Riley McCarron has graduated. Jerminic Smith has been dismissed. Jay Scheel is out of the picture. Other wideouts such as Andre Harris and Emmanuel Ogwo have moved on. Ryan Boyle has moved back to quarterback. This position is about as depleted as it could be. The easy answer for the starting three receivers would be the scholarship guys that return; Devonte Young, Matt VandeBerg and Adrian Falconer. But to be honest, I have little confidence that those will be the three starters for the first snap of the opener.
I think VandeBerg will be there if healthy. He'll man the slot spot if he's capable. Devonte Young still has much to prove but he does have the confidence of the staff to an extent, or at least more than most of the receivers. He played sparingly a season ago and they had words of praise for him for what he was doing as just a true freshman. I would lock in those two. I'm not as confident on Falconer landing a starting job.
Who are the other candidates? Well, assuming VandeBerg is in good health, that would likely cross off Max Cooper. Cooper arrives in the Fall and is likely the incumbent to VandeBerg in the slot. But Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith are two true frosh that should be in the picture, as well as junior college walk-on Nick Easley who arrived in January and was a full participant in spring football.
My concern with Easley would not have anything to do with ability as he has the talent to start as a receiver on this squad. But how well does he know the different wideout positions? We mainly saw him only be used as a slot receiver in the Spring. If that's his only comfort at this point, then he may not be in the discussion for a starting role. Right now, I'd tab Brandon Smith as the third guy and to play on the outside alongside Devonte Young with VandeBerg in the slot.
After Brandon Smith, Devonte Young and VandeBerg is a mixed bag at receiver. Of course there's Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Max Cooper, Nick Easley and Adrian Falconer and I expect all to play in some capacity. Ronald Nash should be vying for a rotational role as well.
It'll be interesting to see how they approach the slot after VandeBerg departs, and what the plan is for Easley. The slot spot could be taken over by either Easley or Max Cooper. Easley, however, does have traits that should apply to other spots so the focus will likely be for him to become more familiar with multiple positions.
As Brian Ferentz so bluntly described it, this position is a mess. I wouldn't expect much more production from this group than what we saw in 2017, if any. I think there still should be concern on how healthy VandeBerg will be. I know of no inside information in regards to that but injuring the same foot multiple times within a year is not a good sign for a receiver. Foot injuries in general typically plague wideouts a bit more than players at other positions. They are cutting, showcasing agility and acceleration, and placing pressure on that part of their body more than other spots on the field.
Aside from that, there's just a lot of youth that will be on the field. There's going to be seven scholarship wideouts on the roster this upcoming Fall and only three have ever played a down for the Hawkeyes. Only one has caught a pass. Combine that with the fact that you have an offensive line more comfortable at run-blocking and they'll be breaking in a new quarterback. The expectations for the passing game should be low.