Derek Young/SCOUT

2017 Iowa Spring Football Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

A projection, evaluation, and analysis of Iowa's wide receiver and tight ends group.

WIDE RECEIVERS

STARTER: MATT VANDEBERG, JERMINIC SMITH, ADRIAN FALCONER
BACK-UP: RONALD NASH, DEVONTE YOUNG
OTHERS: NONE
INCOMING: BRANDON SMITH, MAX COOPER, HENRY MARCHESE, IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE

2016 GRADE: D

ANALYSIS: It was a bad position group last year. They weren't getting open. They were dropping balls that did come their way at a much higher rate than previous years. There was no pressure being put on the defense and the offense got bogged down extremely and became largely one-dimensional. There were a handful of games where they were unable to tally 100 yards through the air. 

The one positive spot at times throughout the season was the play of Riley McCarron in the slot. He was the obvious replacement for that receiver spot once Matt VandeBerg went down with a season-ending injury. He was able to have some success in that area. He's a good short-space player. But unfortunately McCarron is the one receiver that graduated. There was also attrition as Jay Scheel had his career cut short due to injuries and Ryan Boyle makes the move back to quarterback. 

Just because he's not on scholarship does not mean that Ronald Nash should not be mentioned. He's probably going to see the field more this upcoming season than he ever has, and some of it has to do with there just not being a lot of other options at this point. He'll have a headstart on the incoming frosh. 

The tight ends are a different story. This should be a strength for the offense, along with having Wadley back and practically the entire offensive line returning. They weren't bad in 2016 but they were a bit limited too because of the youth and the lingering injury for departing senior George Kittle. They never reached their potential because the inexperience was thrusted into a bad situation and before they were ready, and the star of the show was sideline and hindered immensely.

Though they lose Kittle, 2017 could be a different story. Noah Fant gets a full offseason under his belt. T.J. Hockenson and Shaun Beyer are two others fully capable of making a mark as well and they'll see the field for the first time this season. They're all pretty good receiving weapons. Hockenson broke records in high school, Fant flashed this past season as a receiver, and Beyer was a wide receiver last season which tells you all that you need to know. 

Coons will redshirt. It'll be interesting to see if Jon Wisnieski or Nate Vejvoda can get healthy enough to make any moves on the depth chart. They've both been hindered for most of their careers so far and unable to impact the game or see any real action.

OUTLOOK: The good thing is there's not really any other way to go but up. And they are making a consummate effort to overhaul the position. Guys have left. Guys have switched positions. They'll have five newcomers if you add in junior college transfer Nick Easley. To top it all off, they'll be headed by a new position coach in Kelton Copeland who makes his way to Iowa City from the Northern Illinois staff. 

I already mentioned it but this position just has to improve. It would be difficult to be that bad again. Getting Matt VandeBerg back for an entire season would go a long way in that development. The problem would be that he's re-injured that foot again and will miss all of Spring football most likely. Now VandeBerg doesn't necessarily need spring football like younger players do. He's already got the offense paved into his memory frontwards and backwards, and he is who he is, so at this point they don't lose anything with him not being active in March and April. They'll want his leadership and presence out there for the younger wideouts but him not being able to play does not set him back developmentally like it would others. Have him 100 percent and ready to go for the season opener and that's all that matters.

The Spring is huge for Jerminic Smith, Adrian Falconer, Devonte Young, and Ronald Nash. It's a shame that none of the newcomers are enrolling early. I know Iowa does not lean on early enrollees or like to go that route much but it could have been a huge lift this year in regards to the wideouts if they had. One of the real issues this Spring may just having enough bodies to line up at wide receiver at times. Could we see a defensive back switch over to offense? I'd actually bank on it. There's no depth there for the Spring at wideout or enough bodies because half the wideouts on the roster are newcomers that haven't arrived on campus yet. 

I think thus far that the developments from Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer have been disappointing. I think a lot of folks, me included, expected and feel like they should be farther along than they currently are. For Falconer, there have been some issues that have held him back, one being some lingering injuries. Jerminic Smith has some real talent that has yet to be exploited or polished. If you're looking for one thing that needs to happen for this offense to turn the corner, for the passing offense to turn the corner, it would be that the potential of Jerminic Smith has to be realized. I think we get a better Jerminic Smith this upcoming year.  

All in all, I think Jerminic Smith and VandeBerg both start, obviously. The third spot should be a battle between Devonte Young and Adrian Falconer initially. My prediction would be that Devonte Young ends up winning that job but Falconer should enter the spring football period as the leader in the clubhouse. Could other freshmen impact that? Yes. I think two lose a redshirt immediately in Max Cooper and Brandon Smith. Smith-Marsette could as well but that's probably more of a 50/50 call right now. Marchese should redshirt.

Cooper is a slot and the obvious next replacement for VandeBerg. He needs to play some this season to be ready to jump in there in 2018. That means he won't be in line for that third starting job alongside Devonte Young and Falconer. That would be Brandon Smith that could insert himself into that discussion, but that would probably be something that would occur deeper into the season and not the beginning. 

In terms of the tight ends, Fant should be the unquestioned starter but three or four usually play. Pekar will play of course as a situational guy again. He's not the receiving weapon that Fant is, but Fant isn't the blocker that Pekar is. Both have an entire offseason to round out their games, though. Those should be the main two and they'll need to become complete players in a hurry to prevent offensive tendencies. Outside of those two, it should be open competition between everyone else like Beyer, Hockenson, Vejvoda and Wisnieski. 

QUOTES

"And Jerry Kill endorsed (Kelton Copeland), don't get me wrong. It's hard, they want to check that out, and they almost did it, but they did. Everywhere he's gone he's been successful. That's one thing about the resumes or something about people. Either they're around success or they're not. Sometimes it's out of your control, I get that. But there is a theme sometimes. So, you know, that's respect for Coach Kill. So his words certainly carried a lot of weight, but there were other people, too, that people that worked alongside you, that type of thing, what do they say about you, what do they think about you? And former players, those kinds of things. How do they view a coach? It's like anything. It's like our players, what do they do while they're in town, or what they do when they're in the dormitory or wherever it may be. We know who they are in our building and on the field, but what's the rest of the story. Those things are really important, I think, in their success. - Kirk Ferentz

"Ryan Boyle's going back to quarterback. Have we said that or not? I'm losing track where we are in this stuff. We've kind of focused on this. But Ryan wants to go back to quarterback, so we've made that move. Not that we've done anything football-wise, but I know he's out throwing the ball, that type of thing. That's probably the biggest thing at this point. So, it's just good to get everybody on board right now. We can get moving on football here a little bit and start pushing for it. Because you're asking about the passing game. That's on the board right now being chalked up a little bit. That's where we're at on that whole thing. So we'll go in with an open book. The defense is a little further along in their offseason study, but that will be the fun right now. Most importantly it's for everybody to get to know their players, not just Tim, not just Kelton, but also Brian's going to be with the backs now. So those transitions in the quarterback." - Kirk Ferentz

"Looking at this program from afar and getting to know Coach Ferentz before this process even took place, he's a guy I respected in our profession. Basing off what he said about hiring coaches, looking for somebody to hire, we always looked at him as a guy that if you had an opportunity to get to know, you want to get to know him. When the opportunity came to interview with Coach Ferentz and the Iowa program, we were excited for the opportunity, and full-steam ahead. And here we are, so I guess it worked out on both ends." - Kelton Copeland

"I feel comfortable in all aspects, to be honest with you. I've recruited, obviously you've checked out my bio and my resume, and I've recruited a lot of different areas: South Florida, Chicago, Kansas, Kansas City area, Detroit, Indianapolis, so forth and so on. So to say is one more area more comfortable for me than another? No, absolutely not. I'm born and raised in Miami, Florida, so obviously if I have the opportunity to recruit down there, so be it. I'm totally fine down there. If it's Chicago, if it's Kansas City, wherever Coach Ferentz and the rest of the staff decides to put me, I'm confident in my abilities. I know what we're looking for. I know what our goals are with this program and the type of kids we want here. And wherever I'm placed, I feel like I'm going to do a great job getting those guys here and helping us win championships." - Kelton Copeland

"Anytime you walk into a room, it's always a challenge for the first time. These guys are looking at you, and you're looking at them and they're wondering and you're wondering, the whole deal to me is everybody gets a clean slate. Doesn't matter what you've done good or bad, what I've done good or bad, this is the first time we're meeting, right? So the first impression is always the biggest impression, the most important impression. So the biggest thing moving forward when I walk into that room is going to be how can we help Iowa be better? How can we help each other be better, how can we get on the same page and work toward one goal? That's all that matters." - Kelton Copeland

"My philosophy is simple: be straight up, be honest, have a plan, and let them know I'm going to do everything I can in my power to help you along the way. Not only to make you a good football player, but help you become a good man. One of my core values is honesty. That's the most important thing to me. If we have a true relationship where we can trust each other, we have something to build off of. No matter if you played every down of your career here, or if you don't play one down here. If you're honest with me and loyal and we're working toward the same goal, we'll always have a great relationship. If at any time that trust gets broken, then we'll have an issue. In my experience, that usually doesn't happen. If they trust you, they'll buy into what you're coaching." - Kelton Copeland

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