Four Downs with the receivers (spring edition)

New offensive coordinator Greg Davis may put more emphasis on the passing game

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April 3, 2014 | 2:31 pm

QUICK LOOK BACK: How 'bout that Marvin McNutt?

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder put up the best season ever for an Iowa wide receiver, setting the yardage (1,315) and touchdown receptions (12) records and tying the receptions (82). He holds all of Iowa's career records except receptions. He's training for the NFL draft right now and will likely be a second- or third-round pick in April, becoming the first Iowa WR to be drafted since Kahlil Hill in 2002.

After McNutt -- who clearly was QB James Vandenberg's go-to from the minute he passed on the NFL draft last January -- Iowa receiver tiered decisively. Keenan Davis finished with 50 receptions, which would've led Iowa receivers in three of the last five seasons. Redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley caught 30 passes.

The next receiver after the big three was Steven Staggs' five receptions. So yeah, pretty big drop-off.

Tight ends clocked in with their lowest output since 2007, with C.J. Fiedorowicz catching 16 passes to lead Iowa TEs. In '07, Brandon Myers led with 21  receptions.

The drop in tight end production was a big deal. It partially explains McNutt's jump in production (his previous high for receptions was 53 in 2010). It's an even bigger deal when you consider this Kirk Ferentz quote from Big Ten media days last summer (talking about Iowa's offense):

"We’ll do whatever we have to, but we are going to play tight ends, I promise you," he said. "Never say never. But I’m pretty sure we’ll never drop our tight ends."

He's also joked that when Iowa loses, his wife, Mary, says it's because they didn't throw to the tight end enough.

FOURTH DOWN -- CONCERNS: There was a stat that floated around in December that had Iowa leading the Big Ten in drops. This stat is not kept, at least on an official basis, so skepticism abounds.

There is an air of plausibility to this. The drops piled up in the second half of the season, the Nebraska game and Insight Bowl in particular. Everyone had a hand, pardon the pun, in it, too. Davis, the heir apparent to No. 1 numbers, would be the first one to tell you he had too many drops.

"I can't go out there and drop passes anymore," Davis said after the Insight. "I've got to lead by example."

After drops, you go to experience. Iowa has Davis and Martin-Manley with solid experience. Staggs made a move last season and earned a scholarship for his senior year. Remember the first time Davis ruined his ankle last season? The next game was Minnesota, where we saw Staggs and Jordan Cotton take their first steps in real playing time.

One way to look at it is Iowa basically uses three wide receivers and you know Nos. 1 and 2 are Davis and Martin-Manley. No. 3 is wide open and that means historically that 15 to 30 receptions are up for grabs. The No. 4 WR has caught five, 11, 14, 13 and 19 in the last five years. So, don't dismiss No. 4. And, as we saw with Davis' injury, it doesn't hurt to have Nos. 5 and 6 in mind.

At tight end, the question is consistency. There's no question that the light went on for Fiedorowicz last season. He caught 14 of his 16 receptions in Iowa's final six games. Subsequently, he was shut out in five of Iowa's first seven games. Zach Derby didn't catch a pass in Iowa's final three games.

Fiedorowicz builds off the second half of his 2011, Iowa might have a difference maker.

THIRD DOWN -- ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Is it easier to replace an outgoing senior when you know you have to prepare for his departure? Is it more difficult than replacing a left offensive tackle who leaves early for the the NFL?

Probably "no" on both accounts. So, pop some popcorn for the NFL draft in April and watch Marvin McNutt go to the . . . well, who knows?

Marcus Grant caught one pass as a true freshman last season and seemed set on the path for playing time in '12, but he left the Hawkeyes in December before the Insight Bowl. The Massachusetts native wanted to transfer closer to home and was considered a good get for Boston College.

Grant would've been in it for playing time this season, but that opens the door for Jacob Hillyer, a 6-4, 195-pounder who redshirted last season. Hillyer went on the Purdue and Nebraska road trips last season. He wasn't going to play, but it was more reward for what he did in practice, which can't be a bad thing.

Iowa signed three wide receivers in February. You can meet Greg Mabin, Tevaun Smith and Cameron Wilson by clicking their names. The vibe was that Mabin might have the best shot at seeing the field out of the three.

Don't discount the possibility of a little creativity here. What if incoming safety Ruben Lile comes into campus closer to 6-4 than 6-2? Receiver also was attached to incoming freshman Kevin Buford's name.

At tight end, Brad Herman is off to try to make an NFL roster. He was "next" in line at tight end, following Tony Moeaki and Allen Reisner. He admirably jumped into the game as a true freshman and seemed poised for a payoff. It didn't happen. Mental errors cost him playing time and he finished with eight catches.

SECOND DOWN -- BATTLES BREWING: It's going to be pretty hard for any WR to move Davis and Martin-Manley out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots. (For what it's worth, both were listed as "Z" receivers in the slot last spring.) The battle is for No. 3.

What does that mean production-wise? Here's a breakdown of the No. 3 WR the last five seasons:

Kevonte Martin-Manley 30-383 3 TDs

Colin Sandeman 21-227 2 TDs

Trey Stross 31-414 1 TD

Stross 13-109 1 TD

Paul Chaney Jr. 19-210 1 TD

Herb Grigsby 27-282 0 TD

Grigsby 25-335 3 TD

So, on average, 24 receptions, 227 yards and 1.6 TDs are up for grabs. Who's in this?

Hillyer -- Should be an interesting spring for Iowa's biggest wideout. His prep coach at Somerset (Texas) High School was Sonny Detmer, the father of college and NFL QBs Ty and Koy Detmer. So, maybe he has technique, which could be what decides this as much as speed or athleticism. The player who hits the ground running is most likely to soak up all-important reps.

Staggs -- The fact he was rewarded a scholarship in January speaks volumes. School is expensive, and Iowa coaches wanted to keep him around enough to offer free schooling. That puts him in the race.

Don Shumpert -- The 6-3, 187-pound junior is still looking for his first career reception.

Jordan Cotton -- Saw some payoff with playing time last season.

Walk ons -- Sophomore Blake Haluska is now listed at 6-4, 210. Maybe he's ready to make a move? Don't forget Nick Nielsen, a constant on special teams who moved to WR after three years at safety.

Freshman -- Iowa coaches seemed sold on Mabin's toughness. That word carries a lot of weight. Smith has a strong track resume. Wilson might be the most raw.

You might hear one of these names 24 times next season.

Iowa routinely uses three tight ends. Those three will be Fiedorowicz, Derby and Hamilton. The other two on scholarship are Henry Krieger-Coble and Jake Duzey. If there's injury, the question will be who's the better blocker? That will be the one who plays.

FIRST DOWN -- PREDICTIONS FOR 2012: Here's what I predicted for Marvin McNutt in last spring's "Four Downs": 65 receptions for 900 yards and 10 TDs. Not too far off. Didn't take into account Spiderman abilities.

For Davis, I had 35 receptions for 500 and five for Davis. I guessed that Martin-Manley would emerge as the No. 3 and grab 28 for 350 yards and three TDs. Little off on Davis, who finished with 50 for 713 and four TDs. Martin-Manley finished 30 for 323 and three TDs.

This is dangerous territory, but let's give this a shot. Factors that will cause an upward trend: 1) Questions at running back (notice in 2008, Iowa had a Doak Walker running back and the No. 3 receiver caught 13 passes), 2) Iowa could lean pass to set up the run with veteran QB James Vandenberg, 3) new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will give Iowa an element of surprise. Right now, no one knows what Iowa's offense will look like.

So, for Davis, let's go 75 for 800 and eight TDs; 55 for 650 and seven TDs for KMM. I'm going to guess Hillyer for No. 3 with 35, 325 yards and three TDs.

At tight end, I could see Fiedorowicz between 40-45 receptions for 450 yards and five TDs.

Total guesstimates. Fire away.

   

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