The debate's getting serious.
AllCyclones.com began listing ISU'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. 15: David Irving, Defensive Tackle, SR
The first memory I have of David Irving? He knifed through Iowa's offensive line, piggy-backed quarterback Jake Rudock and forced a fumble.
The last? Couldn't tell ya.
It was that kind of season for Irving, who flashed on and off as a disruptive interior force — 6-foot-7 and cat-quick — but faded, an injury keeping him out one game and legal problems doing the rest (Irving was arrested for domestic assault in November; charges were later dropped). Irving returned for the Kansas game but that was more controversial than productive.
Irving is sitting out the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a shoulder injury. The rehabilitation robs him an important offseason, which he could have used to hone the fundamentals of three-tech defensive tackle, working on hand placement and staying low.
There are some who believe Irving would be best at defensive end, which he played his first two seasons and where he could use his frame to engulf option plays to his side, swallow up both the quarterback and running back in the backfield on read-options and deflect/obstruct passes to the outside.
With Rodney Coe being dismissed, the Cyclones are down a defensive tackle — a very good one at that — and Irving loses the luxury of playing at different spots on the line. He needs to be an interior presence and he needs to be more consistent than he was last season if Iowa State is going to be improved defensively.
As Paul Rhoads said Saturday, Irving has the talent to be an all-league player.
Still, I can be talked into thinking Irving at No. 15 works. He's never been an every-down player and is impressive in fits and bursts, not in a tape review of all 80 snaps. That's why he'll be an NFL player — some team will believe it can wring all possible talent out of Irving on every down. Cyclones coach Shane Burnham is trying his darndest to do the same. If Irving clicks, this is a top-five player on ISU's roster. If he doesn't change, a top 15 ranking is justified.
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.