TOP FRESHMAN: DEFENSIVE END ANTHONY NELSON
Most forget that Anthony Nelson is just a redshirt freshman. He's been fantastic for a first-year player and all the discussion about him before the season having some rare abilities to rush the passer have come to be true. That's exactly what he is. He needs to be sharper against the run as he will tell you, but there wasn't a better pure pass rusher on this team than Anthony Nelson in the first half of the season. Without him, they're probably licking some more wounds on the schedule because I'm not real sure if there was another spot on the roster where the pass rush could come from.
HONORABLE MENTION: CB MANNY RUGAMBA - He's the top true freshman and would have been the easy winner had Anthony Nelson not emerged as a redshirt frosh. Rugamba has been very valuable on the defensive side of the ball as well as the third corner. He's in all the sub-packages for the Hawkeye defense and likely a future all-conference selection.
TOP OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: GUARD SEAN WELSH
The Iowa line took a big hit when he and James Daniels were out of the lineup. Daniels is great, but not offense to him, I think this group missed Welsh the most. He's been the most consistent lineman for the Hawkeyes the last two seasons. He's a punishing blocker, has a lot of nastiness to him, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one bad game from him in the last two years which is very rare. You probably can't say that about the other four.
HONORABLE MENTION: TACKLE COLE CROSTON - Croston has been a steady performer outside of the one game where he was exposed at left tackle against Northwestern. Outside of that contest, he's played well. He's lacking some quickness so I don't know if he's all that healthy at this point but he's a good lineman and you can't just use the Northwestern game to judge him as a whole. James Daniels is still a little up and down, as is Ike Boettger at right tackle. Boone Myers is likely my #3 choice on the line. He's had one special game, a few good ones, and a couple he'd like to have back.
TOP RUNNING BACK: RB AKRUM WADLEY
It's hard to pick one of the two just because they have produced so evenly so far this season. Daniels and Wadley have similar numbers. Wadley has had a few more big plays it seems but a few of Daniels' have been brought back due to penalties. The offensive line hasn't exactly dominated this season and mowed down the opponent so there's more of a premium put on making guys miss and Wadley is just better in that department. He's also had some game-altering runs this season, especially in the last game against Minnesota. But you can't go wrong with either.
HONORABLE MENTION: LESHUN DANIELS - He's only a hair behind Wadley. The production is even. They both had to step into different roles at time this season when Derrick Mitchell was out. Daniels has had a good year but they'll need him to be even better in the second half.
TOP RECEIVER: WR MATT VANDEBERG
He missed two games and likely will miss the rest of the season but he's still the top receiver. He won't be for the full year but he still is for the first half of the year. He still has the most receiving yards on the team at this point in fact. Riley McCarron has been good in his absence but nobody has been a standout the way that VandeBerg was. I can't take away his throne just yet.
HONORABLE MENTION: RILEY MCCARRON - He's been the top weapon in the passing game since VandeBerg was injured. McCarron was also playing well while VandeBerg was still healthy. It wasn't showing up as much in the numbers but he's a capable route runner and a very willing blocker. Jerminic Smith and Jay Scheel are still attempting to figure it out while McCarron is running the show.
TOP TIGHT END: TE GEORGE KITTLE
He deserves this award for his blocking more than anything. He's likely the best blocking tight end in college football and I'm not sure it's up for debate. Kittle has been less of a weapon in the passing game. But he has converted a couple scores, including a few long ones as well. With the unproven commodities at receiver, they need him to become more effective in the passing game. But he's the only tight end that has contributed significantly so far.
HONORABLE MENTION: PETER PEKAR - He's the second tight end for the Hawkeyes right now so he gets the nod. He's been used solely as a blocker so far but has held up just fine in that regard. Watch out for Noah Fant trying to take this job away in the second half of the year. The true freshman is playing more and more.
TOP DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: DT JALEEL JOHNSON
The defensive line definitely wanted to perform better than they did in the first half but they closed it out with a heck of a performance against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. Outside of the defensive tackles, it was also a group that didn't return a ton of starts. There was about half a season from Parker Hesse, a game from Matt Nelson and nothing from Anthony Nelson. Considering that, they probably fared pretty admirably. The defensive ends got after the quarterback more than anticipated, especially Anthony Nelson. However, Jaleel Johnson held it down in the middle. It was a bit inconsistent at times, but he had a couple strong conference games, and is getting all of the attention from opposing offenses.
HONORABLE MENTION: ANTHONY NELSON - Nothing against the others but Anthony Nelson deserves it. He's been that lethal as a pass rusher. He leads the team easily in sacks and really could easily have three or four more. There's more that he caused that were cleaned up by the other defensive ends. Nelson is also improving against the run. The better he can be against the run, the more he will stay on the field.
TOP LINEBACKER: LB JOSEY JEWELL
Jewell basically missed a full game because of an ejection but he was easily the best linebacker for the Hawkeyes so far this season and that comes as no surprise. Even Jewell wasn't the sharpest at times on defense but he's had several outstanding moments as well. He's crushed the quarterback several times, made a goal line stand by himself practically that decided a game, is chasing down the ball sideline to sideline. His game could use a little clean-up job, but he's been great.
HONORABLE MENTION: BEN NIEMANN - I actually think Niemann needs to be better against the run. He hasn't been as good in the run game as he was a year ago. He's also in the box much less and not defending the run as much. Niemann is not in the box as much as he was in 2016 and is in coverage often. The kicker is how well Ben Niemann has been in coverage. There may have one or two instances in which he got lost in coverage, but he was on the mark just about every time in the first six games. But against teams like Wisconsin and Michigan, he'll be in the box much more and he needs to be better there. Bower is great at diagnosing plays and reacting, but he needs to be a better finisher. He's gotten better, though.
TOP DEFENSIVE BACK: CB DESMOND KING
I think he's been better this year than he was last year but nobody will be able to determine that or detect it all that well just because the statistics aren't there. He's got far less opportunities for interceptions. He has zero so far this season. For the folks that have been on the board and reading me ever since I began, you'll know that I predicted this if King were to return for his senior year. His statistics would drop despite him being a better player than he was as a junior. That's exactly what's happening. That's fine, though. Nobody is throwing on King this season. But because the statistics aren't there, and Jourdan Lewis of Michigan is doing just as well, expect the other Detroit native to win the Jim Thorpe Award this year. Not King.
HONORABLE MENTION: GREG MABIN - Once he got past the first two games of the season he's been excellent. It was a very rough start to the year for Mabin but the senior has rebounded and played great football ever since. The safeties have been up and down. Their biggest issue has been missed tackles and at times missed assignments. Brandon Snyder has showed flashes of being quite the contributor. He's up and down and still shows signs of promise, and the talent is clearly there. Miles Taylor has taken a step back from how he was producing a season ago. Right now, Mabin is the definite honorable mention choice.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: WR RILEY MCCARRON
This was an easy choice for me. There wasn't an obvious choice on defense. Offensively, a few guys have stepped up and emerged and McCarron clearly has since the injury to Matt VandeBerg. He's getting open, he's become the reliable receiver for Beathard, and he's blocking well despite his size.
HONORABLE MENTION: BOONE MYERS - Myers is my second choice. I know the offensive line has had some ugly moments, and even ugly games. But if you remember where Myers started at in the opener for 2016 as the left tackle, and endured injuries, and how his first season went, he's been quite impressive this year. He was sensational against Rutgers in what was one of the better offensive lineman games I've seen. He's done it as a left guard this year after being a tackle for almost all of last year. Now he's back to left tackle and really wasn't exposed much against Minnesota in his first game back at that spot. Myers has come a long way.
TOP OFFENSIVE POSITION COACH: RB COACH CHRIS WHITE
It's not just because he has two good running backs and they have good games so he gets the credit. It's the fact that he always has the players at his position ready and there's noticeable improvement. Derrick Mitchell was always ready and shined as a third down back as a pass protector. We were able to see how valuable Mitchell was when he was out with injury. It wasn't pretty from LeShun Daniels the first game that Mitchell was out. But he improved dramatically the following week. That shows development and improvement and in a short time span. Toks has played well when he's entered. Then remember all of last year when injuries did not derail this group either. Chris White has done a fine job.
HONORABLE MENTION: TE COACH LEVAR WOODS - Having a tight end as good as George Kittle being as proud a blocker that he is and a willing one is a sign of good coaching to me. They understand the role. If they don't get the ball, they're cool about it and just go punish someone with a crushing block. But the big sign for me is that Woods hasn't coached tight ends all that long and he's beginning to get a true freshman up to speed. Noah Fant is beginning to have more of a role in the offense. They are beginning to believe in him and they're getting enough development to trust him in some live situations on Saturday. This is a largely unproven group. Woods has had his hands full and they're beginning to position themselves to get another young weapon on the field.
TOP DEFENSIVE POSITION COACH: DL COACH REESE MORGAN
Morgan basically has three new starters at defensive end and they're still able to get to the quarterback this year. No Drew Ott and no Nate Meier and the pass rush really hasn't taken that big of a drop. They've been inconsistent against the run, but all three levels of the defense have had fault in that. It's also impressive to see how impactful and effective Anthony Nelson already is as a redshirt freshman. True freshman Cedrick Lattimore has looked good in his limited snaps at defensive tackle. The defensive tackles took a big step forward against Minnesota. This seems like a unit definitely headed in the right direction.
HONORABLE MENTION: LB COACH SETH WALLACE - They only lost one starter from a year ago and that was Cole Fisher at the weakside linebacker spot that is now held by Bo Bower. Bower has done well and he's such a good 'read and react' player. His problem has been finishing the play. He needs to be aggressive and fly to the ball and trust his eyes, and he needs to finish the tackle. But the talent from Bower is noticeable and it's easy to see why they believe in him. Niemann has been excellent in coverage. Jewell is a star. For the most part, it's been business as usual with this group.
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP: PUNTER RON COLUZZI
You can't ask for much more from the Central Michigan transfer. He's flipped the field with ease with some dramatically long punts when they have needed it the most. When Iowa needs him to pin the opponent deep, he's done that as well. Coluzzi has performed well in every way so far. He's also been excellent in kickoffs. He's easily been the most valuable weapon on special teams for the Hawkeyes.
HONORABLE MENTION: RETURNER DESMOND KING - He's a terrific returner and he's flipped the field in his own right several times. If it weren't for how great Coluzzi has been, Desmond King would be the MVP of both the special teams and the defense.
DEFENSIVE MVP: CB DESMOND KING
Fewer interceptions but a better performance this season. Teams rarely look his way. When they do, their guys aren't really open anyways and the pass gets broken up by King with ease. There's been several games where he's surrendered only one pass or less than 10 receiving yards for the entire contest which are jaw-dropping numbers. There isn't much discussion for who's been the most impressive or the most valuable for the defense.
HONORABLE MENTION: LB JOSEY JEWELL - He'd probably be the MVP on a lot of other teams but King has just been that good plus Jewell missed nearly one whole game because of his ejection. The only thing Jewell probably wishes for the second half is to not get ejected again and have fewer missed tackles. He was pretty special otherwise.
OFFENSIVE MVP: WR MATT VANDEBERG
Yeah, he only played in four of the six games but he was the team's best offensive player when he did play. He still has the most receiving yards on the team. VandeBerg was also the one player the other team game-planned against as a defense. They were not going to let VandeBerg beat them. He had the respect of the opposing defenses. He had the trust of Beathard unconditionally. Beathard would throw it to VandeBerg even if it was tight coverage because he knew he could count on him to still come down with the ball or at least put up enough of a fight or battle to prevent it from being a turnover. He was the best player on offense the first half of the year.
HONORABLE MENTION: OL SEAN WELSH - Beathard is another candidate but I thought he was far from sharp after the Iowa State game. Welsh missed a game but it was easy to see how much Iowa missed him on the offensive line. They took steps back without him. The Hawkeyes were fine when it was just Daniels that was missing but the performance dropped too much when it was Daniels and Welsh that were out. He's the most consistent blocker on the team, pass game or run game. He's the most consistent. Welsh is a fantastic player and he's going to enter next season with a lot of preseason honors and accolades. He's a great player now.