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Iowa football winter position breakdown: Defensive line
Hawkeyes to return 7 of 8 players on last 2-deep depth chart of 2021
IOWA CITY — Going into 2021, Iowa’s defensive line was a bit of a question mark.
Going into 2022, it will likely be an exclamation point.
With seven of eight defensive linemen from the last two-deep depth chart of 2021 expected to return in 2022, Iowa will have an experienced group at the position.
Here’s an early breakdown of the Hawkeyes’ defensive line as part of The Gazette’s winter position breakdown series:
Barring any late transfer portal activity, the list of key departures at defensive line will be really short — one name.
Zach VanValkenburg is out of eligibility after using his extra COVID-19 year in 2021.
It was hard not to see VanValkenburg’s impact on the defense. He started every game of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2021, he led the Hawkeyes with 15 tackles for loss.
The other seven defensive linemen on last year’s two-deep depth chart are expected to be back in 2022.
Neither Noah Shannon nor Logan Lee had any starts before the 2021 season, but they proved to be a formidable starting duo in the interior of Iowa’s four-man defensive front.
Lukas Van Ness, a redshirt freshman in 2021, came off the bench and had seven sacks, which tied Joe Evans for the team-high, and 8.5 tackles for loss, which only trailed VanValkenburg.
Fellow redshirt freshman Yahya Black showed what he is capable of in Iowa’s Sept. 25 win over Colorado State, when he had four tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
On the exterior, John Waggoner will be entering his senior year after starting every game in 2021. Waggoner had 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. His seven quarterback hurries were third-best on the Hawkeyes behind VanValkenburg and linebacker Seth Benson.
Evans appears to be in a prime position to take the other starting defensive end spot after his seven sacks, seven tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries in 2021. Deontae Craig missed a couple games in 2021 with an injury, but also was a frequent contributor off the bench at defensive end.
Athletes who could step into larger roles on the 2022 defensive line include Jeremiah Pittman, Griffin Liddle, Jeff Bowie, Logan Jones, Louie Stec and Max Llewellyn.
Who’s joining the mix
Aaron Graves, a four-star recruit ranked 18th among defensive linemen in 247Sports’ composite rankings, will be the highest-profile addition. Graves had an impressive performance in the 2022 All-American Bowl, which included a highlight-reel-worthy sack on the first drive.
Three-star recruits Caden Crawford and Brian Allen both enrolled early, so they’ll have a head start in their development.
Kirk Ferentz has never started a true freshman on the defensive line in his 23 years at the helm of the Iowa program.
Way-too-early two-deep depth chart projections
With so many returners, this projection doesn’t look much different from Iowa’s actual 2021 depth chart:
- John Waggoner
- Ethan Hurkett
- Joe Evans
- Deontae Craig
- Noah Shannon
- Yahya Black
- Logan Lee
- Lukas Van Ness (as a close second)
Iowa’s depth on the defensive line in 2022 might be a coach’s dream.
The better-than-expected 2021 performance — Iowa held opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry in a year where the defensive line had a lot of youth — accelerated the rebuilding process at the position.
That strength will be crucial for the Hawkeyes, who have no shortage of physical offenses on its schedule in the fall — Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin to name a few.
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