First of all, let me say that ranking high school football players is a very hard and unscientific process. That is one reason why I am not involved in The Insiders ranking system.
There is no one person that sees every prospect, be it in person or on film. And even if you did, what separates the 50th best offensive lineman from the 60th best offensive lineman?
In short, recruiting rankings, regardless of the service you put the most faith in, should be viewed as mostly entertaining, informative from the standpoint of identifying the targets that Iowa is after and telling you about them, but NOT something that should cause you to lose a lot of sleep at night.
Afterall, Iowa's recruiting classes in ‘98, ‘99 and '00 were ranked at or near the bottom of the Big Ten by all of the services. Yet, several of the players in those classes have played a key role in helping Iowa win 20 games over the past two seasons, something the program has never done over a two year span.
The two most important aspects in recruiting, in my opinion, are identifying talent and then developing that talent once they arrive on campus. As we have seen, the Iowa coaching staff does not take a backseat to any football program in America when it comes to those factors.
So, for the sake of entertainment purposes, let's go star gazing.
The Insiders assigns a ‘star value' to prospects in addition to ranking several of them. The more stars a player has, he is deemed to be a ‘better' player. The Insiders has as five-star system, with five stars being a ‘can't miss' blue chip talent, and a one-star player being someone that has not necessarily been on the ‘national' or ‘regional' recruiting radar screen.
I can not remember how many ‘stars' Bob Sanders had, but it was not more than two, with one star being the most likely rating, due to Bob's relative anonymity.
Also, if a player has several offers from ‘traditional' college football powers, that will influence what their star ranking might be, even if people have not seen them play in person or on tape. Is that fair or judicious? No, but as I said, rating recruits is an inexact proposition.
Of Iowa's 13 known verbal commitments, eight of them received at least a three-star rating from The Insiders. As a point of reference, that is probably the highest such percentage through 13 recruits during the Ferentz era, meaning that this class is shaping up as perhaps the best recruiting class that Kirk and his staff have put together, on paper.
Leading the way is five-star prospect Kyle Williams of Bollingbrook, Illinois. This all-American is rated by The Insiders as the third best linebacker in the country and as the 10th best player in the nation regardless of position.
The next highest rated recruit that Iowa has received a verbal commitment from came on Sunday, when Juco cornerback and four-star prospect Walner Belleus pledged to the black and gold. He fills a great need for Iowa and adds instant depth at the cornerback position, something Iowa has been looking for over the last two or three recruiting classes. He will challenge Antwan Allen for the starting position next year and he will be able to work out with the team and participate in Spring drills as he will enroll at Iowa next month. Should he land a starting position, you might see Iowa play more man-to-man defensive sets next year.
Next come several ‘three-star' prospects.
Running back Shonn Greene committed to Iowa this past weekend and that was a big boost to this class. It really hurts, no matter the year, when you do not land a solid running back prospect in a recruiting class, and Greene certainly is just that. He has good size (5-11 1/2 , 200-pounds) and has solid speed (a reported 4.40 in the 40-yard dash). He was one of the best backs in South Jersey this year, just like future Hawkeye teammate Albert Young was last year in South Jersey.
Linebacker Anton Narinskiy was a solid get for Iowa. He is a great student and a superb athlete. Safety Harold Dalton might be the best safety prospect, on paper, that Iowa has landed during the Ferentz era, and he has a high school teammate in Nyere Aumaitre that visited Iowa this weekend. More on that in a bit.
Adam Shada, (should his health permit, as he had a rib removed due to blood clot complications back in October) is another solid defensive back commit for the Iowa program. A pair of Iowans in Mitch King and Ted Bentler also come in with a three-star rating. Bentler committed to Iowa in September of 2002, which probably kept his rating from hitting the four-star range. He was hearing form Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma and others at the time he accepted Iowa's offer.
All told thus far, roughly 62% of Iowa's recruiting class has a rating of three stars or better, compared to last years 50% ratio for the entire 22-man recruiting class. Again, these ratings are not as important as what the Iowa coaches saw in these kids that led them to offer them scholarships and what Chris Doyle and the rest of the staff will do with them once they arrive. But it is a decent indicator of the talent level with some of these players.
Here is the position breakdown from the commitments thus far:
Defensive Backs: 4 Belleus is the only true corner in the bunch, but Adam Shada and Bradley Fletcher have played the position in the past. Fletcher was an All Ohio selection at safety this year, but practiced at corner as well as playing that position as a junior.
Linebackers: 4 Williams seems a lock to stay at linebacker, but Narinskiy, Matt Kroul and Mitch King have the frames to possibly make the move to DE or even DT at some point. Narinskiy will probably stay at the position and fight to replace Chad Greenway down the road after Chad has used up his eligibility.
Defensive Line: 3 Bentler might stay at DE, but he has the frame to perhaps move inside and be a dominating force on the interior. Grant McCracken on Ankeny projects at defensive end at this point.
Wide Receiver: 1 Andy Brodell of Ankeny is one of the state's best track and field athletes and had an outstanding year as a running back for Ankeny.
Tight End: Michael Sabers of Iowa City West might not stay at this position, as a move to offensive line has been a hot rumor since he committed earlier this fall.
Running Back: 1 Shonn Greene.
So what can we expect with the remaining 12 scholarships?
One glaring ‘hole' at this point for this season's recruiting efforts is the offensive line. I would expect Iowa to try and take three or four linemen with their remaining 12 scholarships, and if the right players want to come to Iowa, it could be more like five.
Heading that wish list is the fourth rated lineman in the nation, Erie's Kyle Mitchum. Mitchum has narrowed his choices down to three schools: Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan. Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe are set to meet with him in his home this week.
Two other four star prospects that Iowa is involved with are Jeremy Zuttah of New Jersey and Roland Martin of Illinois. Zuttah was in Iowa City this past weekend and Martin still mentions Iowa as getting a possible visit, but after following his recruitment this year, it is hard to get a good grip on what he is thinking or what he will do. But such is the case with several 18 year olds.
Three-star prospect Carlos Feliciano is set to visit Iowa in late January and he has offers from Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland, Virginia and Iowa, among others. The New Jersey native has already visited Ohio State.
Are you picking up on the New Jersey references? Tell me that Barry Alvarez might be regretting letting go of former Badger and current Hawkeye assistant coach Darrell Wilson right about now. Wilson used to coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in the Garden State and I can not remember Iowa in on so many New Jersey kids since Bernie Wyatt opened that pipeline back in the 1980's as a member of Hayden Fry's coaching staff.
Three-star prospect and Nebraska verbal commitment Seth Olsen was in Iowa City this weekend and he had a solid visit. Depending on what happens with Nebraska's search for a new head coach, Olsen is now open to the Hawkeyes. He is a teammate of Iowa commit Adam Shada.
Nyere Aumatire just visited Iowa this past weekend and came away very impressed with the Hawkeye program and he told Hawkeyenation.com that Iowa is now his leader.
Outside of the offensive line, wide receiver is another position that Iowa would like to fortify with this recruiting class.
They are in on some of the biggest names out there in Cedar Rapids prospect Adrian Arrington and New Jersey's Dwayne Jarrett. Both of those players are top 10 national prospects and the longer each player goes without choosing a school; the better Iowa's chances are at landing one or both of them.
Arrington has said publicly that he does not care for the cold weather, but Michigan is one of the schools that is high on his list, along with UCLA. But Iowa's putting together back-to-back New Year's Day (and later) bowl berths certainly helped their chances. Michigan already has a commit from a Top 21 receiver and they are involved with seven of the nation's top 21 receiver prospects. Wow.
USC appears to be Iowa's competition with Jarrett, but the Trojans just picked up a verbal commitment from the 15th ranked wide out in the nation on Saturday. USC is involved with seven of the top 15 receivers in the nation. Double wow.
If they can, I would think that Iowa would love to land at least two of these players.
On the defensive line front, Iowa's top target at this time is Dwayne Hendricks of Millville, New Jersey. He had a lights out visit last month when he came to Iowa City. The Iowa coaches felt so good about it that they gave Dwayne Jarrett's phone number to Hendricks to do some lip service for them. I feel that Iowa is the leader for this four-star prospect who rates among the top five defensive ends in the nation.
Illinois prospect Tim Jamison is also still on the radar screen and Kyle Williams is helping Iowa's cause here.
I could see Iowa taking two more defensive linemen.
Though the Hawks just landed Walner Belleus at the corner position, they hope they are not done at that spot.
Charles Godfrey of Bayton, Texas visited Iowa last week and was in Columbia, MO this past weekend. It is going to come down to Iowa or Mizzou and he should decide within the few days. He is a former teammate of Iowa quarterback Drew Tate and he is coached by Tate's father, Dick Olin. He is also the brother of Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson.
With the coaching uncertainty at Nebraska still looming large, Iowa is still very much in the mix for Cortney Grixby, one of the two best prep corners in America. They are also involved with Marcus Randle El, brother of former Indiana quarterback and Hawkeye tormentor Antwan. I don't see Iowa turning down any two of these three, or all three, should Randle El and Godfrey commit to Iowa before Grixby. What I am saying is that if Grixby wants to come to Iowa, the Hawkeyes would not turn him down.
At tight end, Octavious Darby is the top prospect on Iowa's board. Iowa, Florida and NC State have offered and he has visited Iowa and NC State. He still plans to visit Tennessee and Miami, but neither of those schools has offered as of this time.
Iowa's primary quarterback targets are dwindling, as Chase Patton committed to the hometown Missouri Tigers this weekend. Daryll Clark of Youngstown, Ohio is still on Iowa's wish list and he is schedule to be in Iowa City this coming weekend. West Virginia was the early favorite, but since they received a QB commitment from another player, their contact with Clark has stopped.
Linebacker Chenry Lewis was also in Iowa City this weekend, and Iowa has an offer on the table for this one-time Pittsburgh commit.
Another aspect of recruiting is what happens to the ‘target list' once some of the ‘bigger fish' begin to commit elsewhere? This is not a slight to any player, it's just a fact of recruiting. There are tiers that every coaching staff sets. Once a few kids commit elsewhere from your higher tier, you begin to move down the list. Many solid performers from the Iowa teams in recent years were ‘fallback' recruits, as they are called in the recruiting vernacular. Robert Gallery was a lightly regarded tight end.
Here are some possible names from the state of Iowa:
At quarterback, Joel Osborne. Osborne led Harlan to the state championship this year in Iowa's class 3A. He threw a state-record 42 touchdown passes this season, including 18 in the playoffs and 76 on his career. He also threw for 3,254 yards this season. Harlan beat Mt. Vernon 38-35 for the 3-A state title and Osborn was named the Des Moines Register's Elite Team QB for 2003.
Osborn is 6-3, 185 and Harlan had a wide-open offense. In the state title game, Osborn was 13 of 22 for 282 yards with two touchdown passes.
At the tight end position, you might want to remember the name of Brandon Meyer of PCM and Brandon Vonnahme of Carroll. At one point, Meyer was getting a look from the Iowa basketball program.
When putting together a story like this, it's inevitable that a few names might not appear that some people feel should have been in the story. If you don't see a name mentioned here that you feel should be included, that does not necessarily mean that things have gone south with regards to Iowa's recruitment of the would be player.
It just means that this piece is approaching 2,800 words (six pages of Microsoft Word) and I can't list them all.
So with the remaining 12 scholarships that we believe are available, here is how I could see it shaking out:
Offensive Line: 4
Wide Receiver: 2
Cornerback: 1 or 2
DL/LB: 2 or 3
QB: zero or 1
Running back: 1
I hope that you have enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It should be a wild ride on the recruiting trails over the course of the next seven weeks, and Iowa has the chance to put together the best recruiting class of the Ferentz era, at least on paper.
Thank goodness we all know that this staff can do a lot with whoever they land; that makes following Iowa football recruiting all the more intruiging.
Do you want to see many of these prospects on 'film' for yourself? Hawkeyenation.com can bring you your very own copy of most of the preps that commit to Iowa this year on a Hawkeye Recruiting DVD that will be mailed out after signing day. For more details, CLICK HERE
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The next several weeks are the busiest weeks of the year in recruiting, and Hawkeyenation.com's Josh Clark and Jon Miller will keep you up to date with the latest commitments and news.