At wideout, Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer are gone. The obvious top guy returning is Matt VandeBerg. He'll definitely man one of the starting spots. Another obvious starter is Jerminic Smith as he replaces Tevaun Smith as the vertical threat. It'll just be his sophomore year but he played a decent amount as a true freshman, including a couple starts.
The rest is up in the air. Riley McCarron returns and has a good amount of experience, including the clutch touchdown catch against Iowa State a year ago. But does he share the field with Smith and VandeBerg regularly? I'm not so sure. He's reliable and will grab the third spot or settle into the fourth position as he did a year ago. Either way, he holds an important spot for this team.
The rest is definitely a mystery though Jay Scheel as settled in as the fourth reliable receiver according to offensive coordinator Greg Davis. If he's made that kind of rise, then it is possible he is a starter. Behind those four in some order will be Adrian Falconer, Jonathan Parker and possibly Ryan Boyle. Can Boyle grab some playing time at wideout right away? It's not out of the question but it isn't a certainty either. He's played it very little despite the instant success he had in the Spring Game. I think he's locked into wideout permanently, and I think he could provide some value, though I doubt it is anything significant. I do think Jonathan Parker could grab some valuable playing time as it does not appear Falconer has made much of a rise up the depth chart despite not having redshirted a year ago.
Emmanuel Ogwo has still hung around either, but like Falconer, has had little change in the depth chart from a season ago. Devonte Young also arrives on campus in the Fall as a true freshman. He'll likely redshirt.
Jon Wisnieski and Jameer Outsey are the two back-ups for starting tight end George Kittle. Outsey is listed as the second guy but Wisnieski jumped up for some second-team reps as well, especially in the Spring Game. Two incoming freshmen arrive in the Fall in Noah Fant of Omaha and T.J. Hockenson from Chariton, Iowa.
VandeBerg is good. He gets open, he has great hands, he's reliable, and he can make plays at times. He fits a role. He's not a dynamic playmaker and is probably relegated to the slot as he doesn't have the size to consistently compete with the bigger corners on the outside. He needs to live in space and in the middle of the field.
Jerminic Smith is a threat. He's a vertical weapon. But he just needs to get more comfortable with the offense, learn his position even more, and become more consistent. He can get open and make plays. It just has to happen more in quantity and the mistakes need to be limited. He plays like a young player, and he is one. He could be a difference for this offense if he can become what Tevaun Smith ultimately did. But it didn't happen for Tevaun Smith until his senior year. The Hawkeyes don't want to wait that long for Jerminic Smith.
McCarron is a lot like VandeBerg. And that's why I wonder how much he'll really be on the field at the same time as him. It's a pretty limited wide receiver group when McCarron and VandeBerg are both starting and both playing a lot. There's a lot lacking in size if that is the case. I think there's a spot for McCarron but I think it could clash some with what VandeBerg brings to the table. It'll be interesting how that shakes out.
Jay Scheel may be giving himself more of a chance to see the field. He also is becoming a bit more versatile which can help him get on the field a little bit more. He's not just pigeon-holed into one spot. He now knows two receiver position. And with McCarron being a bit limited, that could play in Scheel's favor. Especially since one of the positions is the same one that Jerminic will start at and he's just a sophomore that could have growing pains. I'm not jumping on the "Jay Scheel will become a star" bandwagon, but I am jumping on the "Jay Scheel may play a lot this year for Iowa" bandwagon.
Jonathan Parker has been just the 'jet-sweep guy' his whole career but his elevation up the depth chart suggests that it has changing, and it needs to if he wants to play a larger role and it gives the offense more versatility. You don't want to be predictable. Parker needs to be able to do more things. And he's shown that in glimpses in the Spring, including a few long grabs during the open practice in West Des Moines. He could end up playing more than people think as well.
Ryan Boyle's role is the real wild card. If his production in the Spring Game is not a blip on the radar and a clear sign of what is to come, he may have a large role. If it was just a snap shot of what he can become but has a long way to go, then it may be fools' gold for the fans. We should find out more about that situation in the Fall. The sample size right now is very small. He is athletically gifted and can make plays. That's never a bad thing and the offense could always use a jolt.
George Kittle is special at tight end, but we don't know too much about the rest of the guys. The two other scholarship players are Jon Wisnieski and Jameer Outsey. Outsey is second on the depth chart but appeared to be slipping for snaps throughout the Spring. Maybe it's a motivational tactic, but he did not appear to be in the best graces of the coaching staff. They haven't exactly raved about Wisnieski, either.
The real talent behind Kittle could be in the incoming freshman class. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant bring in a lot of athleticism, length, and accolades. Fant is more athlete than football player right now but that can translate well early on if you're thinking less. He's quick, athletic, and a great run and jump athlete. Hockenson broke state records in receiving and is a pure pass catcher at the position. His learning curve will be in becoming an in-line blocker.
This is where the offense is lacking in firepower. The running backs have the firepower. Beathard has a heck of an arm and can make plays with his legs. The offensive line brings back a ton of experience and shouldn't miss too much of a beat without Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. James Daniels and Boone Myers playing on the inside should help mitigate that.
With the receivers and tight ends, there's less confidence. Yes, VandeBerg is proven but the others really aren't at wideout. Yes, George Kittle is explosive but there's been little to no production from any other tight end on the roster. For the offense to produce enough to result in wins, this group has a lot of work in front of them.
I think the receivers hold the offense back in the early going, possibly the first half of the season. With a lackluster non-conference slate, it shouldn't hurt the Hawkeyes that much. However, as things going on, and Jerminic Smith, Jay Scheel, and maybe even Ryan Boyle gather more experience, it could become a respectable group. I think there's going to be some growing pains early on but they'll be able to be mitigated enough by the running game and the savviness of senior starter C.J. Beathard.
I'll say Boyle plays a little this year, to give them some playmaking ability. I doubt it'll be much, though. I think Jay Scheel plays a large amount. And he could be hitting on all cylinders by the end of the season. Jonathan Parker's role should grow as well.
At tight end, I think George Kittle becomes the best one in the conference. All he does is catch touchdowns so far, and he'll get a lot more, but he'll also be a terrific blocker and haul in quite a few more receptions than he did a year ago. He's quite a dynamic player and he will be the best weapon C.J. Beathard has at his disposal.