Kirk Ferentz never would rank his current players for the public to see, so you’ll have to settle for my list of the top 31 players on the 2015 Iowa football team.
Why 31 you ask?
Because I couldn’t leave redshirt freshman backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers off the list under the current circumstances. I had planned on ranking the top 30 players, but expanded to 31 in order to make room for Wiegers.
The rankings are based mostly on three things: talent, experience and a player’s importance to the team. I don’t necessarily think that C.J. Beathard is the most talented player on the team, or the best player on the team. But when you combine his talent with his role as the starting quarterback for a team that has little depth at quarterback, Beathard is the obvious choice to top the list.
Jordan Walsh has yet to establish himself as an all-Big Ten caliber offensive lineman. But he still ranks eighth on the list because of his experience, which includes 24 career starts, and because of his importance to the team as the starting right guard. Iowa needs a fifth-year senior such as Walsh to elevate his level of performance to all-conference status.
Sophomore strong safety Miles Taylor would be ranked higher than No. 19 if the list were based solely on talent, whereas senior punter Connor Kornbrath wouldn’t be on the list under that circumstance.
The three linebackers who made the list did so mostly because they’re starters. However, top reserves Travis Perry and Cole Fisher also were considered and could make the list over time.
So just remember that talent and experience were just two of the factors in determining the rankings. The situation is also fluid, especially in the spring.
1. C.J. Beathard, Jr., quarterback: Football is considered the ultimate team sport, but so much of a team’s success revolves around the quarterback. Iowa will struggle if Beathard struggles.
2. Tevaun Smith, Sr., split end: It’s hard to imagine Iowa’s receivers being any kind of a threat without Smith leading the way. He is without question the best receiver on the team at stretching defenses and at gaining yards after the catch.
3. Drew Ott, Sr., defensive end: One of the best ways to overcome having to replace both starting defensive tackles is having an all-Big Ten defensive end of Drew Ott’s caliber to build around. He made second-team all-Big Ten last season and has started 25 games.
4. Austin Blythe. Sr., center: Coming off a season in which he made second-team all-Big Ten, Blythe is the new anchor to Iowa’s offensive line. The Williamsburg native has moved back to center on a permanent basis after playing both center and guard last season. Blythe has started 35 games for the Hawkeyes.
5. Marshall Koehn, Sr., kicker/punter: Any starting kicker would be ranked near the top of the list, especially for a team like Iowa, which has a history of playing in close games. Koehn would be ranked even higher if he wins the punting job.
6. Jordan Canzeri, Sr., running back: He starts at running back for a head coach who wants more than anything to ride his power rushing attack to glory. Assuming he can stay healthy, Canzeri will have a chance to shine to this fall.
7. Desmond King, Jr., cornerback: You could argue that the secondary is the strength to Iowa’s defense and maybe the best position on the team. You also could argue that King, with 25 starts under his belt, is the best player in Iowa’s defensive backfield.
8. Jordan Walsh, Sr. right guard: Any offensive lineman who starts for three years at Iowa deserves respect and a spot in the top 10.
9. Jaleel Johnson, Jr., defensive tackle: The time is now for this former 4-star recruit, who replaces departed senior and second-team all-Big Ten selection Carl Davis. Johnson doesn’t have to pick up where Davis left off, but Johnson has to hold his own in the trenches.
10. Josey Jewel, Soph., middle linebacker: Nothing against Jewel, but his ranking is based mostly on being the starting middle linebacker and its importance to any team. All three of Iowa’s starting linebackers were rushed into action last season, and it showed at times. The hope is that being a year older means being a year wiser and just being better.
11. Jake Duzey, Sr., tight end: He gets the edge over fellow co-starter Henry Krieger Coble because of his playmaking ability. Duzey ranked third on the team last season with 36 receptions for 392 yards, earning honorable mention all-Big Ten accolades.
12. Nate Meier, Sr, defensive end: He is undersized and by no means a star, but he started all 13 games last season and plays with a non-stop motor.
13. Boone Myers, Soph., left tackle: You could argue that Myers despite having little experience deserves a higher ranking because he has the daunting task of replacing one of the greatest offensive lineman in school history. He is also the protector of Beathard’s blindside.
14. Ike Boettger, Soph., right tackle: This ranking, much like Myers’ ranking, is based on Boettger’s importance to the team as the new starting right tackle more than anything else.
15. Greg Mabin, Jr., cornerback: Recruited out of Florida as a receiver, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Mabin has found a home at cornerback. He started 12 games last season, recording 53 tackles and one interception.
16. LeShun Daniels, Jr., running back: He has shown flashes of Shonn Greene-like talent, but still is mostly untested at the Big Ten level.
17. Jordan Lomax, Sr., free safety: The Maryland native made the move from cornerback to free safety last season and performed well at times. He led the squad with six pass break-ups and finished third on the team with 92 tackles.
18. Ben Niemann, Soph., outside linebacker: He played primarily on special teams last season, but showed a knack for making big plays, the biggest being a punt that he blocked and returned for a touchdown against Northwestern.
19. Miles Taylor, Soph., strong safety: Another Maryland native whose ability to make bone-jarring hits stood out during Saturday’s open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. I know I’m getting carried away, but Taylor made one hit that was reminiscent of the great Bob Sanders. Taylor has to play well because his backup, freshman Brandon Snyder, is gaining ground.
20. Darian Cooper, Jr., defensive tackle: And yet another Maryland native, Cooper’s experience is easy to forget since he missed all of last season because of an injury. He was a key reserve during his first two seasons.
21. Matt VandeBerg, Jr., receiver: He starts at receiver, returns punts and has been somewhat productive at doing both. He had 14 receptions for 256 yards and one touchdown last season, while also averaging 6.8 yards as Iowa’s primary punt returner.
22. Connor Kornbrath, Sr., punter: An effective and dependable punter would be ranked much higher. This is based solely on the importance of being the starting punter.
23. Bo Bower, Soph., will linebacker: The West Branch native was rushed into duty last season and struggled at times, along with the other young linebackers. The defense needs Bower as one of the starting linebackers to grow up in a hurry.
24. Henry Krieger Coble, Sr., tight end: He is listed first on the depth chart at tight end and deserves to be ranked for that alone.
25. Nathan Bazata, Soph., defensive tackle: What I just said about Krieger Coble fits for Bazata as a new starter at defensive tackle.
26. Jacob Hillyer, Sr., receiver: The Texas native is one of seven non-starters on the current depth chart to make the list. He caught 11 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown last season.
27. Adam Cox, Jr., fullback: He played extensively in 2013 and was listed as the starting fullback heading into last season, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.
28. Macon Plewa, Sr., fullback: I couldn’t list Cox without listing Plewa. Ferentz insists on using a fullback, so the position still matters in Iowa’s offense.
29. Faith Ekakitie, Jr., defensive tackle: I’m hanging on to the belief that he will start living up the enormous hype that accompanied him from high school.
30. Matt Nelson, Fr., defensive end: The Cedar Rapids native is listed at 6-8 and 270 pounds and looks skinny. He still needs time to mature physically, but quarterbacks, watch out, when he does.
31. Tyler Wiegers, Fr., quarterback: He has no game experience, but is just one Beathard injury from being Iowa’s starting quarterback.