STARTERS: MATT NELSON, PARKER HESSE, JALEEL JOHNSON, NATHAN BAZATA
BACK-UPS: SAM BRINCKS, ANTHONY NELSON, FAITH EKAKITIE, KYLE TERLOUW
OTHERS: GARRET JANSEN, BRADY REIFF, BRANT GRESSEL, MICHAEL SLATER
INCOMING: ROMEO MCKNIGHT, CEDRICK LATTIMORE, BRANDON SIMON, CHAUNCEY GOLSTON, AUSTIN SCHULTE
2015 GRADE: B
ANALYSIS: Had they had the luxury of a Drew Ott for the full schedule, it would probably be a grade far greater than the one I have given it. I just thought this was a solid unit but nothing spectacular. Parker Hesse overachieved in Drew Ott's absence, Nate Meier toughed through a lot of injuries and produced what he could, Jaleel Johnson was big in the first half of the season, and Nathan Bazata was steady all the way through. What they did not do, by and large, was rush the passer enough and that holds this group back some.
In this era of college football, rushing the passer is everything. Nate Meier was decent at it, Drew Ott was great, and Matt Nelson is still learning the ropes. Jaleel Johnson is a pocket pusher and a disrupter but not a pass rusher, and Nathan Bazata is a run stuffer and workhorse in the middle and hard to move. Parker Hesse is also a work in progress but one with a bright future.
They did stuff the run incredibly well. That was largely in part because of Jaleel Johnson early on in the year. Nathan Bazata was also huge in this regard. Those two will be the lynchpins this upcoming season. They could also receive a jolt if Drew Ott's medical waiver is accepted by the NCAA.
OUTLOOK: The grade this time next year could receive 'A' if Drew Ott is eligible to play his fifth year. If not, it could still be a good group but possibly not a great one.
I think Jaleel Johnson steps it up even further and is a havoc for the full slate of games and not just the first half or three quarters of the year. He is a spectacular prospect and I think he eventually plays on Sundays. His potential is huge. His growth has been significant and I think there's still a long ways to go for him. Bazata will be Bazata, a steady performer throughout his career that makes some plays. He won't make mistakes and he'll do his job.
The defensive ends are more of an unknown. We saw a lot of Parker Hesse and he's kind of in the mold of Nate Meier. He's undersized and underestimated a lot but he understands leverage, works hard, plays whistle to whistle, and has a nice first step. I think his career will be much like Meier's. He'll be tough, hard-nosed, and rush the quarterback. I think he makes a big leap as playing this past season more than anticipated will help a lot moving forward. Nelson did very little when in. He's got a big spring ahead of him before he's counted on for much.
I do think Ott will get another year. Pair him with Hesse along with defensive tackles Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson and I think it is close to an elite group. The depth would be nice at the ends with Matt Nelson. I think they also see something in Anthony Nelson already for him to be in the two-deep this early.
The depth at defensive tackle is a bit more flimsy. I like Ekakitie in a back-up role. But they need to get more productive bodies in there alongside him. That makes me think Cedrick Lattimore could step in and right away and be that guy. There's a spot for a young lineman to play early and get snaps. I think Lattimore is that guy.
I also think Michael Slater gets snaps. They like him a lot early as well. He could take a big jump this year.
And even past 2016, this group is still looking nice. They'll only lose Jaleel Johnson, who is a spectacular play in my mind, but they'll have Slater and Lattimore getting ready to take the reins and return both their defensive ends and Bazata.
"It's a little bit llike our offensive tackle position a year ago. We knew this was coming. And so with Parker (Hesse) and Matt Nelson, they were kind of the Boone Myers, Ike Boettger of a year ago. All the time has been really important for them knowing that. Parker got throw in there, fast, a lot faster than we scripted it out. But that's what happens. And he did a really nice job. He's going to be an outstanding player for us, I have no doubt in my mind about that; I'll go on record there." - Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
"And I feel the same way about Matt. The things that we've seen, particularly the latter part of the season, really encouraging. We have three years with both those players and they have got all the right stuff like Ike and Boone. It's good. We have some guys coming up behidn them, too, that I think have a chance. But we just have to keep pushing that." - Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz