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IOWA CITY — Tyler Barnes, Iowa football’s recruiting director, referred to cornerback as “probably the most pressing need left” for the 2022 recruiting class in November.
A few months later, it’s clear Barnes got his wish.
With five scholarship players and two walk-ons committed for 2022, Iowa will have more incoming freshmen at defensive back in 2022 than in 2020 and 2021 combined.
Xavier Nwankpa, a five-star safety from Pleasant Hill, picked the Hawkeyes over Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Three defensive backs — three-star prospects T.J. Hall, Koen Entringer and Olando Trader — then joined Nwankpa and committed to the Hawkeyes on the first day of the early signing period.
Deshaun Lee became the fifth defensive back with a scholarship offer to pick the black and gold, committing on Jan. 30.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz pointed to a couple reasons for the increased need for depth at defensive back, including Iowa’s defensive evolution into the cash scheme that often features a fifth defensive back.
“It does create more need for guys that can play in the back end,” Ferentz said. “We lost some really good players, needless to say, with Matt (Hankins) and Jack (Koerner), start there, and then Dane (Belton), adding on.”
Evaluating defensive backs at the high school level also comes with challenges.
“That's probably the hardest position or one of the hardest positions to evaluate,” Ferentz said. “A little bit easier now because people are throwing the ball more now than they used to. … You've got to try to project guys, and I think that was kind of part of our thinking.”
Many of Iowa’s key contributors to the 2021 secondary were far from five-star prospects in high school.
Safety Kaevon Merriweather, for example, was a two-star recruit according to 247Sports until after he committed to Iowa. He eventually earned a third star from 247Sports, but Rivals still had him as a two-star prospect.
“Kaevon was better on the basketball court than he was on the football field in high school, so you're looking for those kinds of things that maybe set a guy aside that other schools might be missing a little bit hopefully,” Ferentz said.
Now Merriweather has started 19 of Iowa’s last 22 games and been a leader on the defense. Fellow starting safety Jack Koerner didn’t have any stars from Rivals or 247Sports. Riley Moss, the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, was a two-star recruit.
Ferentz also used Jovon Johnson, Marcus Paschal and Bob Sanders as examples from previous Iowa teams. All three played in the NFL although Johnson found more success in the Canadian Football League.
“Bob Sanders couldn't get on the roller coaster because he wasn't tall enough, but he played really well for us and played really well for the Colts,” Ferentz said. “It didn't impede his progress as a player.”
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