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. 10: DeVondrick Nealy, Running Back, JR
The depth chart will have you know DeVondrick Nealy is Iowa State's backup running back, but the way the offense has been designed, the shifty junior is essentially a starter.
Don't focus on the 2.14 yards-per-carry performance in the spring game. Heck, don't focus on his average of 3.85 last season, a fine mark but not one indicative of a home-run threat.
Nealy is primed for a breakout season in 2014 in a spread offensive system that should create daylight for Aaron Wimberly and Nealy, who weren't prototype fits in last season's power-pistol scheme.
(Wimberly is a good one-cut runner, tendencies he displayed against Tulsa and Texas, and was good in Chris Klenakis' blocking scheme; Nealy likes to dance more and choose his spots, which can be good and bad. To his credit, Nealy only lost seven yards last season).
In terms of the offer list, Nealy is arguably the most impressive recruiting "get" of the Paul Rhoads era, choosing the Cyclones in 2011 over Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee and others.
Runner-up was Michigan.
The 5-foot-10 Nealy is still skinny, but his measurable are sick. He's quicker than he's fast, but he still runs a 4.5 40-yard-dash, and can bench at least 300 pounds and claims a vertical of 30 inches.
He was the man in high school and he'll still have to wait another year for that billing, once Wimberly graduates, but backs coach Louis Ayeni envisions lots of two-back sets. Nealy won't be starving for carries anymore and should be more patient once he gets the rock.
""I felt like every time I got the ball I had to do something amazing with it," he said this spring. "But this year, just take your time, watch everything develop, give it time to develop."
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.