The post-Signing Day hangover has hit us here at AllCyclones.com, so we're thankful for subscribers who keep us busy with mailbag questions.
Which position group on the ISU football team do you consider the most talented? Least talented? Shoot, just rank em (QB, RB, TE, WR, OL, DE, DT, LB, Corners, Safeties)
Let me rank them in order of confidence I'd have in them, if I were a fan, in order from most to least, and I'll group the tight ends with the wide receivers, though it should be noted E.J. Bibbs is a very good blocker. This list will surely change after spring practice reports, but here's how it looks on Feb. 12.
1. WRs. Grouping tight end Bibbs with the pass-catchers. He's the best returning tight end in the Big 12 while wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, despite needing to shore up some holes in his game, is also one of the conference's best. Those two headliners will gobble up most of the targets, but there's some really nice depth here, too: Jarvis West, Dondre Daley, Tad Ecby, P.J. Harris, plus newcomers D'Vario Montgomery and Allen Lazard. It's the strength of the team.
2. DT. On paper, the defensive tackles unit — led by Rodney Coe and David Irving — looks better than it might translate onto the field, as Coe and Irving, both three-techniques, won't play much together (One of the top story lines for spring is what to do with Irving, who flashed nicely in 2013 but isn't as impactful as Coe because he can't stay low enough on every snap; would the coaches consider moving Irving back to end?).
The Cyclones are looking to add a JUCO tackle, but there's no telling whether that'll be a three-technique or a nose. Plenty of in-house candidates will jockey to start at nose tackle, and Devlyn Cousin should be the front-runner. The loss of Brandon Jensen hurts only in the depth department; I don't think he was going to start in 2014. Even with the uncertainty in that front, Coe is good enough to carry this unit to No. 2 in our rankings.
3. RB. The concern with the running backs is durability, neither Aaron Wimberly nor DeVondrick Nealy being big-bodied guys — the type Paul Rhoads said he's looking for — who can tote the rock 20 times per game. But they're each so explosive. Throw in Rob Standard, who will have a role similar to Jeff Woody, but should prove to be a better player, and the Cyclones have themselves a running backs group with big potential.
4. OL. Surprised? There are plenty of pieces on this unit, which was ravaged by injuries in 2013. Plus, the Cyclones pretty clearly weren't huge fans of Chris Klenakis or his scheme. Mark Mangino's offense will call for more zone blocking and Brandon Blaney will be an easier coach to relate to than Klenakis, who's brilliant, if not wired a bit differently.
Brock Dagel is a cornerstone left tackle, Daniel Burton has tremendous versatility and Tom Farniok is a proven commodity at center. Oni Omoile and Jamison Lalk need big springs, as JUCO transfer Wendell Taiese arrives in the summertime. There should be some competition at right tackle, but I'd expect Jacob Gannon to enter the season with the starting job — although everybody is excited to see what Jake Campos can do after a very good redshirt season.
5. DE. Cory Morrissey is solid at one end, while incoming JUCO transfer Dale Pierson is a more dynamic pass-rusher. If David Irving moves back to end he should start over Morrissey. Gabe Luna, Mitchell Meyers and JUCO transfer Terry Ayeni (who could also play inside) will provide immediate depth. If Pierson is the presence the Cyclones expect him to be, this unit will be much-improved over 2013.
6. LB. Now we're starting to get hairy. ISU isn't concerned how Jordan Harris will fill Jeremiah George's role. Paul Rhoads beamed while talking last week about how hard-working and hard-hitting Harris is. Luke Knott could really use an offseason to improve at weak side linebacker but the job is his whenever he returns. Strongside linebacker is where concern lies. Jared Brackens looks every bit the part of what you'd expect in a SAM 'backer — big enough to stop the play side run, but agile enough to cover a tight end or slot receiver — but had a very spotty junior season in 2013.
7. QBs. The good news? There are two experienced options here in Sam Richardson and Grant Rohach, guys who have proven they can win games. The bad news? Each has been totally inconsistent. Joel Lanning has a big arm, better than Richardson and Rohach's, and Mark Mangino will like that, but it'll take a special spring for Lanning to jump ahead of those two. If Lanning busts or struggles a lot and Richardson and Rohach don't improve, ISU is going to be in big, big trouble.
I'm still of the belief Richardson is the best quarterback on the roster, by the way. Injuries and a drain of confidence plagued him in 2013. But he has to prove he can make all the throws.
8. Safety. I'd expect this to change significantly by August. The Cyclones signed two JUCO safeties last week and Devron Moore is already on campus. One starting job, likely at free safety, is his. Qujuan Floyd arrives in the summertime. He's a fluid athlete but not a typical strong safety, which is why he's trying to add around 20 pounds. Until Floyd arrives, though, it's Moore and the unknowns. T.J. Mutcherson is a physical football player but hasn't grasped the position or the defense just yet and Kamari Cotton-Moya, who would've played as a true frosh last season, is recovering from a torn Achilles.
9. CBs. Maybe this goes against everything I've ever said about Nigel Tribune, the rising sophomore who I believe to be one of ISU's five best players going forward. The growing pains are mostly over for Tribune and he's ready to be one of the Big 12's best cornerbacks. Problem is, I don't see another cornerback on this roster who can line up next to Tribune and hold his own. Sam Richardson is a great open-space tackler and a hard worker, but he's 5-foot-7. That's tough. Kenneth Lynn is entering his fourth year in the program and has started one game.
The Cyclones really tried to add a JUCO cornerback in 2014. Easy to see why. They missed on Danzel McDaniel and Keishawn Richardson, who each signed with a Big 12 school, and dropped Corry O'Meally (a TCU signee) from consideration because of lingering academic concerns.
Who did we barely see or not see at all last year that will make a major contribution to the team this year? Like you've said before most true freshmen redshirt, so the real newcomers are those that redshirted last year or were low on the depth chart as RS SOs.
I mentioned Mutcherson as a guy who could get some playing time. Justin Madison projects as a pass-rush specialist — might he see snaps on third down? Pierre Aka at tackle, Duaron Williams on the offensive line, Alex Leslie at tight end, Tyler Brown at running back, Darius White at linebacker.
Tons of candidates … we'll know tons more after the spring game.
Biggest steal of the 2012, 2013 recruiting classes. Who are the guys from these 2 classes that were under-valued and under-recruited by others?
2012: Daniel Burton. Here's a potential four-year starter (had eight as a freshman in 2013) who's an impact player at guard while possessing the ability to slide over to tackle if need be. Burton was recruited by Arizona and Oregon State, both really good programs, but home schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State didn't show any interest.
2013: Alex Leslie. A redshirt last season, Leslie is the heir apparent to E.J. Bibbs at tight end, it appears. He played high school football in New Braunfels, Texas, home of Schlitterbahn — and less than an hour from the University of Texas, which hasn't had a good tight end since 2007. Not only did the Longhorns not give Leslie a sniff, but none of the other in-state schools did, either. We had him as a two-star player and the No. 107 tight end, but ESPN tabbed Leslie as the No. 31 tight end. Wake Forest and Memphis were the only FBS schools to offer Leslie.
Do you ever see Iowa State having a top 5 class in the Big 12? Ole Miss and Tennessee have had impressive classes the last two years without much success on the field. Will ISU ever have one of those type of classes (not necessarily on the same scale, but at a Big 12 level)?
Those are SEC schools with rich football traditions. Ames isn't an easy place to recruit to. The Cyclones have been ahead of the game in their recruiting tactics and number of personnel devoted to it — they do a really nice job with visits and working with high school coaches. The culture appears to be changing. I don't envision a boat-load of four-star high school players coming to Iowa State at one time. The best thing ISU can do is develop a reputation as a place where JUCO transfers can thrive. The Cyclones are well on their way toward doing that, but I don't see them landing a top-five class in the very competitive Big 12.
What do we do with the schollies now that Vaughn has made his choice?
Two left. I'd think Marvin Clark is the top priority and he'll take more official visits in March. Other than that, just sit on them and wait until transfer season.
Are all of the recruits academically eligible?
Haven't heard anything that'd make me think otherwise, but won't know until early June.
Do you think Lazard will be too good to keep off the field or will he redshirt?
Imagine he'll play. At least, there'll be pressure on the coaches to play him. Paul Rhoads would sure like to get him out there, but he's not going to waste a year of eligibility just to have Lazard get crumbs in a very deep receiving corps.
How much of a learning curve will there be with Mangino at the helm?
It's going to be a fun, streamlined offense to play in. Mangino's on a two-year contract. He's purchasing a house, so I think he expects to stay longer than that, but he'd be disappointed if there's much of a learning curve — he's had success everywhere he's been and there's plenty of experienced talent on offense. The Cyclones can't afford a learning curve, anyway. The schedule is very tough.
Do you think there is any chance we can take a jump forward, like Iowa did this year from their 4-8 season two years ago?
While watching the Cyclones take beatings to Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State in consecutive weeks last fall, I was convinced 2014 was going to be a tough year. However, an offseason of staff cleaning — and the surprise hire of Mangino — has me singing a bowl-or-bust tune.
Anything else, cyfreak?