TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
He's a four-star prospect according to Scout so this seems obvious but he didn't get the buzz that I thought was warranted and perhaps because he was always a slam dunk to be a Hawkeye. He's 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. The goal is to be at 280-285 by the time he arrives for Fall camp. At that frame, with that footwork, and with the player development on the offensive line at Iowa, I think he's going to be an NFL player.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
This is another obvious pick due to ranking but we'd be doing everyone a disservice if we didn't fully express who clearly is the best prospect coming in. Epenesa plays from day one, and perhaps starts. He can move all over the defensive line as both Kelvin Bell and Kirk Ferentz said today. If they need help at defensive tackle, he could be the guy in small samples. He's listed at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds already and has a stunning skill set and a great combination of power, speed, and explosion.
Truth be told, I also considered wideout Brandon Smith and athlete Trey Creamer for this distinction. I think the three of them are the ones that fit best into the category of playmaker. I went with Smith-Marsette because of his speed and raw athleticism. I was also sold today by Kirk Ferentz who kept comparing him to Manny Rugamba in terms of athletic ability. That is saying a lot.
BIGGEST RECRUITING WIN
The ones that fit this category the best are Trey Creamer, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Matt Hankins. But the honors will go to Smith-Marsette. I didn't elect to go the route of A.J. Epenesa on this one because he knew he always wanted to go to Iowa. In Creamer's case, Rutgers still could have had him. They prevented a Michigan visit by Hankins but it quieted down substantially after that. Smith-Marsette wasn't a recruitment that Iowa was involved with for a long time but they were able to convince him to break his commitment from Rutgers and Minnesota both and nabbed his NLOI on Signing Day even though his mother was hoping for a different outcome.
I was down to two options here; running back Ivory Kelly-Martin and receiver Max Cooper. I think Kelly-Martin will have career very similar to that of Jordan Canzeri while Cooper's career should reflect Matt VandeBerg's. But Iowa is much more adept at running the ball so Kelly-Martin gets the nod. I think folks forget about him sometimes because he committed so early and quietly went about his business the rest of the way through.
The nominees for this award were Levi Duwa, Daviyon Nixon, Nate Wieland and Geno Stone. I think folks have high hopes already for Nixon and expect Duwa to be that steady contributor. I'll vote Nate Wieland the winner. The Hawkeyes do so well with players of his profile; the high school quarterback that wasn't recruited highly but flipped late to Iowa and played another position. Players with that kind of path to Iowa City tend to have very productive careers and it would not surprise me at all to see Wieland do the same.
It definitely was Eno Benjamin for quite a while but after he departed it was Peyton Mansell that assumed the leadership. He was the one sending out the signal of a new commit the past few weeks and did what he could to convince Smith-Marsette and Kyshaun Bryan to come to Iowa. He was also instrumental in keeping Matt Hankins from Michigan.
A.J. Epenesa has to be the answer here once again but I think he will be joined by wideout Brandon Smith, safety Djimon Colbert, athlete Trey Creamer and cornerback Matt Hankins as well. There could be a few more but those are the ones that I think are definitely going to avoid a redshirt year. But the biggest impact should be felt by Epenesa who is the most ready for the college game right now.
MOST SURPRISING COMMIT
It's the third award for Smith-Marsette. You could make a little bit of an argument here for Trey Creamer although Iowa really gathered some momentum following his official visit. Kyshaun Bryan was expected to pick the Hawkeyes over Pitt. Smith-Marsette's own mother preferred that he go somewhere other than Iowa and the Hawkeyes still got him. The mother usually wins those types of arguments so that was the biggest surprise commit to me and it happened today.
BIG RANKINGS RISER
The substantial rankings risers this year were Daviyon Nixon, Max Cooper, and Mark Kallenberger. Nixon went from widely unknown to jumping up into the highest group of three-star prospects so he will take the crown. He's a big 6-foot-5, 290 pound tackle that should fit a similar mold that Jaleel Johnson was and what Cedrick Lattimore is expected to be. Scout boosted him up towards the end of the recruiting cycle based on his leap in development his senior year and how he turned things around in the classroom.
Iowa has two legacies in the class in wideout Henry Marchese and defensive end A.J. Epenesa. Both are their fathers began their careers as walk-ons with the Hawkeyes. Marchese also has an older brother playing college football and a twin brother that may walk-on at Illinois. The bloodlines are real and strong in both families but the winner is Henry Marchese.
The prime contenders for this award were Brandon Smith, Mark Kallenberger, Daviyon Nixon, A.J. Epenesa, Djimon Colbert, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Matt Hankins. It was hard to pick one so we went with two, one on offense and one on defense.
The offensive payer is Brandon Smith. Smith-Marsette's athleticism and speed is intriguing but Smith brings a different element of size and skill set to the wide receiver that position that Iowa hasn't had in a while much like offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said today. That's hard to turn away from and ignore. Smith-Marsette has the moves and the speed and athleticism, but there's added elements of leaping ability, size, strength, and explosiveness with Smith. Kallenberger could be a future NFL guy and it was hard not to pick him.
Defensively, take your pick. This class has the makings of building a very strong core on the defensive side of the ball in my opinion. Hankins and Colbert will be very productive but when it came to the highest ceiling of potential I couldn't help but keep going back to the linemen Daviyon Nixon and A.J. Epenesa. Epenesa is a rare talent that has the upside to be a possible #1 overall pick. I can't say no to that.