The debate's getting serious.
AllCyclones.com listed's Iowa State's best 50 players for 2014 earlier, Nos. 50-26 — using production, potential, positional value and a little bit of by-the-gut reasoning.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty, beginning our one-by-one countdown of No. 25 to No. 1, a task that'll run through Spring Football.
The envelope, please ...
No. 22: Allen Lazard, Wide Receiver, FR
A four-star wideout in the 2014 class, Lazard might be the most important player Paul Rhoads has ever signed. But now the discussion shifts from holding off Notre Dame and Iowa for Lazard. Instead, it's time to wonder: How good can Lazard be as a freshman?
The Cyclones redshirt most of their freshmen but it's hard to see them doing that with Lazard because a) he can help the offense immediately b) he'll put fans in the seats at Jack Trice and c) if he stars as a freshman, Lazard might serve as a Pied Piper for other skilled high schoolers who in the past might have balked at coming to Iowa State.
In other words, Lazard can make Iowa State cool.He can also make the team better, given his ball skills and leaping ability. Lazard's bound to get targets in the redzone, of course, but it'll be interesting to see how uses him over the rest of the field.
Tall, high-jumping, adequately-fast receivers like Lazard usually make for better outside guys, where they can win one-on-one battles against smaller cornerbacks in man coverage, but Mark Mangino might give Lazard a look flexed in the slot, where he can match up against nickelbacks and outside linebackers and, along with E.J. Bibbs, give the Cyclones a big frame between the hashes.
I've maintain concerns about Lazard's lateral quickness and the upgrade in competition, but there's no reason he can't be one of ISU's five best wideouts the moment he moves into the dorms.
It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up.