Iowa Football: Grading Hawkeyes 2017 Recruiting Class

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Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Grading Iowa football’s offensive and defensive recruits in 2017

It’s easy to fall in love with players before they take the field. If they interact with fans on Twitter, say the right things in interviews and look good in a highlight reel compiled of their best high school plays, they’ll likely have a spot in a lot of fans’ hearts.

That makes it hard to grade a recruiting class before they actually take the field. It’s all based on projections, which have been wrong more than once before. A number of things can happen before a player actually takes the field or reaches their full potential.

Iowa football finished with 22 players signees and the 41st best recruiting class in the nation in 2017. Iowa also finished eighth in the Big Ten. They had a five-star and four-star recruit, according to 247Sports, a year after failing to land one of either in 2016.

The Hawkeyes have a lot of potential in their class with some players who look like they can be contributors right away. While the success this class had down the road will ultimately decide their legacy, here are grades based on the potential Iowa has waiting in the shadows.

Offense: B-

Iowa landed two solid offensive lineman in Tristan Wirfs and Mark Kallenberger, who are widely considered Iowa’s second and third best recruits, and a top 15 quarterback prospect, per 247Sports, in Peyton Mansell.

Wirfs and Kallenberger will have a chance to learn from an experienced offensive line. They’ll probably even see some playing time as freshman, especially if Iowa’s offensive line faces as many injuries as 2016.

Plus, Peyton Mansell will get a chance to develop behind Nathan Stanley and potentially push him for the starting job in the near future. The Hawkeyes are known for developing quarterbacks early in their careers and starting them their final seasons of eligibility, and that’s Mansell’s projected career path with Iowa.

There is also a lot of intrigue surrounding Iowa’s wide receiver commits, especially under Brian Ferentz who will likely take more shots downfield. Brandon Smith‘s highlight reel makes him look like a potential steal. Three other three-star wide receiver signees join Smith, including Ihmir Smith-Marsette who played a lot of cornerback in high school.

A big part of this class’s legacy will be the play of three-star running backs Kyshaun Bryan and Ivory Kelly-Martin. With Eno Benjamin decommitting and signing with Arizona State and Akrum Wadley only having one more year of eligibility, these two backs have big shoes to fill. Landing Bryan in the final days leading up to National Signing Day was huge for the Hawkeyes’ depth.

Neither will have to contribute right away with Akrum Wadley and Toks Akinribade safely Iowa’s top two options next season, but they are seemingly next in line. As run-heavy as Iowa is, these two backs could make or break this class.

Defense: B

Headlined by five-star recruit A.J. Epenesa, the Hawkeyes added solid defensive depth by signing Daviyon Nixon, Trey Creamer, Geno Stone and Nate Wieland in the final days leading up to National Signing Day.

Epenesa is a stud who will play a lot right off the bat, but Iowa will have to decide if they want him to play defensive tackle or end. The coaching staff believes he can get up to 300 pounds once he starts training with them, which is a scary complement to his quickness and speed. Epenesa is the 29th best recruit in 2017 and second best defensive end in the nation, according to 247Sports, so there is reason to be hopeful he’s the next great Iowa pass rusher.

Aside from the obvious excitement around Epenesa, the Hawkeyes have potential pieces in Levi Duwa, Cory Kirkpatrick and Nixon also on the defensive line. According to 247Sports, Duwa was the 37th best defensive end in the nation, despite suffering a foot injury that ended his senior season, Kirkpatrick 74th and Nixon 132nd.

Iowa also signed six defensive backs to help replace Desmond King and Greg Mabin. Plus, while Manny Rugamba will only be a sophomore in 2017, Joshua Jackson and Brandon Snyder will be juniors and Miles Taylor will be a senior.

Considering Iowa’s shaky secondary play at times in 2017 and the injuries they faced, there is a chance an incoming freshman could see some time. Ultimately, Iowa is hoping one of their three-star recruits can turn into a solid starter. Djimon Colbert, Matt Hankins and Camron Harrell headline Iowa’s secondary signees.

Outside of Epenesa, there might not be a lot of year-one contributors in this group. Although, the Hawkeyes signed a lot of depth at positions they needed and have proved their eye for three-star talent in the past. It’s a safe bet that Iowa found a consistent starter in their plethora of three-star signees.

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Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Overall: B

Thanks to late commitments, the Hawkeyes ended 2017 with one of their best recruiting classes in recent memory. They signed players who can contribute on day one, as well as projected starters down the road. Also, Iowa gained depth around the board.

Iowa missed out on a couple of good players on both sides of the ball due to their no-visit after verbally committing policy, though. While that is one of the top stories surrounding this 22 player class, it’s hard to imagine it sticking when we reminisce on this group in five years.

Plus, Iowa recruited athletic playmakers, something they desperately needed last season. Aside from A.J. Epenesa, the Hawkeyes landed freakishly athletic wide receiver Brandon Smith, who seemingly caught anything in sight in high school.

While it’s important that Iowa landed athleticism in this year’s class, it’s also telling of the offensive system Brian Ferentz might implement. It’s especially true for late commitments like Kyshaun Bryan and Ihmir Smith-Marsette since they committed after Iowa named Ferentz the new offensive coordinator.

2017’s class looks like one of Kirk Ferentz’s best in recent memory. Although, for as many day one starters they added, this class will ultimately be decided by how many three stars turn into consistent starters down the road. Their depth gives Iowa more chances.

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