Iowa football: Assistant coach rips the most 'ridiculous' part of recruiting

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

There’s more college football recruiting coverage than ever. And since the adoption of a December “early” signing day, the recruiting calendar is speeding along faster than ever.

So, it’s no wonder that there are too-many-to-count websites devoted to covering this frenzy. Hey, we’re a part of it, too. The Register has its own sports recruiting reporter. The metrics tell us that a lot of people are passionate about who might become the next great player for the (insert your favorite team here).

And because people care, there’s more attention than ever on star ratings by (insert your preferred recruiting website here). With roughly 3,000 high schoolers signing FBS national letters of intent every year, it's impossible to definitively assign an appropriate number of stars to a prospect.

Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell likes what he saw from the Hawkeyes' young players during spring practice.

Yet those star ratings set the narrative for whether a football program has signed a good class, an average class or a bad class. And that part bothers Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell, who spent the past three years as the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator before being elevated to replace retiring Reese Morgan.

The recruiting analysts certainly do the best they can, but they’re basically working with handcuffs. Imagine how accurate Mel Kiper Jr. would be trying to project today what the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will look like.

That "commercialization" of recruiting, in Bell’s opinion, is the worst part of the job.

"Your recruiting class now has an expectation on it, based on the star ranking that they’ve arbitrarily been given over the course of camp circuits and high school football,” Bell said during our Hawk Central radio show last week on KxNO (AM 1460) in Des Moines. “Which I think is absolutely ridiculous.

“I think you should take three to four years after a class has been signed to determine whether or not that’s the top class in the Big Ten.”

Examining Iowa’s Class of 2016 is a great example of how a retroactive look changes things.

That class was rated No. 42 nationally by Rivals (No. 8 in the Ten), No. 47 by 247Sports (No. 9 Big Ten) and No. 49 by ESPN (No. 8 Big Ten).

T.J. Hockenson, for example, was ranked as the 66th-best tight end in the country by the 247Sports composite and the 19th-best player in Iowa’s 24-player class. All Hockenson did was win the Mackey Award last season as college football’s No. 1 tight end.

Hockenson and Noah Fant (the No. 536-ranked player nationally) became first-round NFL Draft selections in April. Amani Hooker (No. 560) became the Big Ten defensive back of the year and a fourth-round pick.

At least three more Hawkeyes from the 2016 class are already high producers in quarterback Nate Stanley (a projected first-rounder by some), all-Big Ten left tackle Alaric Jackson and defensive end Chauncey Golston. Others like Cole Banwart, Cedrick Lattimore, Nick Niemann and Kristian Welch could be multi-year starters.

Where would Iowa's 2016 class rate retroactively? It'd still be subjective and a work in progress. But with a few clicks, you could discover that Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class ranked between 24th (Rivals) and 26th (247, ESPN). And over the past two years, when those players would have been in their second and third years, Iowa's program won 17 vs. Nebraska's eight.

Also, Iowa joined Michigan (Devin Bush and Rashan Gary) and Ohio State (with Nick Bosa and Dwayne Haskins) as the only Big Ten schools to produce two first-round 2019 NFL Draft picks.

“I think the recall on that — going back and looking at it on the back end — is sorely missed,” Bell said. “Because there’s a lot of times where you will have a top-five or top-10 recruiting class, and you go back and look at how they’ve been performed. I don’t think enough research is done there. I think the results would be eye-opening.”

A few other highlights worth sharing from our Bell interview:

On the hiring of Jay Niemann …

Niemann basically replaced Bell as assistant defensive line coach and Morgan as the lead in-state recruiter. Niemann, 58, is a native Iowan who played at Iowa State and has coached at Drake, Northern Iowa and Simpson College.

“Recruiting the state is important to him. Iowa kids are important to him,” Bell said. “I just think it was a really, really dynamite hire.”

Bell outlined the most unheralded piece of the hire in that Niemann will be a gameday asset in the press box. He spent the past eight years as an FBS defensive coordinator (five at Northern Illinois, three at Rutgers).

“So you’ve got a totally different set of eyes with a different perspective on the game, helping us out from the air,” Bell said. “I’m excited about it.”

On his young guys …

Head coach Kirk Ferentz identified the depth at defensive line, Bell’s position, as a top surprise from spring practice. Bell identified veterans Austin Schulte and Dallas Jacobeus and youngsters John Waggoner, Noah Shannon and Daviyon Nixon as having strong springs.

Nixon has generated the most curiosity as a 6-foot-3, 306-pound defensive tackle. His buzz again takes us back to the recruiting topic. Because Nixon was offered by Alabama, there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding this redshirt sophomore who sat out last season because of academics.

“Very pleased with Daviyon, for him to come back in the fashion that he did,” Bell said. “Obviously, he’s got some work to do. He’s a little rusty. But he shows up with a good attitude and ready to practice every single day.

“I’m really excited. It’s going to be a big summer for him.”