Derek Young of Hawkeye Insider takes his shot at naming the five most important Iowa football players for the 2016 season. There were a number of candidates as the Hawkeyes look to duplicate an undefeated regular season.
QUARTERBACK C.J. BEATHARD
Quarterback C.J. Beathard is the leader of the entire team, not just the offense and that kind of senior leadership is irreplaceable. Add in the fact that he makes the offense tick, makes everyone around him better, gives that side of the ball balance, and will be imperative in aiding the growth and development of the receivers and there's no question how valuable he is to the Hawkeyes' success.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE JALEEL JOHNSON
Jaleel Johnson was one of the hidden gems for the stingy Iowa defense a year ago. He was extremely effective through the first 8 games last season but trailed off, which was when the Hawkeye defense fell off somewhat as well. The Iowa defense went as he went. And with the inexperience at defensive end, a lot will be asked out of the senior defensive tackle in 2016.
LINEBACKER JOSEY JEWELL
Jewell is important to Iowa the same way as C.J. Beathard is. Beathard makes everyone else better on the offensive side of the ball and Jewell provides the same support on defense. Add in the fact that he's one of the few linebackers in the country just as strong against the run as he is the pass, and it's hard to keep him off the field. A full-time captain as a sophomore tells it all.
TIGHT END GEORGE KITTLE
Depth is the big reason why Kittle is so important in 2016. He has to put it all together and become the complete package and be more consistent this season because he is the only returner at the position with any significant experience. Peter Pekar, Nate Vejvoda, and Jon Wisnieski have not emerged just yet. If it isn't Kittle, it may have to be a true freshman such as Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, or Shaun Beyer. Not saying they can't pull through for the Hawkeyes, but they'd rather not have to rely on a true freshman and Kittle is a big part of that.
FREE SAFETY BRANDON SNYDER
Brandon Snyder is now under scholarship but he was a walk-on until about a month ago. Despite that, he's slotted in to be the starting free safety and rightfully so. He was the top back-up in the secondary a year ago and was a mainstay on special teams where he spearheaded a solid coverage unit. It is now his time to emerge even more and he's expected to be a heavy contributor for the Hawkeyes. I think he'll be more than solid but Iowa will need it in a bad way in the back end as the depth at safety is very thin heading into the season.