116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It’s no secret why Charlie Jones transferred from Iowa to Purdue.
Jones “wanted to go somewhere and showcase what he could do at receiver,” his football coach, Jeff Brohm, told The Gazette at Big Ten Media Days. Jones had similar comments to Purdue reporters in August.
As Iowa and Purdue prepare to face off in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, the contrast between the road Jones took at Purdue and could have taken at Iowa in 2022 is stark.
Jones has 72 receptions for 840 yards and nine touchdowns through eight games at Purdue. It’s a dramatic increase from 21 receptions for 323 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games as a part of Iowa’s 2021 offense.
“We'll never know what would have happened if he was here,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We saw him make great improvement I thought this spring. We were really excited about that. Then he's not here. There's not much you can say about that.”
While it is impossible to know for sure what would have happened had he stayed at Iowa, data shows his production likely would not have been close to what he has done at Purdue.
Iowa’s entire wide receiver corps has 49 catches for 535 yards and one touchdown — all significantly below Jones’ individual 2022 stats.
Sam LaPorta, Iowa’s top tight end and likely a future NFL player, has 41 receptions for 387 yards and no touchdowns — also well below Jones’ numbers.
The disparity prompted many questions to Ferentz about Jones in his Tuesday news conference, including about not using him more last year.
“I would argue he's a much better player than he was,” Ferentz said. “I thought he was a much better (player) at the end of spring practice as a receiver.”
Jones has caught about 74 percent of the passes thrown to him in 2022, per Pro Football Focus, versus 62 percent in 2021. Improvement is expected, though, when upgrading to a quarterback who is more accurate.
He went from catching passes from a Spencer Petras-Alex Padilla tandem that completed 55 percent of passes in 2021 to a veteran Purdue quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, who has completed 66.3 percent of his passes in 2022.
Ferentz compared Jones’ rapid improvement to Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell’s progress.
“A lot of our players grow and develop as they go through their careers,” Ferentz said. “Same thing about Jack Campbell. Talk about good players, he's a better player now than he was two years ago, going through every phase. … Good players ascend. That's part of the process.”
But Jones’ leap has been far from the typical “process” for “good players.” Even Campbell’s rapid progression from 2020 to 2021 pales in comparison to what Jones is doing now.
Campbell had 29 tackles in five games as a backup in 2020. Then he had 143 tackles while starting all 14 games in 2021. The shortened COVID-19 season inflates the gap, though, along with the three games in which Campbell did not play.
The linebacker from Cedar Falls went from averaging 5.8 tackles per game played in 2020 to 10.2 in 2021 and 10.0 in 2022.
Jones went from 1.5 receptions per game played in 2021 with the Hawkeyes to 9.0 in 2022 with the Boilermakers.
Campbell’s tackles per game rose by about 76 percent from 2020 to 2021. Jones’ receptions per game increased by 600 percent from 2021 to 2022.
Fellow wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. also transferred from Iowa to Purdue after having 15 receptions last season. His 24 receptions so far in 2022 are more than what any Iowa wide receiver has.
Meanwhile, a thin wide receiver position — Iowa had only one scholarship player available at one point — has added to the problems with an offense that ranks 129th in yards per game and 125th in points per game out of 131 FBS teams.
Different styles play a factor in the difference in production between Iowa and Purdue’s wide receivers. Purdue has attempted passes on 57.4 percent of plays this year. Iowa is at 45.6 percent.
“We play an exciting brand of football,” Brohm said in the summer. “We want to allow our players to make a name for themselves.”
Jones’ success — he even earned the nickname “Chuck Sizzle” from Fox broadcaster Gus Johnson — is visible to high school prospects or transfer portal players who may consider the Hawkeyes.
When asked whether the Jones situation could negatively affect recruiting, Ferentz said “we'll worry about that later on.”
He might not have to wait long to see the impact.
Before factoring in the transfer portal, Iowa is expected to have five scholarship players return at wide receiver. (It could be six if Nico Ragaini uses his extra COVID-19 year of eligibility.)
Iowa lost four scholarship receivers to the transfer portal during or after last season — Jones, Tracy, Desmond Hutson and Quavon Matthews — before Jones showed what can happen in a different system.
Alex Mota, from Marion, is the only wide receiver committed in Iowa’s 2023 recruiting class. Iowa does not have a wide receiver committed in the 2024 class yet.
“Right now, we're just trying to worry about Purdue,” Ferentz said.