Iowa football roster breakdown: Position options against tight scholarship numbers

Sad news: The most fastest wide receiver had a shoulder injury and one point man was suspended

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As the Iowa Hawkeyes brass closed the books on the early signing period last December, recruiting director Tyler Barnes knew his work only was partly completed. The transfer portal — both additions and subtractions — remained open, which made his job only more difficult.

“If you can tell us how our roster is going to look in two weeks, I’d happily give you a hard number,” Barnes said. “I think in this day and age, it’s extremely fluid.”

The Hawkeyes added five more scholarship players in the portal after that conversation, and in total, 11 scholarship players left via the portal during that cycle. In addition, two other players retired, one left early for the NFL, and another decided to focus on baseball.

This time around, the Hawkeyes face a numbers crunch when it comes to their roster. With four players entering the portal this week, the Hawkeyes have 64 athletes on scholarship plus at least 20 committed incoming players. Unlike last year, Iowa has little wiggle room to either add or retain a possible sixth-year player.

There are a few juniors who could declare for the NFL Draft, including defensive back Cooper DeJean, a likely first-round pick, and tight end Luke Lachey. Eight key players could return for an extra year of eligibility: linebacker Jay Higgins, tight end Erick All and defensive backs Sebastian Castro, Jermari Harris and Quinn Schulte, plus part-time starters like linebacker Kyler Fisher and offensive linemen Nick DeJong plus backup tackle Daijon Parker. Linebacker Nick Jackson could apply for a waiver based on his 2022 season ending early after a tragic shooting claimed three teammates’ lives at Virginia.

There are needs both related to and separate from the portal departures. Not everyone is going to walk away happy. A few oft-injured players might wind up with medical scholarships. A few extra-year candidates might not have a seat. And a few players in both camps probably will leave after wanting to stay. Such is life in major college football.

So with 84 players pledged for 2023, nine others with extra-year possibilities and a few holes to fill, let’s examine the Hawkeyes’ roster by position.

Breakdown: There is experience at this position, but is it reliable? McNamara is coming off ACL surgery on his left knee after other ligament repairs on his right knee ended his 2022 season. He battled through an injured right quad during the first month last year, and his statistics were less than ideal (51.1 completion percentage, four touchdowns, three interceptions). After McNamara tore his ACL in the fifth game, Hill stepped in and completed 49.4 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions. That’s why McNamara is the undisputed starter once he returns.

Considering McNamara’s injury-filled past, Hill’s struggles and Lainez not taking a snap, Iowa should kick the tires on a younger transfer. Perhaps either that quarterback or Lainez can emerge in spring training to become McNamara’s backup. Either way, the production at this position in 2023 is unacceptable. It would behoove Kirk Ferentz to line up a new offensive coordinator sooner rather than later so that person can become involved in quarterback decision-making.

Current Roster (5) — Leshon Williams, Jr.; Kaleb Johnson, Soph.; Jaziun Patterson, R-Fr.; Terrell Washington, Fr.; Kamari Moulton, Fr.

Committed (2) — Brevin Doll, Xavier Williams

Portal exit — None

Breakdown: It seems unusual for a team like Iowa to have three running backs of comparable talent — but different skills — willing to return after sharing carries, but that’s the situation Iowa faces right now. Perhaps that will change after the bowl game.

If one of the runners left, it’s doubtful they would be replaced in this cycle. Washington and Moulton had quality reps while filling in for Johnson and Patterson through their leg injuries. At this time, it’s a deep, deep room.

Roster (6) — Seth Anderson, Soph.; Kaleb Brown, R-Fr.; Jacob Bostick, R-Fr.; Jarriett Buie, Fr.; Dayton Howard, Fr.; Alex Mota, Fr.

Committed (2) — Reese VanderZee, K.J. Parker

Graduated (1) — Nico Ragaini

Portal exit (1) — Diante Vines, Jr.

Breakdown: As usual, Iowa has issues at wide receiver. Through 13 games, the receivers have totaled 71 receptions for 712 yards, which is still below last year’s mark of 76 catches for 796 yards. The 2022 totals were the lowest total in either category since 1982, and the Hawkeyes have an extra game to surpass them.

The Hawkeyes did find an emerging receiver, Brown, who transferred from Ohio State, although Anderson was not used enough this fall. The question the new offensive coordinator needs to ask is can Bostick or the three true freshmen become adequate rotational players?

Either way, adding at least one experienced receiver in the portal seems important.

Roster (5) — Luke Lachey, Jr.; Addison Ostrenga, Soph.; Zach Ortwerth, Fr.; Cael Vanderbush, R-Fr.; Grant Leeper, Fr.

Committed (2) — Michael Burt, Gavin Hoffman

Graduated (1) — Steven Stilianos

Extra-year possibility (1) — Erick All

Portal exit — None

Breakdown: This position has the most upside and the most questions on the offense. Lachey was well on his way to becoming a Mackey Award finalist before breaking his leg in Iowa’s third game. He hopes to play in the Citrus Bowl, but that remains undetermined. All still leads the Hawkeyes with 299 receiving yards and three touchdowns after tearing his ACL early in the seventh game. Both are NFL-caliber players but must decide whether another year at Iowa would boost their draft positioning or not affect it.

Should either one return, Iowa is in a great spot along with Ostrenga and Ortwerth, who started the Big Ten Championship Game. But if All and Lachey turn pro, the Hawkeyes should look at adding a portal candidate.

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