THE STAR: I wouldn't necessarily characterize him as a star at all but the most reliable and the most productive weapon has been Matt VandeBerg and I think it will remain that way for the 2016 season. He's almost like an unsung hero. He isn't flashy and he won't necessarily blow you away but you'll look up at the stat sheet and he'll have more than 5 receptions for around 100 yards and a touchdown. He's modest and humble off the field, and sneaks up on you on the field. The biggest perk he gives to this offense is his ability to extend drives on third downs. VandeBerg was big in that area last year and he'll be counted on in that department even more so this year with the departure of Henry Krieger Coble.
THE FUTURE: There's quotes and information out there right now that would suggest it could be Devonte Young. And they might be right but I'm not ready to budge on that one just yet. I'm a bit more hesitant and want to see more until I go there. I wasn't in awe of him as a prospect so I'm a bit more patient in terms of crowning him right now. At one point folks thought it could be Adrian Falconer but he has done little to build on that. Jerminic Smith is an obvious choice but I have reason to hesitate on him at the moment. Ryan Boyle is intriguing but little is known.
I think the best answer on this one is Jay Scheel. He's also a wideout being raved about by coaches and teammates and he just may have it figured out now. This could be his breakout year. He's my answer. Injuries would be the roadblock and they seem to creep up more with him than others, but if he can stay on the field and around full health, I like his chances. He seems to be healthy now, has learned two different positions to to increase his versatility and value, makes highlight reel catches, and has a favorable depth chart to work with.
HAS WORK LEFT TO DO: After last season it all but seemed like the above answer should be Jerminic Smith. And it still might be. He hasn't regressed necessarily but I think they're expecting more out of him than what they've seen to date. He's probably one of the more talented guys on the roster in terms of all-around ability, especially at his position. But for some reason he just hasn't seemed to garner the same kind of trust at this point than Jay Scheel has. If the final light comes on, then look out. But until then, I think it's better to be cautious in terms of what the expectations are for him. He's also not as versatile as Scheel in terms of what wideout spots he can play which limits his possible impact, too. I'm not saying there's a drop-off here or that the book is closed on what he can become, but he needs to kick it into gear.
TIGHT ENDS: Kittle is the guy obviously. I do think the number two guy could be walk-on Peter Pekar because of his size and blocking ability. Having him out there in running down situations doesn't open up another tendency for opposing defenses to exploit. Iowa can run behind Pekar or Kittle. Would they feel comfortable running behind a true freshman like Fant or Hockenson? Maybe not. But maybe so. But I think that could give Pekar an edge for the second tight end spot. And I think Noah Fant plays a bit. I think they'd like to redshirt one of them which would be Hockenson in my estimation.
THE OUTLOOK: I think overall speed and talent is probably an upgrade at this position right now compared to the last few years, and I think that's what Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo was alluding to when he lauded the group on his bus tour. However, the talent and the skill are the younger, unproven players that haven't quite figured it all out yet. Jay Scheel obviously could swing the pendulum in the other direction since he seems to be on the cusp of doing so. I don't think this group blows anyone away this year but I think they are productive just enough to get the job done, and they'll be helped by Beathard. However, in a year or two, if things fall right and the light comes on for some of the younger talented players, this could be a position of strength.
FINAL THOUGHTS: For this section I want to dive into the debate of which three receivers to use. Matt VandeBerg has his spot locked up and it's the same position he held a year ago. That's where he'll play and that's where he's effective for this team. The outside spot vacated by Tevaun Smith is open as well as Jacob Hillyer's. Parker is out. Falconer isn't ready. Boyle isn't ready to start at least. Devonte Young is at least not ready to start. Beyer will redshirt. That leaves McCarron, Scheel, and Jerminic Smith. So do you go the route of some possible growing pains and throw out Scheel and Jerminic together with VandeBerg or do you try the proven route and insert McCarron.
They have this flexibility because of Scheel's ability to play two different spots. If they insist on McCarron because he's shown to be more reliable and dependable, then it leaves quite the battle between Scheel and Jerminic. And if I had to guess, Jay Scheel is winning that battle now. This is why Jerminic Smith might have some work left to do. His inconsistency and inability to earn their full trust has him in an interesting spot.
Personally, I think I would try the VandeBerg, Scheel, and Jerminic lineup first and if Jerminic makes a few gaffes that are just unexplainable, then I'd give him the hook. But I think I would give him the opportunity and make it a scenario in which it's his to lose. But I also don't see these guys everyday in practice and I don't know to what extent the inconsistencies are.