Reeling in receivers remains issue for Iowa on recruiting trail

Chris Cuellar
Hawk Central

Iowa’s pedigree and recruiting prowess with offensive linemen, tight ends and defensive backs is undisputed.

But its problems at wide receiver are apparent to recruiting analysts and on the depth chart, as the Hawkeyes hope to get 2017 production from a former grayshirt prospect recovering from injury, a walk-on transfer from Iowa Western and a pack of unproven pass-catchers.

That leaves 2018 and 2019 prospects wondering if, and when, wide receiver at Iowa will be considered a prime position.

Iowa junior wide receiver Nick Easley (84) catches the ball during the Hawkeyes' open practice on April 7 at Valley Stadium.

“They just have not recruited the position well,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals. “They’re scrambling, it seems like, every January to try and fill wide receiver.

“Their recruiting staff and offense just has to be better at identifying prospects earlier and getting those players on campus. They just have to be better.”

Iowa’s coaching staff has already secured two verbal commitments from 2018 prospects it views as college receivers, yet their profiles reinforce how difficult it has been to reel in top recruits.

Samson Evans and Tyrone Tracy Jr. are both considered three-star athletes by Rivals. Evans plays quarterback in Crystal Lake, Ill., while Tracy was coveted by multiple Midwest programs as a running back out of Indianapolis.

“I think there definitely was a perception problem for Iowa at wide receiver,” said Derek Young, publisher of Scout site Hawkeye Insider. “Just look at Tyrone Tracy. Each school was recruiting him differently.

“And he told me before he committed that if Iowa was recruiting him at running back, he’d be more inclined to go to Iowa. All because he wasn’t sure how he would be implemented and used as a wide receiver at Iowa.”

Tyrone Tracy Jr. (11) is expected to be a four-year varsity player for Decatur Central in Indianapolis and is a top 2018 target for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa signed three receivers out of its 2017 recruiting class, and all were productive at the position as three-star preps. Mississippi’s Brandon Smith was outspoken about the early “opportunity” he viewed Iowa as offering, while Wisconsin’s Max Cooper and Illinois’ Henry Marchese were winter additions with little other Power 5 interest. Pitching for top 2017 receivers resulted in decommitments (Beau Corrales) or choosing rivals (Oliver Martin).

Recruiting stars don’t guarantee college success, but the Hawkeyes haven’t turned unheralded receivers into pros, either.

“It might take a couple classes of production and an NFL Draft pick to truly get Iowa caught up with other programs at that position,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout.

“The staff does a tremendous job developing under-the-radar guys, but when they want to get serious with high-level recruits, I think it’s safe to assume other schools know how long it has been since they had a receiver drafted.”

Earlier:Receiver remains Iowa’s top 2017 concern after Jerminic Smith’s departure

If four- and five-star wideouts are looking at Iowa to develop them into NFL Draft picks, they’ll have to look back a few years. The last Hawkeye receiver drafted was Marvin McNutt in 2012. And the previous draft pick before that was Kahlil Hill in 2002.

Other winning programs have odd weak spots, too — Helmholdt said Ohio State’s current offensive tackle situation was also troublesome — and Iowa may be able to defend its receiver plan on the recruiting trail.

“I’d be surprised if it’s an effective negative recruiting angle,” Helmholdt said. “It’s hard for opposing coaches to try and sell that one down position is going to affect a kid’s development. Especially because a lot of kids in that position will just see opportunity to play.”

Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, instructing players at the team's open practice in West Des Moines on Friday, has his work cut out for him this spring. The Hawkeyes have only two scholarship wideouts available while also trying to choose a new starting quarterback.

Optimism exists in part because of the position’s new coach, Kelton Copeland. The former Northern Illinois assistant made an immediate impact with Evans and Tracy and is helping with other receiver prospects in his native Florida. According to Rivals, Iowa would still like one more 2018 addition and has offers out to Calvin Lockett and Bryce Oliver.

Copeland and new offensive line coach Tim Polasek have been integral for Iowa’s early 2018 and 2019 commits.

“Without Kelton Copeland being hired at Iowa, Tyrone Tracy probably never would have committed,” Young said.

“I think when you lose two guys who had a lot of responsibility on the recruiting trail, which I think (former running backs coach) Chris White and (former receivers coach) Bobby Kennedy did, they had to replace them with two guys who could take on a lot of recruiting responsibility.”

Pulling traditional receiver prospects could come in time, but for now, the Hawkeyes like their 2018 commits. The staff is banking on athleticism, development and coaching being enough to turn successful football players into productive receivers.

“It’s an interesting approach to try and address that issue,” Helmholdt said. “Tracy is athletic enough that he’ll be serviceable there. I do think his highest upside is as an all-purpose back, getting five to eight carries a game on top of flashing out in the flats or going in the slot.

“Samson Evans is a great high school player. He’s a gamer. But I just have some concerns about how that translates over to the college level, especially the Big Ten level.”

The current FBS recruiting dead period ends July 9.