Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting 2018: Wide receivers

Croot Loops: Hawkeyes still looking for perimeter help

Receivers coach Kelton Copeland leads Iowa's skill-position players onto the field before a game last season at Kinnick Stadium. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Receivers coach Kelton Copeland leads Iowa's skill-position players onto the field before a game last season at Kinnick Stadium. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Editor's note: Third in a series evaluating Iowa football's incoming class. (Previously: Linebackers, Defensive backs)

Well, you saw Nick Easley go from basically “street free agent” status to a “whoa, what would Iowa’s passing game have done without Nick Easley.”

Easley kind of famously walked on the Hawkeyes after two seasons as a productive wideout at Iowa Western Community College. Easley was going to walk on at Iowa State. Iowa showed late interest and was a better fit.

Easley went from nameless, faceless walk-on to a team-high 51 receptions and 530 yards and four TDs. No, Iowa is a Big Ten football team and that shouldn’t happen, but it did and so now Iowa has “chip on the shoulder” guy leading the wide receiver pack.

Did the 2018 signing class bring help to wide receiver?

We’ll do an extensive on what Iowa receiver is or isn’t and what it can or can’t be in 2018. Right now, can Samson Evans, Calvin Lockett, Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. help next season?

Almost certainly they’ll be given the chance.

Samson Evans

It sounds like head coach Kirk Ferentz saw Samson Evans on TV and wanted him to do his thing for the Hawkeyes.

It really sounds like that.

“It was after the Nebraska game a year ago that Saturday, I was kind of cruising through our kitchen,” Ferentz said. “We have that TV that we had in Maine, about as big as your computer. The Illinois games (state prep championships) were on. I was watching it. Who is this guy running through Springfield Griffin, actually? I was captivated a little bit.”

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Ferentz’s Hawkeye compare for Evans is Ed Hinkel, who caught 63 passes for 1,588 yards and 15 TDs in his Iowa career (2002-05).

“A quarterback that had a funny number on,” Ferentz said. “Probably not a quarterback, but he’s a good football player. His team seems to always win. They’ve won back-to-back state championships. Came into the staff next day, ‘Anybody know anything about this guy?’ They gave me the whole story. That’s where our dating began actually.”

Evans is a wide receiver but that’s for now. The 6-1, 205-pounder might end up there. Ferentz also mentioned running back. Who knows? Maybe safety?

Evans is a four-year football letterman who played quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker along with returning kicks and punts. He has options, but right now, wide receiver and why not? Iowa needs to sift through some bodies because it again is an immediate need.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Holds school records for career rushing yards (6,386), career rushing touchdowns (111), career passing touchdowns (31), and career touchdowns (155) ... Career rushing touchdowns ranks third best in state history

Noteworthy offer: Minnesota

Depth chart in 2018?: At wide receiver? Yes. At quarterback? No. Running back? No. Safety? No. At wide receiver, yes, there’s always a chance. If Evans shows short-area quickness, he also could have special teams value in year 1. But mostly, if Evans is a receiver, he will get a chance to get some reps and grow his game from there.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Jake Gervase

The 6-1, 205 disqualifies Evans from Riley McCarron comparisons. He’s too tall and probably not quite as fast. Evans fits Gervase’s body type. I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of Gervase this season. He probably won’t get special teams looks as the starting free safety, but Evans shares the same type of range and probably will be a physical perimeter player at some point.

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Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell on the stars (Evans actually had a star taken away by Rivals, going from a 3- to a 2-star) — “It just goes to show you what these stars are about. I put a tweet out there the other day. These kids are starting to be preceded by their stars and that’s just not fair. He’s Gatorade player of the year in the state of Illinois. He’s a two-time state champion. It’s not a fluke. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Where Iowa sees him playing — “He’s an offensive skill player. The way that we saw him was he played high school quarterback in a run offense. Obviously, he’s a guy you want to get the ball to. He’s got some ball skills. He can catch it and run it, too.”

My take: It’s probably the nature of his spread QB position, but Evans constantly has his head up, he’s constantly seeing plays develop and seems to have a real feel for finding space and making the good one cut. Physical runner, will that carry over? Does Iowa actually experiment with a read-option package? I don’t think so, but Evans definitely could pull that off.

Calvin Lockett

Lockett, a 6-3, 170-pound wide receiver, has been ingrained in Iowa’s culture before he was even a Hawkeye.

Lockett’s head coach at Largo (Fla.) High School is Marcus Paschal, a former Iowa safety. He took over for this guy maybe you remember, Bob Sanders? So, mid-2000s. Paschal was a starter for the 2004 Big Ten co-champions.

Good story with Paschal coming to Iowa. He caught the flu before his visit and lost 20 pounds. He literally was a 165-pound weakling when he visited.

“Coach Norm (Parker) looked at me like he didn’t really know why Coach Phil (Parker) was recruiting me,” Paschal said. “I was so small.”

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Paschal played option quarterback for Largo. Iowa secondary coach/defensive coordinator Phil Parker had other ideas. He had to sell the family on the fact that Paschal could play safety at Iowa. His family wanted him to play QB at Hofstra.

“It’s not a perfect science, it’s just a very educated guess in recruiting,” Parker said at the time.

And here we still are.

Lockett is starting in a little better place than Paschal. He’s coming out of Largo with 17 offers, but not a lot of production. Lockett caught just 13 passes for Largo last season.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Team captain as a senior

Noteworthy offer: Wisconsin

Depth chart in 2018?: There’s a good chance because Iowa wide receiver. It needs bodies. Last year, the rotation didn’t go much past Easley, Matt VandeBerg and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. So, don’t count anyone out. The question with Lockett early will be strength. Will he be able to get off the line of scrimmage in the Big Ten at 170-ish pounds?

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Marvin McNutt

Let’s not mess around. Yes, I’m comparing a true freshman to the best wide receiver in the Kirk Ferentz era. Marvin McNutt came out of St. Louis at 6-3, 180 pounds. He also was a QB and didn’t switch to WR until year 2. I’m just going off body with his comparison, but if Lockett gets good with his hands, he could be an intriguing addition.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He is all of 6-2, big frame. He’s going to have to add some lean body mass. The thing you like about the kid, he has a great story. Lives with grandma and grandpa. They came up on the official visit. Awesome lady. Coached by Marcus Paschal, a former Iowa Hawkeye down at Largo. Marcus put his stamp on the kid. Marcus has been through the program. He knows what it takes to make it here. He said, ‘This is an Iowa kid right here,’ so we hopped on that one.

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“Obviously, great ball skills. Can be a deep threat. Interesting to see which way his body is going to go in terms of is he going to bulk up and be a bigger guy or how he maintains the weight. Right now, the frame, the makeup of the kid, the high school program he’s from, all things point up for us.”

My take: Coaches have to love highlights like Lockett’s. He looks like one of the bigger kids on the field and moves like one of the smaller, more athletic ones. A lot of refinement is going to have to happen before Lockett fits into Iowa’s offense. He was able to run past most everyone in his highlights. He’s going to have to learn how to make space, but he has the long arms that should help. Hands are good enough and goes and gets the ball. The better Lockett is with being physical with his hands the quicker he’ll hit the field.

Nico Ragaini

Ragaini, 6-0, 185, probably played the highest stakes of poker with the Iowa staff. OK, the stakes are high for everyone when free school is at stake, but Ragaini was a wide receiver Iowa liked when he camped in Iowa City in 2017 going into his senior year.

Ragaini didn’t get the Iowa offer then and decided to hit the prep school trail in search of a four-year forever home. He spent last season at Avon Old Farms Prep School (Conn.) and finally found what he was looking for when Iowa double-backed.

“He came out to camp. He’s one of coach (Ken) O’Keefe’s connections,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said. “We kept in contact. When he came out to camp, it wasn’t like we were gung ho and we were going to take this guy right now. We knew that he was going to prep school and we knew he could leave at any point. If a need was created in the receiver room for him, we were going to go after him. He did a good enough job in camp to merit it, we just weren’t sure we were going to take one at that point.”

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Two-time Male Athlete of the Year in New Haven. ... Four-year football letterman as wide receiver and defensive back, helping prep team win 26 games in final three seasons ... Career totals include 3,345 receiving yards in four seasons ... Set state record for career receptions (222) ... 46 receptions for 923 yards and nine touchdowns in prep. ... Holds school lacrosse records for career assists (109) and points (180).

Noteworthy offer: Boston College

Depth chart in 2018?: There’s a shot. Ragaini is listed at 6-0, 185. Size probably pushes his redshirt one way or the other, but Iowa has the need at wide receiver. It’s kind of like catching a walleye on the first cast. You’re going to have to catch a few to find the keepers. That’s Iowa wide receiver. There’s a chance it could add a few more bodies to the rotation this season, but until then, the door is open and they’re taking applications.

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Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Riley McCarron

You knew I was going to get him in there. McCarron ran a 4.4 or 4.3-ish 40 at Iowa’s pro day last year and stuck in the league, finishing on the Patriots’ practice squad. McCarron led Iowa with 42 receptions in 2016. Is Iowa pretty much totally cheating off the Patriots’ paper? Pats WR Chris Hogan was a lacrosse player at Penn State before he was an NFL WR. Ragaini has that lacrosse background. Early March is when we connect these dots. Maybe they’ll take hold. Ragaini is an early enrollee and will participate in spring practice.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “What does he bring to the table? Good ball skills, short-area quickness, ability to make the tough catch. You watch his tape, it goes on and on and on with runs after the catch. Similar body type to Easley, McCarron, that type of guy. He can make tough catches in a short area.”

My take: We don’t talk about vision while running routes often, but you can tell Ragaini sees two levels of defenders. Ragaini deals with the first defender and then makes the cut on where safety help should be, except it’s not. This creates space and makes you seem that much faster. By the way, at least on the Avon Farms level, Ragaini was the dominant runner. He won’t get free release on the inside shoulder of defenders at Iowa, but used that like a sword in his Hudl highlights. Look no further, Ragaini is the tunnel screen/WR screen in the flat guy.

Tyrone Tracy Jr.

If Tracy, 6-0, 187, can be J.D. Spielman-like, he’ll be the steal of Iowa’s 2018 class.

Iowa went hard after Spielman, the son of Vikings GM Rick Spielman, before the 5-9, 180-pounder picked Nebraska. After taking a redshirt season, Spielman caught 55 passes for 830 yards as a freshman.

Spielman gave the Huskers a consistent playmaker on the perimeter. Spielman moved chains and eventually will be one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the Big Ten (he already is the most dangerous or one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the B1G West).

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Iowa could really use this guy. Sure, maybe this is a Nick Easley role, but Tracy has “run after the catch” sewn into him. As a senior at Decatur Cenral (Ind.), Tracy rushed for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns along with 54 receptions for 1,132 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Tracy was tremendously productive with the ball in his hands. Iowa’s passing game likes to hang around the line of scrimmage. Most passing games in college football employ the quick out and/or screen. Tracy has a chance to carve out a real role on Iowa’s offense if he hits the ground running.

Doesn’t matter that he’s a freshman, Tracy has playmaking potential.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Gatorade Player of the Year in Indiana ... Earned Offensive Player of the Year honors as a sophomore and senior ... Named to Indiana Football Digest Top 25 and Indiana Football Coaches Association (IFCA) Top 50 ... First-team all-county, all-midstate, and all-state for three straight years ... First-team all-midstate and all-county as a freshman. ... Team captain for three straight years.

Noteworthy offer: Northwestern

Depth chart in 2018?: Very good chance. This is the wide receiver post. If Tracy can translate his high school skills, he should have a spot in the rotation. What’s his competition? Probably Easley. Tracy probably fits in that slot position. The fact that he can run the ball doesn’t hurt, either.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Kevonte Martin-Manley

Similar body types. Martin-Manley is Iowa’s career receptions leader with 174. He was a tremendously productive player during his four seasons. He caught 174 passes for 1,799 yards and 12 TDs (2010-14). No, I don’t usually set the bar high for incoming freshmen wide receivers. I don’t know why I’m breaking protocol with Tracy. I like his confidence. He’s a proven playmaker. No, the college football recruiting world didn’t come after him, but he has a sneaky-good offer list (Northwestern, Louisville, Boston College). I think he’s capable of 30 receptions in year 1. I think he moves the chains. This offense can use that.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He’s like Samson. You want to get him the ball. You go 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving, that’s hard to do. He’s good with the ball. When (former Iowa LB coach and current Boston College defensive coordinator) Jim Reid left in 2015 and handed over Indianapolis to me, one thing he said you’ve got to go see this kid Tyrone Tracy. That was one of the first stops I made. I dug in right there and then. You meet the kid, there’s a family connection there. You meet the family, this kid belongs here. He’ll be that guy for us who on third down, you’ll want to get that guy the ball because something good will happen.”

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My take: The first move Tracy makes on his highlight video, I want to taunt the guy he made miss for him. Seriously, poor dude ended up sitting on his feet. When asked about possibly adding a running back to the 2018 class, Kirk Ferentz said it was a thought, but he also thought that, push comes to shove, Tracy and Evans could fit in at RB. With this tape on Tracy, you can certainly see that.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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