Leistikow's Iowa football roster analysis: Hawkeye attrition not a concern ... yet

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Two Decembers ago during a pre-Outback Bowl news conference, Iowa football strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle said something that stuck with me.

He outlined an equation that succinctly explained the Hawkeyes’ formula to achieving a successful team culture.

“Your values plus your behavior,” Doyle said then, “minus what you tolerate.”

He continued.

The Iowa football roster has a much different look than it did at this time last season.

“I used to think it was just values plus behavior. But if you tolerate enough junk going on in your hallways or in your locker room or on the practice field or in the weight room or on the field ... then you’re going to pay for it eventually.

“We have to be true to our culture — remembering how you got there, remembering how you win at Iowa. If we’re true to our culture, we usually play hard and compete well.”

As the number of premature departures from the Iowa program has steadily grown this offseason — perhaps most notably the transfer of former starting safety Brandon Snyder this week — Doyle’s comments are worth revisiting.

From the 2017 preseason roster, there are NINETEEN scholarship players who could have had 2018 Hawkeye eligibility who are no longer part of the active program.

The list: quarterbacks Tyler Wiegers (grad transfer, Eastern Michigan) and Ryan Boyle (grad transfer, Indiana State); running backs Toks Akinribade (medical hardship) and Marcel Joly (transfer); wide receivers Adrian Falconer (transfer) and Matt Quarrels (grad transfer, Southern Illinois); offensive linemen James Daniels (early-entry NFL), Lucas LeGrand (graduated; left football) and Spencer Williams (medical hardship); tight end Jacob Coons (academics); defensive end Romeo McKnight (transfer, Illinois State); linebackers Kyle Taylor (medical hardship) and Nate Wieland (transfer); defensive backs Cedric Boswell (left school), Noah Clayberg (transfer, Dordt College) Camron Harrell (transfer, Iowa Western), Josh Jackson (early-entry NFL), Manny Rugamba (transfer, Miami of Ohio) and Brandon Snyder (grad transfer, South Dakota State).

That’s a heck of a long paragraph.

Add that 19 to the 14 departed scholarship seniors (a list that includes program stars Akrum Wadley and Josey Jewell), and that’s a 39-percent roster bite in one year from the 85-scholarship limit.

A portion of the recent down-sizing is associated with addressing the culture — the “minus what you tolerate” part of Doyle’s stated formula.

But the majority of the attrition of non-seniors can be chalked up to prospects that weren’t going to sniff the Iowa starting lineup in 2018 or maybe ever. Only the two NFL guys, Snyder, Rugamba and Wiegers would have been probable to make the Week 1 depth chart.

I see some poor recruiting investments, in many cases.

But I’m not (yet) seeing any red flags worth panicking about.

By my count (and cross-checking with the handy scholarship-distribution chart at HawkeyeReport.com), Iowa entered Friday’s dawn of fall camp with 78 scholarship players — seven below the maximum.

That means more wiggle room for head coach Kirk Ferentz to reward some deserving walk-ons in time for the fall semester. Plus, it gives the recruiting class of 2019 (currently at 14) more room to grow. (Iowa is down to 10 scholarship seniors for this season.)

In an effort to understand how the 19 early departures will impact the team in 2018 (and beyond), I took a detailed dive into Iowa’s entire roster to analyze where it stands and where it's going.

My findings by position group (*denotes walk-on in the most recent two-deep; RS=has used red-shirt year):


Total on scholarship: 3.

First-teamer: Nate Stanley (6-4, 242, Jr.).

Second-teamer: Peyton Mansell (6-2, 210, RS Fr.).

Others on scholarship: Spencer Petras (6-5, 227, Fr.).

In the pipeline: Iowa has locked up commitments from 2019 QB Alex Padilla (6-2, 195) and 2020 QB Deuce Hogan (6-4, 191), and Padilla will be enrolled at UI this January. 

One-word position-group takeaway: Precarious.

Leistikow’s analysis: Iowa clearly has a well-thought-out long-term plan at QB. But short-term, the offseason departures of Nos. 2-3 quarterbacks Weigers and Boyle make 2018 an especially important year to keep the unquestioned, established starter (Stanley) healthy. Mansell looked mobile in the pocket in the spring game and Petras has all the right attributes long-term, but you don’t want either of them taking meaningful snaps this fall. 

Running backs

Total on scholarship: 5.

First-teamer: Toren Young (5-11, 221, RS Soph.).

Second-teamer: Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 210, Soph.).

Others on scholarship: Kyshaun Bryan (5-10, 198, RS Fr.), Henry Geil (6-1, 215, Fr.), Mekhi Sargent (5-10, 210, RS Soph.).

In the pipeline: Class of 2019 RB Tyler Goodson, a Hawkeye commit from Georgia, has triggered Wadley comparisons.

One-word position-group takeaway: Building.

Leistikow’s analysis: Even though the elder statesman of the room is a redshirt sophomore, there’s a lot to like about Iowa’s future at running back. Kirk Ferentz has increasingly warmed to the benefits of job sharing, something that revealed itself with four different options in the 12-win season of 2015. I expect Young to lead the team in carries in 2018 with plenty of work left over for Kelly-Martin and Sargent.

Offensive line

Total on scholarship: 14.

First-teamers: LT Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, RS Soph.), LG Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, RS Sr.), C Keegan Render (6-4, 307, RS Sr.), RG Cole Banwart (6-4, 296, RS Soph.)., RT Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.).

Second-teamers: LT Mark Kallenberger (6-6, 282, RS Fr.), LG Landan Paulsen (6-5, 305, RS Jr.), C Levi Duwa (6-3, 270, RS Fr.), RG Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, RS Jr.), RT Dalton Ferguson* (6-4, 308, RS Sr.).

Others on scholarship: Cody Ince (6-5, 260, Fr.), Jeff Jenkins (6-4, 270, Fr.), Coy Kirkpatrick (6-4, 290, RS Fr.), Jake Newborg (6-3, 290, RS Jr.), Jack Plumb (6-8, 250, Fr.).

In the pipeline: Iowa’s already collected four verbal OL commits in the Class of 2019, led by in-state giants Tyler Endres and Ezra Miller.

One-word position-group takeaway: Developing.

Leistikow’s analysis: For a program that prides itself on fantastic offensive-line play, the Hawkeyes are too thin at tackle and have had way too many recruiting misses (some of them injury-related) in recent years. Kallenberger is the young guy I’m most curious to watch in 2018. I don’t see Iowa having a dominant front five until at least 2019.

Wide receivers

Total on scholarship: 10.

First-teamers: SE Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.), WR Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.).

Second-teamers: SE Kyle Groeneweg* (5-10, 186, RS Sr.), WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.).

Others on scholarship: Max Cooper (6-0, 185, Soph.), Samson Evans (6-1, 205, Fr.), Calvin Lockett (6-2, 170, Fr.), Henry Marchese (6-3, 195, RS Fr.), Nico Ragaini (6-0, 191, Fr.), Tyrone Tracy Jr. (6-0, 187, Fr.), Devonte Young (6-0, 203, Jr.).

In the pipeline: Groeneweg, Dominique Dafney (a 6-2, 225 junior) and Blair Brooks (a speedy 6-2 freshman) are walk-ons to watch. Iowa has one WR commit (6-4 Desmond Hutson from Kansas City) so far for 2019.

One-word position-group takeaway: Underrated.

Leistikow’s analysis: A maligned position group historically at Iowa finally has some talented pieces … but they’re very young. Smith (age 19), Smith-Marsette (18) and Tracy (18) have the most play-making potential to accompany Easley’s steady senior hands. Even Ferentz has joked how little hired-in-2017 WRs coach Kelton Copeland had to work with in Year One. Iowa’s receivers will be discussed as a strength by 2019 at the latest.

Tight ends

Total on scholarship: 5.

First-teamers: Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.), T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, RS Soph.).

Second-teamers: Shaun Beyer (6-5, 240, RS Soph.), Nate Wieting* (6-5, 250, RS Jr.).

Others on scholarship: Drew Cook (6-5, 250, RS Jr.), Nate Vejvoda (6-5, 250, RS Jr.).

In the pipeline: Iowa has a solid commitment from full-service TE Logan Lee; recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell wants to nab one more in the Class of 2019.

One-word position-group takeaway: Loaded.

Leistikow’s analysis: Fant and Hockenson should be all-Big Ten caliber players this season, but I expect Wieting and Beyer to play key snaps, too. Odds are that Fant turns pro after this season, so attracting top-end talent at this position needs to be a recruiting priority. As long as Brian Ferentz is running Iowa’s offense, that shouldn’t be a problem. His emphasis on tight-end use has been a popular, smart move.

Defensive line

Total on scholarship: 15.

First-teamers: LE Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, RS Jr.), LT Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295, Jr.), RT Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, RS Sr.), RE Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, RS Sr.).

Second-teamers: LE Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, RS Sr.), LT Chauncey Golston (6-5, 265, RS Soph.), RT Brady Reiff (6-3, 272, RS Jr.), RE A.J. Epenesa (6-5, 277, Soph.).

Others on scholarship: Garret Jansen (6-2, 280, RS Jr.), Tyler Linderbaum (6-2, 270, Fr.), Daviyon Nixon (6-3, 306, Soph.), Austin Schulte (6-4, 275, RS Soph.), Noah Shannon (6-1, 300, Fr.), Brandon Simon (6-0, 250, RS Soph.), John Waggoner (6-5, 245, Fr.).

In the pipeline: Iowa beat out Michigan State to land Jalen Hunt, one of two DE commits in its Class of 2019. Walk-ons Dalles Jacobus (6-0, 280) and Jack Kallenberger (6-5, 272) are worth mentioning. Nixon will red-shirt this season (academic reasons).

One-word position-group takeaway: Deep.

Leistikow’s analysis: Behind quarterback, defensive line is college football’s most important position. And this group could be as good as any under Kirk Ferentz since 2010. There’s NFL talent on the edge in Anthony Nelson and Epenesa, plus reliable grinders in Hesse and Brincks. But the program still lacks a dominating inside force, let alone two, at defensive tackle — a shortfall which threatens to hold back Iowa’s run defense. Down the road, I think Golston and Linderbaum have bright futures.


Total on scholarship: 11.

First-teamers: OLB Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, RS Soph.), MLB Amani Jones (6-0, 238, Jr.), WLB Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr.).

Second-teamers: OLB Barrington Wade (6-1, 233, RS Soph.), MLB Jack Hockaday (6-1, 235, Sr.), WLB Djimon Colbert (6-1, 234, RS Fr.).

Others on scholarship: Seth Benson (6-1, 205, Fr.), Dillon Doyle (6-3, 227, Fr.), Logan Klemp (6-3, 210, Fr.), Jayden McDonald (6-1, 220, Fr.), Aaron Mends (6-0, 228, RS Sr.).

Notable: Iowa has two LB commits in its 2019 class, including a nice get in possible OLB Jestin Jacobs out of Ohio. Walk-ons Nick Anderson (6-2, 225) and Colton Dinsdale (5-11, 215) are JUCO transfers from Iowa Western worth monitoring.

One-word position-group takeaway: Unproven.

Leistikow’s analysis: There will be a drop-off after Iowa lost its top four linebackers from 2017 plus presumed WLB starter Mends to an April ACL tear. Jones and Niemann are the best bets among this large bunch to provide stability. Seth Wallace has gained respect as one of Iowa’s top assistants, and he’ll need to identify impact players among his freshmen in fall camp. I expect Doyle, who enrolled in January and wears Jewell’s No. 43, to be a factor early in his career.

Defensive backs

Total on scholarship: 13.

First-teamers: LC Matt Hankins (6-1, 185, Soph.), RC Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 199, RS Jr.), SS Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.), FS Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, RS Sr.).

Second-teamers: LC Trey Creamer (6-0, 190, RS Fr.), FS/SS Geno Stone (5-11, 209, Soph.), RC Josh Turner (5-11, 188, RS Fr.).

Others on scholarship: Julius Brents (6-2, 180, Fr.), Dallas Craddieth (6-0, 197, Fr.), D.J. Johnson (6-0, 170, Fr.), Kaevon Merriweather (6-2, 195, Fr.), Riley Moss (6-0, 185, Fr.), Terry Roberts (5-10, 171, Fr.).

In the pipeline: Rangy DBs Sebastian Castro (Chicago area) and Dane Belton (Tampa) could be sleepers in Iowa’s Class of 2019.

One-word position-group takeaway: Talented.

Leistikow’s analysis: Gone early from Iowa’s secondary are three prominent program starters in all-American Jackson, Rugamba and Snyder. Yet there’s still minimal concern that this position group will be a weakness, and that’s a credit to longtime defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Hankins seems like Iowa’s next shut-down corner, but the push is on to find another one. (My guess is Johnson.) Hooker has all-Big Ten potential this year. The Hawkeyes’ future is brighter at this position than any other.


Total on scholarship: 2.

First-teamers: PK Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, RS Sr.), P Ryan Gersonde (6-4, 198, Soph.).

Second-teamers: PK Keith Duncan* (5-11, 180, RS Soph.), P Colten Rastetter* (6-1, 213, RS Jr.).

In the pipeline: Walk-on sophomore Caleb Shudak (5-8, 179) is the third kicker; junior walk-on Jackson Subbert (6-3, 240) is first in line to replace Tyler Kluver as long snapper.

One-word position-group takeaway: Uneven.

Leistikow’s analysis: Recinos was one of the Hawkeyes’ under-told success stories of 2017, with his fantastic kickoff length/accuracy and near-perfection on placements. His presence could deliver Iowa an extra win this season; he’s that good. Keith Duncan, the 2016 Michigan-game hero, shouldn’t be forgotten; he has improved his leg strength and gives the Hawkeyes a proven kicker for 2019 and 2020. On the flip side, it’s frankly inexcusable for Iowa’s program to fail in punting like it did in 2017 (tied for last in the Big Ten). Gersonde has the leg to be the fix-it guy but must show consistency.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.