No. 38 -- Wide receiver depth

Who's for real in Iowa's 'best of the rest' wide receivers?

Marc Morehouse
Published: July 22 2013 | 11:30 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 6:03 pm in
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Redshirt freshman Cameron Wilson is kind of the front man for what we'll term here as the "best of the rest" wide receivers.

Led by junior Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa has "tier one" receivers. Well, Martin-Manley might be the only legit resident of tier one. He caught 52 passes last season. The next WR in line is senior Jordan Cotton, who caught 12 passes. So, yes, Martin-Manley and then . . .

Wilson begins the "best of the rest" because of a tremendous performance in the spring game. The 6-1, 200-pounder caught 10 passes for 131 yards. He looked extremely natural catching the ball. He showed the best body control of any receiver during the scrimmage. The caveat is how surprised head coach Kirk Ferentz seemed to be at the performance, calling it Wilson's best day.

For the rest of the "best of the rest," we'll go to the five receivers Iowa signed in February. You saw how much of a position of need WR was last fall. Time will tell if Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell, Andre Harris, Damond Powell and A.J. Jones contribute this season.

Key 2012 factor: Let's expand this to the WR position as a whole. In his preseason magazine, college football analyst/impresario Phil Steele put three wide receiver positions on his four preseason all-Big Ten teams. That's 12 with none from Iowa. Big Ten Network writer Tom Dienhart ranked Iowa's receivers No. 10 in his preseason rankings. Athlon also ranks Iowa's receivers No. 10. So, 10th seems to be a consensus.

In his fine and really well researched preseason Iowa post, USA Today's Paul Myerberg wrote of the Iowa WRs, "This group scares no one." In my "Four Downs with the WRs" post in February, I wrote "Iowa’s offense going into 2013 won’t scare anyone. The Hawkeyes ranked No. 118 in the nation last season in plays from scrimmage of 10-yards or more with 132."

Beyond preseason rankings, let's look at what happened on the field in '12. Iowa receivers combined for 121 receptions, the second lowest total in the last five seasons. Iowa receivers caught just 107 passes in 2008, when Iowa had Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, his record 1,850 yards and 20 TDs and when Iowa rushed for 2,453 yards, nearly 1,000 more than the Hawkeyes had last season (1,476).

So, key factor is Iowa 1) needs receivers and 2) the passing game, obviously, needs some growth and refinement.

Offseason factor: Was Wilson's spring for real? Wilson was probably the least heralded of the three receivers signed in the 2012 recruiting class. Tevaun Smith played last season. Greg Mabin has since moved to safety. We didn't see Wilson on the field much during the two scrimmages last August (two catches for 7 yards). During the West Des Moines spring scrimmage, Wilson had one catch for 3 yards.

And then, boom, the spring scrimmage at Kinnick. Does it mean anything? We'll see, but one thing to keep in mind is Iowa/Kirk Ferentz/Greg Davis are trying to sort out a three-man race at QB. Passing was a centerpiece this spring, and you have to say Wilson made the most of it (even though it was just one practice).

Iowa signed five WRs in February. That is "the" offseason factor.

Competition: OK, we totaled receptions for the wide receiver position in the last five seasons. How many receivers caught the ball? In the last five years starting with last season, Iowa has used six, six, six, seven and eight receivers during the year (at least receivers who logged a catch). If you lop off WRs who caught passes in the single digits, you have three, three, four, four and three.

Iowa is looking for three or four real contributors here. Iowa had six scholarship WRs this spring. Throw in walk-ons, including junior Blake Haluska and redshirt freshman Riley McCarron. And when camp opens, the five signees and at least three more walk-ons.

That's roughly 17 bodies competing for three or four real roles in the offense. Yes, some competitors are more realistic than others, but first-year receivers coach Bobby Kennedy has some editing to do.

Why No. 38?: We don't know what to expect from Wilson and the rest of the rest, but we do know that Iowa needs a boost at WR. Ferentz and Davis talked this spring about the need for explosive plays. Ferentz said it's hard to be perfect for 14 plays on four drives a game for 28 points. Can Iowa find some explosion at wide receiver?

Outlook: Receiver No. 1 has got to be Martin-Manley. I think we all can agree on that. Does he need some refinement? He'd be the first one to tell you that. After KMM . . . The best of the rest has some talent in it. I want to know if Wilson's spring performance was something. Davis and Kennedy said this spring that they didn't feel as though a new receiver had to come in and contribute.

Still, Iowa did sign Powell from Snow College, a junior college power in football. You'd obviously be more comfortable if Powell was in Iowa City all summer, but it was understood when he signed that he wouldn't report until fall camp. Ferentz acknowledged that playing shape would be a concern with Powell, but he's a juco at a need position. He's in the plans, but he hasn't been here. Plan your expectations accordingly.

If any of the new receivers show some explosive potential, they will get a long look.

Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.

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