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National Signing Day is a cool thing. It’s college football’s draft, free agency and trade deadline in one shopping cart. Bottom line, it’s talent acquisition and a reference point for why your team is doing really great or kind of struggling three years down the road.
With that in mind, I asked some media friends for their favorite three recruits for Iowa’s 2016 class with a paragraph explaining why. The answers are wide-ranging and make for a fun read.
I’ll save mind for last. We’ll start with my colleague Scott Dochterman. Here’s his favorite three:
1. Nick Niemann, OLB, 6-4, 220 (Sycamore, Ill.) — You first look at the last time and the build and immediately see a younger version of his older brother. Yes, there’s plenty of Ben Niemann in his game. But the more I watch, I see Chad Greenway potential here. If he reaches that level, watch out.
Niemann shows great instincts toward finding the football. He’s a tremendous athlete with very good straight-ahead speed and lateral pursuit. He shows no fear when taking on larger blockers, is a good form tackler and arrives with ill humor when confronting the ball carrier. He’s adept at catching the football and could be just as good at a tight end if necessary. But this guy has a chance to play on special teams right away and contribute quickly when called upon.
2. Emmanuel Rugamba, ATH, 6-0, 172 (Naperville Central, Ill.) — Rugamba has position flexibility, and it’s too early to predict where exactly he ends up. He displays tremendous hands and good separation as a wide receiver. He has great speed, solid ball skills and good acceleration, which works for either side of the ball. He also shows potential as a special teams returnee and reasonably could vault into Desmond King’s backup for this season.
Rugamba might be the best pure athlete in the class. With the lack of experience at WR, he could compete for time right away. If he’s a CB, he might need to play in order to replace either King or Greg Mabin in 2017.
3. Cedric Lattimore, DL, 6-4, 251 (East English Village, Detroit Mich.) — There’s plenty to like with Lattimore as a defensive linemen. With his athletic ability, current size and potential for growth, I can see Lattimore playing a versatile or hybrid role like Christian Ballard or move permanently inside to defensive tackle. Lattimore is explosive off the ball, stays low and is physical. He’s a punishing tackler and finishes them all. His tenacity is obvious. After bulking up in a red-shirt season, Lattimore could be a strong candidate to replace Jaleel Johnson when he’s in the NFL.
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Here’s his favorite three.
1. Frank Darby, WR, 6-1, 180 (Lincoln High School, Jersey City, N.J.)
Darby is a lean, speedy WR prospect who brings an excellent vertical element. He shows excellent ball skills at the catch-point on deep balls. He flashes those skills on both routine, uncontested catches as well as contested jump balls. He effortlessly tracks the ball in the air and has excellent body control to adjust on the fly. He is a weapon in the screen game and if given a lane he can turn it into a big play or TD. Despite not being an overly big prospect, he does show the ability to beat arm tackles and turn short catches into big plays.
He is listed at 6-1 180, but looks both shorter and lighter to me. He plays primarily on the outside in his HS system but will need to add some size and strength to protect himself in traffic over the middle. He outclasses his level of HS competition and often separates on pure athleticism; he will need some work as a route runner as well. He does tend to use his body to catch the ball on shorter routes and it’s area where he can improve.
He does have a habit of not securing the football as a runner, which could be a barrier to seeing the field early. If he does see the field early it likely would be as a kick returner but I think a redshirt year will be needed. To me, Darby is a high 3-star WR prospect who has some traits comparable to 4-star WR prospects. His lack of major D1 offers and interest is surprising to me even if his size is a concern.
2. Noah Fant, TE, 6-5, 210 (Omaha, Neb., South High School)
Fant is an interesting TE prospect for Iowa to recruit. He’s a little leaner than the guys Iowa normally targets. He reminds me more of the prospects spread teams target. Fant is a fast, fluid and explosive athlete. He has the speed to stretch the seams as a TE and if he gets a lane he can turn short passes into big plays. He has natural ball skills and uses his length well in traffic on jump balls. Flashes red zone ability on fade routes and could develop into a big threat there. He’s not an imposing physical presence as a blocker but he’s aggressive and willing. He shows excellent raw strength on contact with defenders but will need refinement with hand usage and keeping his hips engaged. He doesn’t break a lot of tackles at the HS level and likely needs some added lower body strength.
I see Fant as a 4-star prospect and a guy who has the physical tools to contribute early as a situational H-back/move-TE. He will need to add good weight as well as spend time becoming a technician as a blocker to be successful inline TE.
3. Toks Akinribade, RB, 6-0, 205 (Brownsburg, Ind., High School)
Watching both his JR and SR year highlights, the word than comes to mind for me: Athlete. The tape shows a kid who is big, fast fluid and strong.
He uses his size well and runs with good natural body lean. He will drive his legs on contact and most of the time will finish runs moving forward. He shows an initial burst to and through the hole, which is often a key for successful RBs in zone heavy schemes. He has above average straight line speed and excellent lateral agility. He displays some nice instincts picking and sliding through holes. He often will make multiple cuts through the hole to evade tacklers, especially closing safeties as he breaks to the second level.
In addition to all his tools as a ball carrier he also shows the ability to catch the ball well in the screen game. He is a natural pass catcher who catches the ball away from his frame. He flashes ability to be a solid pass protector as well. Toks is a very balanced, well-rounded RB prospect. He already has similar size to current Iowa RB Derrick Mitchell and carries that weight well. He should be able to add some good weight and retain his speed and agility. I see Akinribade as a 4- prospect and a guy who could contribute early in his career.
1. Noah Fant, TE, 6-5, 210 (Omaha, Neb., South High School) — Iowa has a type if you include last year’s one tight end commit Nate Vejvoda. He and this tight end class: Shaun Beyer, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are of the 6’5” 215-pound athlete type. The tight end position has evolved and Iowa appears to love to develop the athlete that can play receiver first and learn to block at the higher level later. Fant reminds me of former Hawkeye Brandon Myers. Both excelled in football and basketball at the high school level. Fant will learn to block and he’ll be a weapon in motion from the backfield and out in space in the slot as soon as 20 pounds are added to his frame.
2. Toks Akinribade, RB, 6-0, 205 (Brownsburg, Ind., High School) — Iowa needed all of the “Four Deadly Horsemen” at running back last season. With Jordan Canzeri gone, Iowa may need to pull a red-shirt from one of the two (or three if you count Barrington Wade) freshmen running backs in this class. Toks Akinribade is a versatile weapon out of the backfield as he’s shown at the high school level he can be effective as a receiver too. He’s not as physically mature as Derrick Mitchell but reminds me a lot of DMX. He’s not the bulldozer LeShun Daniels is, or the scatback Akrum Wadley is, but he could play both the third down back or be an early down back if called upon.
3. Chauncey Golston, DE, 6-5, 242 and Cedrick Lattimore DL, 6-4, 251 (East English Village, Detroit Mich.) — I like both bookend defensive ends out of the same high school in Detroit, Michigan. I think Lattimore may end up inside and take a path similar to last year’s signee Michael Slater. At BHGP, I compared Golston to former Hawkeye Kenny Iwebema of the mid-2000’s. Both of these guys remind me of typical Michigan State defensive line recruits under Mark Dantonio. I believe he came calling late in the recruiting game. Iowa loses Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie and Kyle Terlouw off the interior defensive line after 2016 and one or both of these guys could be long-time contributors.
HawkeyeReport publisher Tom Kakert was one of the last to turn his in, so he jumps in with OT Alaric Jackson, a 6-7, 285-pounder. Tom is wise and plays the game with a long-play mindset.
1. Toks Akinribade, RB, 6-0, 205 (Brownsburg, Ind., High School) — Still learning the game and a bit raw right now, but the ceiling with Toks is very high. Love is size, speed, and strength as a running back. Iowa won a pretty good recruiting battle for him with some high level competition and held off his in-state school, Indiana, which made a late push. I think Toks could be pretty good in Iowa’s run game scheme.
2. Cedrick Lattimore DL, 6-4, 251 (East English Village, Detroit, Mich.) — Let’s face it, Iowa has missed out on some defensive ends in the past few years and it’s a thin position. With the addition of Lattimore, that will begin to solve the depth chart issues. Lattimore is 6-4 and 250 pounds and a big time athlete. The upside here is very good and he’s coming in with his high school teammate and fellow DE Chauncey Gholston, who is also a very good prospect.
3. Alaric Jackson, OL, 6-7, 285, (Renaissance HS, Detroit, Mich.) — The big news of signing day was Jackson picking the Hawkeyes over a late offer from Michigan. The Detroit native is raw, having only played two years of football at the high school level, but the size (6-foot-7) and athletic ability (plays basketball), you can see why Kirk Ferentz wanted him. There won’t be a huge rush to get Jackson on the field, so he can develop. His upside is really high and given the way Iowa develops offensive tackles, he has the potential to be a very good player.
HawkeyeNation’s Rob Howe checks in. (He had some kid duty this morning, so big thanks to Rob. I appreciate his insights.)
1. Cedrick Lattimore, DE, 6-4, 251 (East English Village, Detroit, Mich.) — Iowa needs to fortify the defensive end position and it certainly did so with Lattimore, who turned away home-state Michigan State to come west. Lattimore is a tremendous athlete who comes off the edge with an already impressive array of pass rush moves. I believe he’s the best DE prospect the Hawkeyes have landed since Adrian Clayborn and he reminds me of the current Atlanta Falcon.
2. T.J Hockenson, TE, 6-5, 230 (Chariton, Iowa) — The Hawkeyes have done well with in-state tight end recruits and they landed one of the better prospects to come through the boarders in quite some time. Hockenson (6-5, 235) set Iowa state high school records for career catches (238) and touchdown receptions (49) while finishing second in yardage (3,560). He runs a 4.7, 40 and crisp routes with soft hands. Hockenson has the makings of a very good college player.
3. Nathan Stanley, QB, 6-4, 200 (Menomonie, Wis.) — Stanley doesn’t conduct many interviews. He keeps his Hudl videos private. He seeks no attention. It’s why he’s flying under the national prospect radar. That’s good for Iowa, which held off Wisconsin for the strong-armed signal caller. He thrives throwing darts out of the pocket but can hurt opponents with his legs as well. Stanley has a presence about him that screams “leader.” He reminds me of a bigger C.J. Beathard in terms of skill set.
OK, here’s mine.
1. Amani Hooker, CB/S, 6-1, 195, Park Center High School (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) — I admit, I fixate on certain archetypes of former Hawkeyes, but I do try to be honest and don’t overstate what I think a recruit can be. That said, you probably know where I’m going with Amani Hooker. I watched a few of his Hudls and his Iowa signing day highlight tape and I think Micah Hyde.
Hooker has great ball skills. Park Center used him as a wildcat QB, return specialist and wide receiver. He looks great with the ball in his hands. At Iowa, I think his size probably projects him as a safety. A couple of observations on defense: 1) He keeps his feet moving through his tackles. It was a highlight tape, but Hooker didn’t seem to show any backdown. He hit through runners and won those battles. 2) He’s got such great speed and anticipation that he too often started plays flat footed. This squelched any deception that offenses tried against him, but it’s a habit he’ll likely have to grow out of.
Highly versatile. Strong tackler. Great ball skills. Micah Hyde starter kit.
2. Chauncey Golston, DE/DL, 6-5, 235, East English Village Prep (Detroit, Mich.) — Long-limbed gorgeous-looking defensive lineman. The project with Golston will be get-off. He doesn’t get off the ball like senior-year Drew Ott did at the beginning of 2015. Well, of course, Golston doesn’t have to do that yet. He covers a ton of group in just a few strides.
East English also used Golston at defensive tackle. He looked great there, too. On the inside, his first step was more than quick enough. He was a handful. He also played with refined technique, often getting his hands into OL and locking out his elbows, giving him control of the situation.
Maybe on the inside, he could be Malik McDowell-ish. On the outside, if he develops, Golston has the frame for a top-fligh pass rusher, worth his weight in gold.
3. Barrington Wade, LB, 6-1, 210 Niles North High School (Skokie, Ill.) — This one is going to be projection on my part, but I love Wade’s story. I read in a Chicago Tribune piece that he’s kind of a loner, a loner in a good way, in that he likes to work and work and work. He’s into the training on a high level, even wearing an Elevation Training Mask (a Marshawn Lynch technique) that mimics altitude training. Niles North High School security has called the coach a few times wondering who the kid on the field working out by himself was. It was Wade. So, let’s go ahead and check off work ethic.
Why do I have to project? Most of the highlights of Wade are of him as a running back. He was this kind of RB: Hand him the ball and let him find the way. He showed great instinct and read blocks well, but for the most part, he was a straight-line runner. I also aways kind of fall back to this: Most high schools have their best player at RB. They hand him the ball and hope he makes something happen. Wade did that more often that not.
There will be a learning curve for him at linebacker, probably project him at MLB. I love that he’s from Chicago suburbs. Iowa needs the Chicago suburbs to work for it. I think there’s a banner carrier in Wade.