2019 Football Preview: Pass Catchers
We continue our look at the 2019 Iowa Hawkeyes, this time with the targets that Nate Stanley will be looking for throughout the year: the wide receivers and tight ends.
Returners - 2018 Statistics:
Brandon Smith, Junior - 28 Receptions, 361 Receiving Yards, 12.9 Average Yards per Catch, 2 Touchdowns, Long Catch of 30 Yards
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Junior - 23 Receptions, 361 Receiving Yards, 15.7 Average Yards per Catch, 3 Touchdowns, Long Catch of 60 Yards
Tyrone Tracy Jr., Redshirt Freshman - 1 Reception, 22 Receiving Yards
Max Cooper, Junior - 3 Receptions, 15 Receiving Yards
Nico Ragaini, Redshirt Freshman - 1 Reception, 7 Receiving Yards
Henry Marchese, Sophomore
Calvin Locketter, Redshirt Freshman
26% of 2018 Receiving Yards Return
Departures - 2018 Statistics:
Nick Easley - 52 Receptions, 494 Receiving Yards, 9.5 Average Yards per Catch,
5 Touchdowns, Long Catch of 75 Yards
Kyle Groeneweg - 4 Receptions, 47 Receiving Yards, 11.8 Average Yards per Catch, Long Catch of 18 Yards
Samson Evans (Position Change)
19% of 2018 Receiving Yards Departs
Oliver Martin, Sophomore - Transfer from University of Michigan
Jack Combs, Sophomore - Transfer from Central Michigan University
Charlie Jones, Sophomore - Transfer from University of Buffalo
Jackson Ritter - Frankfort, Illinois
Desmond Hutson - Raytown, Missouri
Alec Kritta - St. Charles, Illinois
Javon Foy - Coal Valley, Illinois
Outlook at the Position: Wide Receiver is likely to be the most important position for the Iowa offense, particularly early in the season. In losing T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to the NFL, Iowa loses over 40% of their receiving production from last year and will be looking for someone to replace that production. While Iowa searches for reliable replacements at the tight end position, Nate Stanley will likely look to the veteran presence of Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith to carry the receiving production.
I think the 2019 campaign could be a renaissance of sorts for the Iowa wide receivers, with the Hawks fielding one of the deepest groups at the position that they've had in recent memory. I expect Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette to take the next step in the maturation process and become dependable outside and downfield threats. I also expect Iowa to run an increased number of 3 wide receiver sets, as all of the chatter around this position group is that Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Rigaini have been extremely impressive throughout the spring.
With all that noted, there is a bit of an asterisk (although it is a promising asterisk) on this group. As noted above, Iowa signed three sophomore transfers in the offseason. Most people familiar with the NCAA and its transfer rules believe that the chances are slim that any of the three are available this fall. However, if the odds tip in Iowa's favor and any combination of the three are granted immediate eligibility, the Iowa receiving corps gets better. The group that Iowa will have for sure going into the fall looks to be really good. If they add any of the three transfers through immediate eligibility, this Iowa wide receiver room could be great.
As with the running backs, there is no clear "go-to guy" in the receiver room, so I think the stat line looks something like this if none of the transfers are granted eligibility:
All wide receivers: 180 Receptions, 2000 Receiving Yards, 15 Touchdowns
Smith-Marsette & Smith: 100-110 Receptions, 1300 Receiving Yards, 8-10 Touchdowns
Rest of the Receivers: 70-80 Receptions, 700 Receiving Yards, 5-7 Touchdowns
Potential Emerging Contributors: I mentioned before that both Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Rigaini have both impressed a lot of people this spring. I expect both of them to have breakout seasons this year, with the biggest splash being made by Rigaini.
Recently in an interview he did with Hawk Central on KXNO in Des Moines, Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland said something that really caught my attention. In talking about Rigaini, Copeland said something along the lines "I don't know what he runs for a 40 and that number really doesn't matter. He finds a way to get himself open." I think that is really high praise and great news for the young Iowa wide receiver.
In recent years, the biggest knock against the Iowa receivers has been that they can't get open and will disappear for large portions of games. If Rigaini can find ways to get open on a regular basis, that could go a long, long way in easing the pain of losing over 40% of their passing offense from a year ago. I look for Rigaini to announce himself onto the scene this year and contribute regularly.
Returners - 2018 Statistics:
Nate Wieting, Senior - 2 Receptions, 51 Receiving Yards, 25.5 Average Yards per Catch, Long Catch of 30 Yards
Drew Cook, Senior
Shaun Beyer, Junior
Tommy Kujawa, Sophomore
Noah Feldman, Sophomore
Bryce Schulte, Sophomore
1.7% of 2018 Receiving Yards Return
T.J. Hockenson - 49 Receptions, 760 Receiving Yards, 15.5 Average Yards per Catch,
6 Touchdowns, Long Catch of 54 Yards
Noah Fant - 39 Receptions, 519 Receiving Yards, 13.3 Average Yards per Catch,
7 Touchdowns, Long Catch of 65 Yards
Luke Empen (Position Change)
43.4% of 2018 Receiving Yards Depart
Josiah Miamen - Dunlap, Illinois
Sam LaPorta - Highland, Illinois
Jackson Frericks - Cedar Falls, Iowa
Outlook at the Position: After a fantastic last two years at the tight end position, 2019 figures to be a rebuilding year at the position as the Hawks will have to learn to function First Round draft picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
The Hawks return 2 catches and 51 yards from a position that produced 90 catches and 1,330 yards in 2018. In the short term, Nate Wieting and Shaun Beyer will likely be asked to fill the role. Beyer seems to fit what Iowa is wanting to do at tight end and Wieting has shown the ability to pave the way in the running game. Beyer provides a target similar to that of Noah Fant, coming in at the same height of 6'-5" and weighing in just 3 pounds heavier. It is yet to be seen in game action whether he possesses hands or speed similar to Fant, as he has primarily been a special teamer during his time at Iowa.
I think Beyer steps into this role nicely and will show the highest production of the returners and will help to fill the void left by Fant and Hockenson. However, I don't believe he will be the storytnd tight end for Iowa this year. I think that role will be filled by freshman Sam LaPorta, but more on him in the next section.
All told, I see production at tight end being down from last year, but not as substantially as I thought at the end of last year when both Fant and Hockenson announced they were leaving early. I see that line looking something like:
70 Receptions, 1000 Receiving Yards, 15-17 Touchdowns,
I think the redzone productivity will still be there for the tight ends this year, as that seems to be a great way to get young pass catchers going.
Potential Emerging Contributors: As I mentioned before, I think the story of the year at tight end will be Sam LaPorta.
LaPorta is similar in stature to Noah Fant. He is approximately the same weight and only an inch shorter. He played wide receiver in high school, set the Illinois high school record for career touchdown receptions with 50, and ranks 3rd all-time in receiving yards in Illinois, making him the perfect candidate to help replace the vacated production of Hockenson and Fant.
I think Sam LaPorta bursts onto the scene and announces himself as the next great tight end at Iowa and if Shaun Beyer can play up to his potential, the two of them could be a very formidable duo.
Thank you as always for reading! If there is something that you think I missed, feel free to let me know, as I am always interested in seeing what others think about this upcoming Iowa season.
Next Up: Iowa's 2019 Big Guys Upfront: Offensive Line
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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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