Better to Receive

Wide receiver has been one of the tougher positions for Iowa to recruit under Kirk Ferentz. The emergence of the Hawkeye trio of Marvin McNutt, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley might be the ticket to changing that.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Saturday's Iowa game highlights were littered with spectacular plays from its wide receivers. In part, that was due to the Hawkeyes need to throw the ball to come from behind.

That doesn't tell the whole story. Marvin McNutt, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley comprise one of the more talented receiving trios during he Coach Kirk Ferentz Era of 12 plus years.

Through three games, they have combined for 43 receptions, 666 yards and seven touchdowns. They've set a pace that would break the Iowa record under Ferentz for production from a receiver trio.

The best numbers posted by a threesome in a given year came in 2004 when Ed Hinkel (63 receptions), Clinton Solomon (58) and Warrren Holloway (29) accumulated 150 catches for 1,932 yards and 14 touchdowns from Drew Tate.

It's not surprising that Iowa's pro-style, balanced offense hasn't been a breeding ground for prolific receiver statistics. It also shouldn't be a shock that the Hawkeyes have struggled landing a lot of blue chip recruits at the position.

A pro-style offense is today's three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust attack. Everywhere you look, there are spread offenses and four-and-five receiver sets.

"It's interesting to me. Everybody comes in here, not essentially everybody, but (saying) Iowa is a run team," Ferentz said on Tuesday. "I think that's misleading. You do what you have to do to win.

"If we were an option team, I think that would be a different story. But we throw the ball to our receivers."

Of course they do. But perception is reality. You can bet that programs competing with the Hawkeyes for top prep talent at receiver portray them as conservative. They illustrate the point by offering up the lack of wideouts put into the NFL.

Iowa can and does sell Shonn Greene to running back prospects. It can push Dallas Clark and others at tight end and Bob Sanders and deep group of defensive backs in the league. The Hawkeyes own a reputation for producing pro linemen on both sides of the ball.

According to ESPN.com, the Hawkeyes currently have 35 players affiliated with NFL teams, either on active rosters or practice squads. None of them are wide receivers.

By contrast, Indiana, which is on its fifth different head coach since Iowa hired Ferentz, has seven players on the NFL rosters and two of them - Tandon Doss and Courtney Roby - are wideouts.

Illinois (2), Michigan (5), Michigan State (5), Minnesota (2), Nebraska (1), Penn State (3), Ohio State (7) and Wisconsin (1) all have wide receiver representation in the NFL. Ironically, Purdue and Northwestern, two of the more pass-happy teams in the Big Ten, do not currently have any wideouts in the league.

Of the wide receivers recruited by Ferentz and his staff, none of them has caught a non-preseason NFL pass. Scott Chandler played receiver as a freshman, but finished up as a tight end with the Hawkeyes and plays that position with the Buffalo Bills.

Iowa has received a lot of production from wideouts who played other positions in high school. McNutt served as an Iowa quarterback for two seasons Hinkel, Solomon, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Paul Chaney were signal callers as preps and Andy Brodell was a running back.

The Iowa staff should be commended for its development of receivers. It's not always easy to teach a high school quarterback to be a proficient college wideout, especially in the running game.

Things might be made easier if the Hawkeyes could land some prospects that play the position as preps. It shortens the learning curve in a lot of cases.

While high school rankings are only a guideline based on pre-college performance, over time they do a good job of indicating a degree of success and potential for the pros. Yes, you can develop players at the position and the Hawkeyes are pretty amazing at doing it (Ramon Ochoa) but it's also an area where natural ability goes a long way in determining elite talent.

Since the recruiting class of 2002, Iowa has landed two players, who according to Scout.com, ranked nationally in the Top 20 at wide receiver - Trey Stross (No. 15) and Davis (No. 18). Johnson-Koulianos was next at (No. 47). No other prospect was rated above 70.

So far in 2012, Iowa has picked up a verbal commitment from Ohio's Cameron Wilson, Scout.com's 65th-rated receiver nationally. The Hawkeyes got involved and offered Top 20 guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Thomas Johnson, Durron Neal and Aaron Burbridge, but came up short. Jordan Westerkamp (No. 39) and Canaan Severin (No. 49) chose Nebraska and Virginia, respectively.

The Hawkeyes are in the Final 5 for in-state star Amara Darboh (No. 23). Here's a list of Iowa WR offers for '12, according to Scout.com.

Maybe the answer is a guy like Martin-Manley, who was headed to Bowling Green before Iowa offered him a scholarship. He won't blow your socks off in measurables, but he emerged as a prep senior and almost saw the field as a true freshman last year.

"We invest an awful lot of time in recruiting," Ferentz said. "I'm not so sure there aren't times we shouldn't wait until December, try to raid the MAC commitments, get the All-Stars.

"I'm serious. There are like, what, 8 or 10 guys, played in the Super Bowl from the MAC Conference. There are a lot of good players in that league and all over the country."

Prep receivers with a pedigree often come from warm weather states. They also tend to stay there when choosing a college unless you're a blue blood program in a cooler climate.

USA Today ran a story last month ranking the Top 10 NFL receivers. Top-rated Andre Johnson was Scout.com's No. 9-rated receiver in his recruiting Class . No. 2 Larry Fitzgerald was No. 1 and Calvin Johnson No. 3.

Yes, there are successful players at every position who flew under the radar in recruiting. It happens less at wide receiver and running back than the other spots because so much of the production comes from natural ability.

And there is a correlation between advancing players from your college program to the NFL and then being able to recruit well at that position. Iowa has proof at the tight end position.

So, while helping this year's Iowa team through growing pains, the wide receivers could be laying the foundation to improve the recruitment of the position. McNutt looks like an NFL receiver as does Davis. Martin-Manley has three years of college left after this one.

I'm sure the MAC programs are rooting for the Hawkeye trio.


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