glimpses of that potential on the field soon.
Seth Benson (#44, Sophomore, 6'0", 231 lbs, Washington, Sioux Falls, SD)
If Jacobs was an atypical Iowa recruiting story, a high-star prospect with a gaudy offer sheet who spurned a blue blood for the Hawkeyes, Benson is as familiar a recruiting story as it gets for Iowa. He was a 2* recruit with no other major offers (he was committed to South Dakota State when Iowa came calling) who joined up with Iowa on the eve of the 2018 National Signing Day. But under Ferentz Iowa has made a living from developing players like that into multi-year contributors and Benson could be the next in a long line of such players. He redshirted in 2018 after seeing action in three games but saw action in all 13 games last season (primarily on special teams), notching 11 total tackles. Benson is officially listed as Campbell's backup at MLB, but he could slide in at the other LB positions as well. The coaches consider Benson one of Iowa's top five linebackers right now (along with Niemann, Campbell, Wade, and Jacobs), so he's going to see the field this year, either in rotation or to replace someone due to injury or ineffectiveness.
Logan Klemp (#46, Sophomore, 6'2", 232 lbs, South Hamilton, Jewell, IA)
Mike Timm (#36, Sophomore, 6'1", 234 lbs, Kettle Moraine, Delafield, WI)
Nick Anderson (#47, Senior, 6'2", 230 lbs, Waukee/Iowa Western CC, Waukee, IA)
Klemp, Timm, and Anderson aren't currently among the five guys in that LB circle of trust, so their playing time is probably going to be scarce and limited to special teams. Timm is a former walk-on, while Anderson is a transfer from Iowa Western. Klemp was a scholarship recruit, though not with a lot of hype (he had no other FBS offers). He was one of Reese Morgan's last signings before retirement, though, and Morgan's eye for diamonds in the 2* small school rough is hard to argue with; Klemp doesn't appear to have an immediate path to the field now, but we'll keep an eye on his development all the same.
THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN
Yahweh Jeudy (#55, Freshman (RS), 6'0", 212 lbs, Cardinal Gibbons, Pomano Beach, FL)
Jay Higgins (#34, Freshman, 6'2", 219 lbs, Brebeuf Jesuit Prep, Indianapolis, IN)
Josef Smith (#40, Freshman, 6'3", 210 lbs, West Hancock, Britt, IA)
Jeudy flipped from Kansas State to Iowa the night before National Signing Day a few years ago, but redshirted in 2019 without seeing any game action at all. Every LB from Florida gives me fond visions of Fred Barr and Abdul Hodge, though that's probably an unfair burden to put on young Jeudy at this point. Special teams is probably the main way he'll see the field for the moment. Higgins was the lone scholarship linebacker in Iowa's 2020 class, a tackling machine out of Indianapolis. He seems like the possible future at MLB, but that's probably a few years off. Smith is an in-state walk-on from West Hancock.