Preseason Picture: SLB

Iowa State has two worthy starters at the SAM/nickel position, but beyond that things get pretty hairy

The Cyclones kick off their year Aug. 30. To get you ready for the season, will be gauging the depth at every position on the roster. In this installment, we're looking a strongside linebacker/nickel.

Projected Starter: Jared Brackens, Sr., Mesquite (TX)

Projected Backup: Drake Ferch, Sr., State Center

Other Players: Reggan Northrup, Fr., First Coast (FL)

The Leader: Jared Brackens

Ferch might start the season-opener, but I remain convinced Brackens is the better option among the two, once he finally gets out of Paul Rhoads' doghouse. In his first year as a starter, Brackens ranked third on the team in tackles (61) and second in sacks (two) but, despite his background as a defensive back, found himself out of position more than the coaches would like. He might never be a plus-player in that regard, which is why Ferch has been atop the depth chart since the spring, in addition to whatever issues Iowa State is trying to iron out with Brackens. However, Brackens is the best blitzer of any Iowa State linebacker, a skill he showed off in the spring game, and he's a better player in space than Ferch. Our money has him starting by Week 4.

The Wildcard: Drake Ferch

What do we know about Ferch? Not much, as far as his ISU career is concerned. He was a special teams guy last year, after redshirting in 2012, and spent his first two seasons at Iowa Western. Per the coaches, the book on Ferch is that he knows where he needs to be, almost at all times, which makes him the opposite of Brackens, but he's also not as good an athlete. So pick your poison, Cyclones. Ferch should have a nice impact in the first three games as the Cyclones face power-run opponents, given his play-recognition skills and willingness to stick his nose into a scrum.

The Future: Reggan Northrup

    Reggan Northrup


Depth is scary at SAM/nickel after the transfer of Charlie Rogers, but Iowa State will do whatever it can to keep a redshirt on Northrup, even if it includes asking Alton Meeks or Luke Knott to play at the position in a spot role. Northrup was singled out by Jevohn Miller at Big 12 Media Days for his impressive showing in summer workouts. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Northrup figures to add 10 pounds to his body and could be the starter in 2015. He played safety and linebacker at First Coast High in Florida.


The Cyclones have a commitment from Olathe North (KS) nickel/SAM 'backer Marcel Spears, who chose ISU over Missouri, Kansas State and Kansas. Iowa State probably won't take another SAM 'backer in its small 2015 class, but depth will be a concern at the position next year and beyond, so it's wouldn't really be the worst idea. Spears might have to play as a true freshman.

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