116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It’s hard to top the numbers Iowa’s defensive front put up in 2022.
The Hawkeyes allowed only 2.83 yards per carry in 2022 — the best rate among Power Five defenses. Iowa’s 2.69 sacks per game were second in the Big Ten to Penn State.
While Iowa will have quite a bit of turnover at linebacker, the defensive line room will feature many familiar faces in the 2023 football season.
Here is an early look at the Hawkeyes’ 2023 defensive line in the second part of The Gazette’s winter position breakdown series:
Iowa will be without two players who had major roles in the defensive line rotation last year — Lukas Van Ness, who is leaving to enter the NFL Draft, and John Waggoner, who was a senior.
Van Ness took 478 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and Waggoner took 444.
Van Ness’ departure is especially significant considering his production in 2021 and 2022, finishing both seasons with six-plus sacks.
Several mock drafts have projected Van Ness to be selected in the first round, including as high as No. 8 overall in an NFL.com mock draft.
Noah Shannon and Joe Evans, both starters on the defensive line in 2022, are using their extra COVID-19 years of eligibility to return for a sixth season.
Logan Lee, after starting every game at defensive tackle as a sophomore and junior, will be back for his senior year.
Deontae Craig did not officially have a starting role, but his 6.5 sacks were tied with Van Ness and Evans for the team-high in 2022. Craig was the only player in the Big Ten with six-plus sacks to not receive any all-Big Ten recognition.
Yahya Black, who dealt with a foot injury in 2022, appeared in eight games as a sophomore.
Aaron Graves, a former MaxPreps Male National Athlete of the Year, appeared in 12 of Iowa’s 13 games at defensive tackle as a true freshman.
Graves technically was not on the two-deeps, but he was eighth among Iowa defensive linemen in snaps in 2022.
Cedar Rapids native Ethan Hurkett saw a dramatic increase in his role last year, going from taking 40 defensive snaps in 2021 to 226 in 2022. He had two tackles for loss as a second-team defensive end.
Louie Stec and Chris Reames will be seniors and could potentially have larger roles in 2023. When Black was hurt last year, Stec joined the two-deeps at defensive tackle.
Max Llewellyn, Jeremiah Pittman, Jeff Bowie, Brian Allen Jr. and Caden Crawford are among other players returning to the defensive line.
Who’s joining the mix
Three high school recruits — Maddux Borcherding-Johnson, Chase Brackney and Kenneth Merrieweather — signed with Iowa during the early signing period. All three have three-star ratings from Rivals and 247Sports.
Anterio Thompson is coming in as a junior college transfer from Iowa Western, choosing Iowa over scholarship offers from Illinois, North Carolina State and others.
Iowa Western defensive end Jackson Filer, the 2022 NJCAA Division I Defensive Player of the Year, transferred to Iowa as a preferred walk-on.
Way-too-early two-deep projections
With six of the eight players from last year’s two-deeps returning, the defensive line certainly does not have as many question marks as other position groups.
- Deontae Craig
- Ethan Hurkett
- Noah Shannon
- Aaron Graves
- Logan Lee
- Yahya Black
- Joe Evans
- Max Llewellyn or Chris Reames
Many defensive lines would take a step back after losing a likely first-round NFL pick. All signs point toward Iowa’s defensive line being an exception in 2023.
Even without Van Ness, the Hawkeyes will return three starters and another player who shared the team lead in sacks.
Especially as Iowa looks to replace significant pieces at other position groups — namely linebackers Jack Campbell and Seth Benson and defensive backs Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather — the defensive line should be the strength of the defense in 2023.