Hawkeyes analysis: Comfort level high for Iowa recruiting class

Chad Leistikow
Chariton's T.J. Hockenson put up big numbers this past season as a tight end. He's one of 25 expected signees for Iowa's football program on Wednesday.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Winning cures a lot of things in sports -- including fan angst about football recruiting.

As we arrive at National Signing Day 2016, the feeling surrounding Iowa’s incoming prospects is completely different from a year ago.

And even six months ago.

On HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert’s message boards, cynical anger about the Hawkeyes’ recruiting has been replaced by, well, nothing much at all.

According to Rivals’ rankings, Iowa’s 2015 class averaged 2.71 stars per player. The 2016 class is just slightly better, at 2.83. Yet there seems to be a renewed confidence in the coaching staff after Iowa’s 12-0 regular season and first Rose Bowl appearance in 25 years.

That wasn’t the case in the summer, when Iowa nabbed most of its expected class of 25 recruits in a commitment binge.

“The criticisms of this class in July and August are no longer being made in January and February,” Kakert said. “That’s in large part because of 12-0.”

Same kids, basically the same rankings. But there’s a legitimate reason to be excited about Hawkeye football recruiting again, especially with momentum surging in the Class of 2017 with the recent commitment of highly ranked defensive end A.J. Epenesa.

But we’ll get to 2017 later this week. The focus now is on the many positive indicators in Iowa’s Class of 2016:

Iowa likes its guys. This was a common theme brimming from the office of recruiting coordinator (and recently named linebackers coach) Seth Wallace, who got the ball rolling on this class last winter with commitments from Wisconsin natives Nathan Stanley (quarterback) and Toren Young (running back).

Stanley is a prime example of Iowa trusting its read more than the recruiting websites. The 6-foot-4 quarterback didn’t attend hype-building camps, so his profile was muted. Once more eyes were on him as a senior, Stanley was bumped to a four-star rating from Scout.com. But Wallace’s early relationship with Stanley helped Iowa hold off a late push from the home-state Badgers.

Many of these commitments didn’t have other major offers -- one of the reasons for summer skepticism in the fan base -- but the Hawkeye staff wouldn’t have been so aggressive if it wasn’t sold on each and every one of them.

Bettendorf's Keaton Cain is tackled by Cedar Rapids, Kennedy's Shaun Beyer during their semifinal game at the UNI dome on Friday, November 13, 2015 in Cedar Falls.

Year of the (tight and defensive) ends: Iowa filled a key need by finding big, athletic bodies on the ends of the line of scrimmage.

Three tight ends, all measuring 6-5 and at least 210 pounds, are on board in breakout Shaun Beyer, athletic Noah Fant and big target T.J. Hockenson. With Henry Krieger-Coble and Jake Duzey graduated and George Kittle going into his senior year, the Hawkeyes sorely needed some future building blocks.

At defensive end, Iowa landed its only other four-star prospect (by Scout) in Detroit’s Cedrick Lattimore. He’s got the size (6-4, 251) and potential to play right away, although that’s historically been tough to do at Iowa. There are five defensive ends in this class -- Lattimore, Chauncey Golston, Romeo McKnight, Austin Schulte and Brandon Simon. Too many? Hardly, considering Iowa will have almost no proven depth at that position with Nate Meier and (perhaps) Drew Ott gone from last year’s team.

Pella's Austin Schulte is part of a deep group of defensive linemen Iowa is bringing in.

Good class of athletes: The toy box will be full when Iowa’s coaches can get their hands on these guys in August. There are a lot of offensive stars that’ll probably get their first looks on defense at Iowa.

Barrington Wade (6-1, 207) starred at running back and Kristian Welch (6-4, 218) at tight end, but both seem ticketed to play linebacker for Wallace.

Amani Hooker (6-1, 195) scored seven touchdowns in a game last season as a quarterback, but he’ll fit nicely in Phil Parker’s secondary and perhaps on special teams.

Lance Billings (5-11, 161) and Emmanuel Rugamba (6-0, 172) were standout high-school pass catchers but recruited as defensive backs. However, with Iowa’s immediate need at receiver, it might not hurt to give them a look there.

Grain of salt alert: Overall, recruiting websites are ranking Iowa's class around 40th nationally and seventh or eighth in the Big Ten Conference. That's an upgrade from the Class of 2015. But as we've learned over the last 17 years, Iowa under Kirk Ferentz doesn't take its recruiting lead from star ratings.

And lastly: There isn’t expected to be much signing-day drama, other than determining whether Iowa’s 25th scholarship goes to Michigan lineman Alaric Jackson, grayshirt commitment Noah Clayberg or someone else.

Iowa had 23 commitments by the end of August. Not one has backed out yet.

Chalk up another assist to 12-0.