10 Signing Day thoughts on Iowa football's 2022 recruiting class
IOWA CITY — Fresh off a tough loss in the Big Ten championship game, Iowa football looked for a win, and the Hawkeyes got just that with Xavier Nwankpa’s commitment.
With the five-star safety on board, Iowa went into the early signing period with its highest-rated recruit in program history. It elevated the Hawkeyes’ 2022 class to No. 9 in the Big Ten and No. 40 in the nation, two rankings in which Iowa had struggled prior to his commitment. And those rankings rose even more Wednesday.
Momentum from Nwankpa’s announcement followed the Hawkeyes into Wednesday’s signings, and Iowa officially added more than one top-rated player to next year’s roster.
Here are 10 thoughts from Iowa’s signing day.
1. Xavier Nwankpa has potential to be an instant difference-maker.
A Division I athlete getting playing time as a true freshman is rare. But an Iowa high school football player earning a five-star rating is also rare.
Nwankpa is the first five-star Hawkeye since A.J. Epenesa in 2017. And he wants to make a difference right away. That’s why Nwankpa will graduate from high school early and join the Hawkeyes in January. This is by design, in hopes that an early start with the team will land Nwankpa a spot in Iowa’s regular rotation. Now, it’s just up to Nwankpa to live up to the hype — with help from defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
A big question here is: Will Dane Belton, Iowa's starter at the "cash" position, declare for the NFL Draft? If so, that opens the door for a significant opportunity at early playing time for Nwankpa, whom Iowa recruited at that safety/linebacker hybrid position.
2. Will Nwankpa’s commitment impact recruiting?
The short answer: Yes.
Since his commitment, Nwankpa has been vocal on social media in trying to attract other prospects to come to Iowa. His addition to the roster helped convince players like T.J. Hall, Koen Entringer and Olando Trader, Iowa's other three defensive back targets who were on campus with Nwankpa during Iowa's bowl practice last Sunday, to commit to Iowa. On top of that, many think that Nwankpa is key to Iowa securing five-star junior Kadyn Proctor, his teammate at Southeast Polk, and four-star Arizona receiver Kyler Kasper, who was his 7-on-7 football teammate with the Tucson Turf.
3. Is a five-star recruit really that special?
Duh. Especially here at Iowa, where the last five-star recruit was A.J. Epenesa in 2017, and there was never really any drama there and he was a four-star when he committed to the Hawkeyes.
Iowa is one of four teams in the Big Ten (out of 14) that has a five-star recruit committed in the 2022 class. Ohio State has linebacker C.J. Hicks, Michigan has cornerback Will Johnson, and Penn State secured both quarterback Drew Allar and running back Nicholas Singleton.
Out of those recruits, only one — Allar — is ranked higher than Nwankpa by the 247Sports Composite. Once recruits start playing college ball, rankings and stars don’t matter. But Nwankpa has shown enough talent in high school to back up his hype.
4. Let’s talk about Aaron Graves.
Graves can do it all, and that’s not just a cliché. Seriously, the 6-5 lineman played offense and defense for Southeast Valley … and filled in as the Jaguars’ kicker. He won’t take over those responsibilities for Iowa, but he’s all-in for the Hawkeyes. Graves was the first 2022 player to verbally commit to Iowa — in 2019 — and that’s never wavered. If he hadn't committed to early, Graves would have had any offer he wanted.
He backs up his commitment with a ton of talent. Graves is the No. 16 defensive lineman and No. 99 player nationwide, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Hawkeyes aren’t lacking much talent in Graves’ position, so now it’s up to him to prove he can continue this success at the college level.
Side note: He's also an excellent basketball player who's averaging 27.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this winter.
5. Spencer Petras, Alex Padilla … Carson May
Iowa’s 2022 quarterback is 6-5, 220-pound pro-style passer Carson May out of Oklahoma. Living in a town of just more than 2,500 people, he flew under the radar and committed to Iowa with only two other offers from Old Dominion and Western Michigan.
The Hawkeyes aren’t lacking in the quarterback department. Petras just finished his junior season, Padilla is only a sophomore and Joey Labas is a solid third-string option. Iowa had a huge recruiting win on Monday with a commitment from four-star 2023 quarterback Marco Lainez, too.
Whether May pans out is yet to be seen, but he’ll face an uphill battle surrounded by high-level competition from within the program. His frame, though, and his cannon of an arm certainly make for a prospect capable of Power 5 success.
6. Can someone fill the void left by Tyler Goodson?
Iowa isn’t exactly hurting for running backs, but Goodson’s departure for the NFL Draft does leaves an immediate gap in the lineup. Current Hawkeye players are the most likely option to step in, but Iowa added two three-star running backs, Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson, that could earn playing time.
7. Back to having success in Wisconsin.
After a year gap in 2021, Iowa has continued its string of consistent success up in Wisconsin. It added a trio of Wisconsin players in this 2022 cycle in three-star offensive lineman Jack Dotzler, three-star tight end Addison Ostrenga and three-star linebacker Jayden Montgomery.
Before the 2021 gap, Iowa had added at least one Wisconsin product in every recruiting cycle since 2016.
8. Signing Day surprises. (Although they weren't really surprises.)
In-state linebacker Landyn Van Kekerix announced his commitment to Iowa over South Dakota and South Dakota State on Wednesday. So, too, did Illinois three-star defensive lineman Brian Allen, who decommitted from Illinois in October.
Defensive backs T.J. Hall, Olando Trader and Koen Entringer all committed to Iowa, too.
9. Don’t fret over this class size.
With an average of 20 players joining Iowa in the previous three classes, this class does feel a tad small. The Hawkeyes did miss out on a few sought-after recruits but there’s more than meets the eye with the "low" number of recruits.
This isn’t an issue unique to Iowa. With players all over the country cashing in on extra eligibility because of COVID-19, schools have less scholarship openings available. Those programs are also opting to put their trust in veteran players over incoming freshmen, and this is an issue that could affect recruits for a couple more years.
10. Have the Hawkeyes made up for missing some top targets?
After Wednesday's five additions, the Hawkeyes are currently ranked sixth in the Big Ten and No. 25 in the country for the incoming group, per the 247Sports Composite.
Iowa has missed out on a few highly-ranked recruits — in-state tight end Eli Raridon and Wisconsin tight end Andrew Keller were painful misses. But no program locks down every recruit they offer.
In all, this has developed into a strong class for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, with Nwankpa headlining a group that features prospects you don't have difficulty imagining having an impact over the next few years.
Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.