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Iowa football recruiting: As always, possible help coming for receiving corps

Croot Loops: Hawkeyes did extremely well at tight end

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We covered some of the needs for the Iowa wide receiver and tight end positions in this post. Let’s not go broken record.

Iowa is locked into a constant search for speed athletes. If any of the incoming freshmen wide receivers shows they “get it,” they’ll have a chance to play. Tight end is a little different. The assignment here is to extend what has been a good to great run of tight ends.

Senior George Kittle picked up his game last season and has a chance to be one of the Big Ten’s top TEs in 2016. Iowa still is looking for the more traditional “in-line” TE to pair with Kittle (who, really, can do it all, blocking and pressing a secondary along the seam). Iowa was looking for Henry Krieger Coble last season and found him. It’s doable, but Iowa also hasn’t been afraid to dip into true freshman TEs and could do that again this year. (OK, last true freshman to play TE for Iowa: Ray Hamilton in 2011. Before Hamilton, C.J. Fiedorowicz played in 2010. Allen Reisner did it in 2007, too.)

You guys know true freshmen haven’t contributed big numbers to the Iowa receiving corps in recent years. Sophomore Jerminic Smith made a splash against Illinois, but finished his freshman year last season with six catches. As a true freshman in 2013, senior Matt VandeBerg caught eight passes. Tevaun Smith caught three passes in his first season. The last true freshman to contribute big numbers to the passing game was Dominique Douglas in 2007, when he led the Hawkeyes with 49 catches for 654 yards (13.3 avg) and two TDs. (Let’s throw in the perfunctory lament for “what could’ve been” and just move on to the larger point.)

Don’t expect any signees to put up big numbers. Recent history doesn’t support it. And be glad. The offense is in relatively good shape. It doesn’t (and Iowa usually doesn’t) need a true freshman savior.

Devonte Young

If a freshman wide receiver punches through to playing time this season, Young might be the one.

Young had a do-it-all-kind of senior season at North Point (Waldorf, Md.). He caught 45 passes for 802 yards and six TDs. He also rushed 15 times for 201 yards and two TDs. He threw two passes, one of which went for a TD.

Young racked up 700 yards on punt returns with another two TDs. He also scored on fumble and interception returns.

Young returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in a 7-0 win over Lackey on Sept. 11. He returned an interception near the back of the end zone 105 yards for a touchdown in a win over Westlake and scooped a fumble for a 65-yard score in a win over Huntingtown.

Young accounted for 1,750 all-purpose yards. In North Point’s playoff loss to Broadneck, he had two interceptions.

“It’s only the beginning,” Young told the Washington Post. “It means I have to work harder. Once I get over there, I’m just going to be a freshman again.”

As a senior, Young earned All-Met and Maryland consensus all-state honors at defensive back in addition to being named most outstanding player in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.

Young was rated a 2-star recruit by Rivals.com and had offers from Rutgers and Pitt.

Rivals: 2 stars

Scout: 3 stars

247Sports: 3 stars

Composite: 2.66

Depth chart in 2016?: There’s a good chance. Probably above 50/50. Young looks the part. He’s not a spindly kid, he’s put together. Will the speed show up? You know Kirk Ferentz’s spiel. If Young “looks like he belongs” and his eyes don’t get too big in camp, he’ll have a shot at playing. VandeBerg is the only wide receiver with a real resume. Everyone has a shot to play.

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

If it weren’t an NCAA violation, Martin-Manley could send Young one of his “2-star” T-shirts. I don’t know how Young runs, but he has a similar build to KMM.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace: [First, some insight in how Iowa decides which prospects are fits for Iowa City.] “With all of these guys, with the exception of maybe one or two, we’ve had the opportunity to be around them, whether it be our camp, one of our tailgaters in the summer, so we as a staff have collectively made the decision that these guys are the right fit. It’s not one individual on our staff saying, ‘I know he’s right.’ We’ve spent a good deal time with these guys and Devonte did come over during the summer. He spent some time with us.

“You see him in person, he’s a very, very good-looking athlete on the hoof. You watch his tape, he’s productive, strong. He’s not afraid to block. A lot of that comes with his size and they way he’s built. Structural-wise, he’s a solid, solid, young man.”

Could that get him to the field?

“With any of the skill positions, you find a kid who has valued the weightroom and who isn’t frail, skill-wise, they don’t fall into the developmental necessarily. With all of these guys, you’d like to redshirt them, so they could gain that much-needed year as they transition to college. That’s really not the way football is going right now. We’re going to need these guys.”

ESPN scouting report: Makes plays with his feet after a catch and allows his instincts to help him make effective plays as a defender. Finds a way to get behind the LOS to make tackles or a way to make a defender miss when executing as a WR.

My take: If a freshman WR plays . . . wait, right now, Young is the only freshman wide receiver, so I wouldn’t exactly be going out on a limb if I wrote “if a freshman WR plays.” I do, however, think he plays. You read what Wallace said. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Young isn’t tried at safety. I think that’s the biggest takeaway with the 2016 class — position flexibility almost across the board. Outside of the O-linemen and QB Nathan Stanley, I can see a lot of these guys doing a lot of different things.

Frank Darby

This post from NJ.com leads me to believe that Jersey City, N.J., wide receiver Frank Darby will eventually end up with the Hawkeyes.

Darby, 6-1, 180, was set to sign with the Hawkeyes on Feb. 3, but he has yet to earn a qualifying SAT score. Because he hasn’t qualified academically, Darby was not able to send in his national letter of intent and Iowa wasn’t able to comment on his status.

Why do I believe Darby will still end up at Iowa? It’s because of what his prep coach told NJ.com.

“Frank is set on going to Iowa,” Lincoln coach Robert Hampton told NJ.com. “I’ve spoken with their staff and they’re going to honor his commitment. He wants to go there.”

Iowa needs wide receivers and Darby has skills. But also, New Jersey continues to be a nice recruiting spot for Iowa. Running back Akrum Wadley is from Newark. Iowa has a host of Iowa hall of famers from NJ, including Andre Tippett, Ronnie Harmon, Leroy Smith and Danan Hughes. Iowa wants its word to mean something in New Jersey, and so, Hampton saying Iowa will honor the commitment is telling.

“We’ll keep monitoring it, and I can’t really talk about anybody that’s not signed, but we still have room in this class,” Ferentz said on signing day. “We’ll just kind of see how things go when we go down the road.”

Now, Darby still has to get the score. He was supposed to take the test Jan. 23, but snowstorms forced postponements. He retakes on Feb. 20.

Darby was named the 2015 Hudson County Interscholastic League Player of the Year. He picked Iowa over Rutgers, Pitt and Syracuse. As a senior, he recorded 35 receptions for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Rivals: 2 stars

Scout: 3 stars

247Sports: 3 stars

Composite: 2.66

Depth chart in 2016?: Maybe, but with a leaner build than Young, I think Young has an edge. Also, with a test score keeping his status in limbo, Iowa might take a conservative approach and redshirt Darby, just to get a good start academically. Of course, if he came in and blew everyone away, never mind. That could happen, too.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Greg Mabin

Mabin will be a three-year starter at cornerback for the Hawkeyes next fall. He came in at 6-2, 190 (an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Darby) and kind of messed around at WR for a year before Ferentz asked him to consider corner. Well, that worked. I’m not saying Darby will be a defensive back. I think this class restocks that position fairly well. Darby and Mabin have similar builds, skill sets coming in. Darby looks more like a natural receiver, and so I think he sticks there.

@Hawkeyegamefilm: 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 an 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.

ESPN scouting report: At 6-1 185 Darby is of solid size for a WR. He possesses the height coaches look for and is thick and strong enough to compete for throws, and win. Displays very good explosiveness as his burst is impressive. Straight speed is good, not great.

My take: Well, @Hawkeyegamefilm’s scouting report is compelling. I’m a “yes” for Darby playing quickly. The “turn short catches into big plays” got me. Now, ball is in Darby’s court.

Tight ends

Shaun Beyer

The Cedar Rapids Kennedy star lived a year in Germany. Here’s an excerpt from The Gazette's “player of the year” story on Beyer, who helped the Cougars to the Class 4A state final (best year in school history).

So a year later, he did, taking up residence with distant relatives Gisela and Tomas Look and their young daughter, Johanna, in Teltow, a town of 21,000 in the northeast corner of Germany. Teltow is 15 miles from Berlin, or roughly a five-minute train ride.

Beyer attended school there, became totally immersed in the culture. Well, not totally immersed, since he never got into that soccer thing.

“It was fun, a good experience,” he said. “I don’t know, it was kind of crazy because I didn’t know the language, but the people over there are very accepting. They spoke English very well because they start that in school really young. They were accepting, kind of took me under my wing, and I made friends easily. Probably about four or five months in, I could start having conversations with them in German. That was pretty cool.”

He returned to the United States a much more grown-up kid. That included physically, as he grew seven inches in his year in Teltow, to 6-foot-3.

He’s now 6-5 and, at 19 years old, done growing, he figures.

“Living in Germany for a year helped me mature and become a lot more independent,” he said. “For instance, I had to get to stuff using public transportation. I’d never done anything like that in my life. Berlin being such a big city and everything, that helped me learn to be responsible, I guess.

“Then growing seven inches, I guess that helped me out a little bit, too. I don’t know what they have in their water over there, but I guess it helped out.”

Beyer used his size and jumping ability to simply go over opponents to make catches for Kennedy, which finished with a school-best 13-1 record, losing to West Des Moines Dowling in the Class 4A state championship game. The Cougars could line him up at tight end, wide at receiver or in the slot to create favorable matchups.

He also played some quarterback and running back, showing off a strong arm and long, powerful and fast legs. On defense, he played a hybrid linebacker/safety position, even punting to the tune of 40-plus yards.

Rivals: 3 stars

Scout: 3 stars

247Sports: 3 stars

Composite: 3.00

Depth chart in 2016?: I do think one of Iowa’s three TEs will play. I’m going to go “old sports writer guy” here for a second. I remember when my boss used to tell me to go cover track meets and I would say yes. This must’ve been the spring of 2006. It was the Cedar Rapids Prairie meet. It wasn’t even cold. Anyway, I remember watching future Iowa TE Allen Reisner run for Marion. He did OK and we talked. He was a lanky kid who I didn’t think would have a chance to play in his first year. He played in his first year. Beyer looks more physically prepared. I think he’ll want to redshirt, but you know how these guys think. If they get a whiff of playing time in their heads, they’re going to want it. Colleges don’t tend to recruit guys who want to redshirt, it’s just more obvious for some than others. I think there’s a whiff of a chance that Beyer could play as a true frosh, possibly on special teams (kid can punt, too).

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Scott Chandler

Beyer isn’t as tall as Chandler, but early in his recruitment, I remember reading the term “big wide receiver” associated with Beyer. That’s where Chandler started at Iowa. He moved on to tight end and still is in the NFL.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace: “In his senior season, we knew what we wanted to do (offer him a scholarship). He was going through a championship run; we were going through a championship run. So, we took our time on presenting him with his offer, however, we knew well beforehand (that they were going to offer him). We didn’t want to be a distraction to what he was trying to accomplish. We had our own focus with our season at that point in time. But when it got down to it, we got him over here with the family and it didn’t take long.

Interactive Map: Iowa's 2016 football recruits, with insight from Seth Wallace

“He’s someone who fits exactly who we are and right up the road. Extremely versatile. He could probably play a handful of positions. You could probably project him at outside linebacker, you could project him as a linebacker in general, a tight end. You could flex him out and line him up at receiver. He did do some punting.

“Probably if you look at everyone in general in this class and if you were to describe it, the length in this class is probably the most noticeable thing. We’ve got some long, linear guys who project at multiple positions. We have to see how it plays out. It’s hard to recruit size and speed, and I feel like we did that at the majority of our positions. You look at our offensive and defensive linemen, we did it there as well.”

ESPN scouting report: Beyer is gifted with the height coaches look for and even though he is currently not thick he has a solid foundation upon which to add girth. Runs well and demonstrates he has the potential to be an end of the line blocker.

My take: Two items from the above get my attention. When Wallace said, “He’s someone who fits exactly who we are,” I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes at Iowa, it’s the environment and the fit that allow players to grow. And from ESPN, “has the potential to be an end of the line blocker.” Also, that’s a good thing. Iowa tight ends have long gotten a lot of credit for their blocking prowess. It was a huge key to Scott Chandler’s growth, Fiedorowicz and, you bet, Kittle. Kittle was a huge part of Iowa’s success at Northwestern last year, going one-on-one in a lot of situations with Dean Lowry, a 6-5, 282-pound NFL Combine invitee. Beyer and Iowa are a fit. Where Beyer fits? Right now, I think TE, but it could very well play out differently.

Plus, there’s the fact that he’s 6-5, 210 pounds and can high jump 6-9. I don’t know why, but that really catches my attention. Maybe it’s that it speaks to raw athleticism.

Noah Fant

OK, Noah Fant is probably the tight end who unquestionably ends up at tight end. Probably. The fact the Hawkeyes recruited him as a tight end was a pretty big deal for Fant. It likely closed the deal. Fant did his homework and saw that Iowa has put a squadron of tight ends in the NFL under Ferentz. (A “squadron” for these purposes is eight. Iowa has had eight TEs drafted into the NFL under Ferentz, dating back to Austin Wheatley in 1999.

Fant is from Omaha, Neb., attending South High School, where his brother, Chris, is the head coach. So, yeah, the specter of Nebraska kind of hung over Fant’s commitment, which came in late August. Nebraska, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Vanderbilt all offered. Minnesota made a late lunge, but Fant declined a weekend visit just before signing day.

Ferentz, tight ends coach LeVar Woods and defensive line coach Reese Morgan (who’s had great success with recruits from Nebraska and the plains) teamed up on Fant’s recruiting.

When Fant committed to Iowa the Hawkeyes were coming off a 7-6 season in 2014, which included a bitter flameout against Nebraska. It didn’t give Fant pause.

“I would say I’m a winner, everybody likes to win,” he said, “but I feel like the school I’m going with, I’m going to help them win. I’m going to get there and really improve the team and do the most I can to help them win.

“Iowa right now is kind of a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten. I want to be that guy to help them get a Big Ten championship.”

That attitude still will do him well walking into a 12-2 program this fall.

Rivals: 3 stars

Scout: 3 stars

247Sports: 3 stars

Composite: 3.00

Depth chart in 2016?: Fant is listed at 6-5, 220, so if I give 6-5, 210 Beyer a chance, then I’d better give Fant a shot. And I know, you look at the 2016 tight end depth chart and you think, OK, it’s not stocked “stocked.” After Kittle, who is it? Is it Jameer Outsey, who saw a little action early and then dropped out of sight? Jon Wisnieski, who’ll go into his junior year looking for his first career reception (it’s not everything with the position)? Nate Vejvoda, a 6-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman? Walk-on Peter Pekar? Or is it a freshman? Or does a Henry Krieger Coble emerge? Kind of like a Henry Krieger Coble emerged last season?

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Tony Moeaki

Fant isn’t nearly as powerful as Moeaki, who in his healthy periods at Iowa was a devastating blocker and physical player. Fant isn’t as physical as Moeaki, not yet anyway. Moeaki entered Iowa 6-4, 250 pounds. Can Fant put that on his frame? Maybe. We’ll see. I make the comparison more out of the athleticism. Fant’s tape shows a player who does a little bit of everything for his team. This includes making and pushing piles and then going one-on-one on the sideline for a jump ball.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace: “In our opinion, he’s more of an offensive guy. I think that separated us in the beginning of his recruiting process, because there were some schools that were recruiting him as a defensive end. We saw him as a tight end, we saw him as a very versatile tight end. That’s how we recruited him.

“His recruiting process was interesting. We worked through it. Ultimately, what I think it came back to was relationships. He had been over here many, many times and had built some strong relationships with not only the coaching staff but also with people on campus. (Fant is interested in sports medicine and connected with that department at Iowa during visits.) His family was very interested in what he’s going to do academically. Those relationships that we introduced he and his family to, I think at the end of the day, solidified where he wanted to go.”

@Hawkeyegamefilm: 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.

@PlannedSickDays: 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.

ESPN scouting report: Fant is a prospect with some very good natural tools. Plays on both sides of the ball in high school and could gain some interest as a DE/OLB, but will likely receive most interest as offensive prospect and we feel that is where is best fit is. It seems he could still further maximize and get more from his ability at times and will need to work to maintain athleticism while he adds size. Could leave you expecting little more, but hopefully squeezes most from his ability and if does is a prospect with nice upside that could be a real productive player, able to contribute on special teams early.

My take: I think Fant has the raw talent to be a tremendous player. Here’s what I really like: His brother, Chris, is a head coach at a big high school in Omaha. You recruit the player and you also recruit the family. It’ll be good to have a coach/brother in Fant’s ear. He’s listened to his brother, who got him to be an all-stater for South High School. This could prove to be a valuable sounding board.

T.J. Hockenson

It’s probably never a bad thing to offer the most productive receiver in state history a scholarship. Iowa and Iowa State offered Chariton tight end T.J. Hockenson. He committed to the Hawkeyes in June and pretty much shut down recruiting thereafter.

As a senior, Hockenson finished with 85 catches for 1,228 yards and 17 touchdowns. During his high school career, he finished with a state record 238 receptions for 3,560 yards and 49 touchdowns (also a state record).

Hockenson has always been the tall kid. He moved from Cherokee to Chariton around sixth grade and that’s when he kind of became all-time tight end. His athleticism made him a headache for linebackers. His size made him a mismatch for cornerbacks.

“I know I need to improve myself as a blocker, that’s the big thing for me,” Hockenson said. “I’ve never really done it. I wanted to show (during a camp in Iowa City last summer) that I was willing to block. I got an offer and I think they saw what they needed to.”

Chariton coaches got him the ball for one of his state records. He didn’t go after the other one. He’s not a collector of individual honors. Hockenson pledges “team-first,” “whatever it takes to win.”

And, so, yeah, maybe that could lead him to a different position at Iowa. Sure. Anything can happen. It’s clear this class will keep the Iowa personnel meetings among assistant coaches leading up to summer camp lively.

Hockenson said he’d be open to the idea of another position and that he trusted whatever plans the Iowa coaches have for him. It’s probably tight end, for now. At 6-5 or 6-6 and 230 or 235 pounds, he’s ready-made for that.

Rivals: 3 stars

Scout: 3 stars

247Sports: 3 stars

Composite: 3.00

Depth chart in 2016?: You watch Hockenson’s film and you wonder two things: 1) He’s huge and you can kind of see why the position question would come up. I mean, hey, Robert Gallery was a tight end at Iowa for a little while, too. And 2) How do you not start him at TE? He’s got everything you’d want. He’s big, strong, strong hands, decent quickness and speed. Mostly, he’s big. Watch some of the Scout.com camp videos and tell me where you would start Hockenson. If the answer is TE, then, yes, he very well could play in 2016.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: C.J. Fiedorowicz

I make this comparison mostly because of size. Fiedorowicz entered Iowa at 6-7, 250, so they’re in the same range. Skill sets? We don’t know yet. Hockenson seems a touch quicker. If you watch Rivals.com video, you’ll also see him show a lot of pretty good body control in going and getting passes in the red zone.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace: “He’s one who did get to camp. Extremely versatile, very athletic. We heard from numerous people across the state of Iowa well, well in advance of making any decisions that this was the one we needed to look at. We were on it early. We had a chance to be around he and his family multiple times. He broke receiving records in the state of Iowa, which was an indication that his ball skills are through the roof.

“The biggest thing is we’re getting another athlete with outstanding size who we mold into the best fit offensively, whether that’s a move guy (TE) or a ‘line of scrimmage’ guy, he’s going to be a good one.”

HawkeyeNation’s Rob Howe: 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.

ESPN scouting report: Hockenson is a tight end prospect with excellent hands and red zone ability. He is developing the quickness to get open and the strength he will need to play in college. With the added strength and speed he will then possess the needed skill set to become a Power 5 Tight end.

My take: Hockenson is a natural pass catcher. He has a tremendous feel for the back shoulder throw (a lot of defensive backs on the Class 3A level didn’t want to climb that tower, so he always had a lot of space to work with). Hockenson is a disciplined pass catcher, always using two hands when possible and catching the ball away from his body.

And Hockenson is right, he wasn’t asked to block much. That will be a hole that will need to be filled. Is it as simple as this? If Beyer, Fant and Hockenson all end up in the TE group next fall, does the one who starts out as the best blocker get the call? It might be that simple.

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

Here's T.J. Hockenson going above the square

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