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. 21: Luke Knott, Weakside Linebacker, SO
Knott is rather short, he's no burner and he's not a turnover-forcing machine. But he's a really, really smart football player. That description is often a cop-out — a lazy way to say a guy with unexceptional athleticism is good at sports — but it fits with Knott.
The first in-person look I got at Knott was against Iowa, his first career start. The Hawkeyes quickly established the stretch runs with tailback Mark Weisman, hammering the ball at Iowa State's outside gaps.
That set up the play-action bootlegs for Jake Rudock, who upon spinning out of the fake would find clear throwing lanes. It worked for the Hawkeyes plenty early on, but Knott began to catch on — quicker than any other Cyclone, it seemed — and began meeting Rudock instead in the pocket, rather than follow Weisman.
For such a green player, that's a nice adjustment. And for a weakside linebacker, the ability to break down plays and get to the right spots quickly is very important. Knott missed the last half of the season but still finished seventh on the team in tackles (45). The sophomore-to-be is recovering from hip surgery and could unfortunately miss most of the spring period, a key time for a young player. But the spot at weakside linebacker should be his the next three seasons.
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.