Bain: Final thoughts on Iowa football's 2018 recruiting class
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Another year, another recruiting class, another 32.7-second break before Hawkeye coaches get back out on the recruiting trail.
Before we turn our focus forward, here are some final thoughts on Iowa's 2018 recruiting class — its best since 2011. According to the 247Sports Composite, Iowa's class is ranked 40th in the country and eighth in the Big Ten Conference.
Hawkeyes get help at linebacker … but did they get enough? We wrote about this yesterday: Iowa's biggest 2018 need was at linebacker, but it's up in the air as to whether it properly addressed that need. The four freshmen — two in-demand recruits in Dillon Doyle and Jayden McDonald; two under-the-radar guys in Seth Benson and Logan Klemp — project well. But they don't project as immediate contributors, and that's really what the Hawkeyes needed: Immediate help for a position that lost all three long-time starters. They hoped to get that with Will Honas, the country's best junior-college linebacker prospect. He was an early Iowa lean ... before picking Nebraska.
During his signing day media availability, head coach Kirk Ferentz gave the impression that the linebacker race is wide open — with newcomers and returners all in the mix.
"I think it's fair to say that a couple (newcomers) will be involved next year, at least on special teams. We'll get them on the field," he said. "And maybe redshirt another guy or two. We have an open mind. But it's really a position — not that we're talking about spring football — but I think it's a position where there's as much opportunity there for any of those players."
Meanwhile, Iowa is set for quarterback for a bit. Spencer Petras is a legit four-star, top-15 pro-style quarterback in this class. He's already on campus as an early enrollee, too. Iowa has a couple options here: It could let Petras develop this spring and redshirt him next year, or it could hand him the back-up quarterback reins. If he redshirts, he'd theoretically take over the starting job from Stanley as a redshirt sophomore in 2020-21 with three more years of eligibility. If he doesn't redshirt, he'd take over as a junior with two more years of eligibility. Either way, it looks like Iowa is set at quarterback for a while.
Any immediate receiver contributors from this class? "Receiver" has become a buzz word around signing day in recent years, because, well, Iowa hasn't had much recent success at that position. Nick Easley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are solid bets to earn snaps next year, but Iowa would love to get other guys in the mix. It brings in four new receivers: Calvin Lockett, Tyrone Tracy, Samson Evans and Nico Ragaini. Of those, Tracy and Ragaini are most likely to compete for time. Lockett needs to bulk up from 160 pounds, and, theoretically, jack-of-all-trades Evans might develop into a running back. At 6 feet and 190 pounds, Tracy doesn't need too much work on his body before he's college ready. He racked up 1,132 receiving yards against the deep Indianapolis talent pool this season. (Although Ferentz said they could also try him at running back, where he excelled in high school, too.) Ragaini (6-0, 185) is a little smaller than Tracy, but he's already the age of a college freshman. He played a post-graduate year at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut this season. Maturity matters, and he's got it.
"We felt like he was a guy that could probably come in here and compete this spring," Ferentz said of Ragaini. "That's our hope, that he'll come in and make us a better team (by) competing."
There's a handful of other candidates for immediate contribution, too. Junior-college transfer defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has a solid chance to start at defensive tackle next year. St. Louis product Dallas Craddieth (6-1, 197) boasts a frame that's ready to play college cornerback — or safety. He's simply too fast, strong and athletic to keep off the field for too long, especially in a secondary that needs to fill holes. Julius Brents (6-2, 180) also has a body that doesn't need drastic work. His read-and-react skills, 39.2-inch vertical and positional versatility will give him a shot at early playing time. D.J. Johnson (6-0, 170) does need to work with strength coach Chris Doyle. But LSU made a late offer for a reason: This kid oozes potential at cornerback, and Iowa has no clear frontrunner for that position with Josh Jackson off to the NFL. If you're looking for immediate contribution at linebacker (which is rare), it'd likely come from Dillon Doyle. The son of Chris Doyle, Dillon (6-3, 215) has had elite-athlete training his whole life. He certainly looked the part as an All-Iowa Elite team linebacker at Iowa City West.
Early redshirt candidates? Three come to mind. Tyler Linderbaum's athleticism and agility made him a destructive defensive tackle in high school. But his size (6-2, 270) needs work for the college game. Iowa could use a redshirt year on him so he puts on weight and size at a healthy rate and maintains that quickness off the snap that makes him so disruptive. (The Hawkeyes could also determine whether he'd also be a good fit at center, where he played in addition to defensive tackle in high school.) Jack Plumb (6-8, 250), who played tight end in high school, will need time to add weight and adjust to his new offensive tackle position. Michigan product Kaevon Merriweather (6-2, 195) has heaps of potential, but at the same time, he's so raw. Iowa was his only football offer; Western Michigan offered him in basketball. Iowa could spend a redshirt to develop him and figure out whether he's a strong safety or maybe even a rangy linebacker.
"We've been watching him for a long time," Ferentz said of Merriweather. "We didn't say much about it, and (defensive coordinator) Phil (Parker) was discrete about getting in and out of there.
"He's a guy that we had a lot of strong feelings for. Quite frankly, he's probably a better prospect on the basketball court, maybe, than a football field at this point. But we feel like he can do both."
Potential under-the-radar gem? Logan Klemp, the linebacker out of South Hamilton High in Jewell, Iowa. He faces a steep learning curve after playing Class 1A high school competition. But it's not a mistake he led his team in tackles, rushing yards and receiving yards. Klemp is a 6-3, 210-pound play-maker whose potential at linebacker is relatively untapped. There's a very recent example of Iowa turning a two-star, in-state linebacker into an NFL prospect: Josey Jewell.
"He's got a background, I think, that is very similar to a lot of guys we've had success with," Ferentz said. "Quite frankly, when we go out in recruiitng, that's usually what we're doing. We're not looking for five-stars or four-stars. We're looking for, 'Hey, this guy reminds us of so-and-so who's done a lot in our program.'"
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.