Offensive linemen get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Iowa football recruiting, and deservedly so.
You probably could say the same about tight ends and defensive linemen to a certain extent. But offensive line is where you worry least about Iowa’s ability to reload under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Offensive line is where you’re more willing to overlook star rankings and scholarship offers while passing judgment.
Offensive line is also a position where players are recruited from the state of Iowa on a somewhat regular basis because it often pays dividends.
From Bruce Nelson to Robert Gallery to Julian VanderVelde to Brandon Scherff to Austin Blythe, the state of Iowa has been good to the Iowa football program in terms of producing quality offensive linemen.
And in most cases, the offensive linemen from Iowa were lightly recruited in high school.
Scherff went from being a three-star recruit from Denison to the 2014 Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s best college offensive lineman. He had several power five offers, but Scherff, who was selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, hardly was a coveted recruit.
That’s why I wouldn’t read too much into where Spencer Williams is ranked as an offensive linemen recruit.
Williams, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound native of Cedar Falls, is the newest addition to Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class after committing on Monday. He de-committed from Western Michigan on Sunday, shortly after receiving the offer from Iowa, which he called his dream school.
Williams is ranked as a 2-star recruit by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, and he didn’t have a scholarship offer from a power five school until Iowa came through on Sunday.
In addition to Iowa, Williams’ list of scholarship offers includes Colorado State, Cornell, Florida Atlantic, Harvard and Marshall. That list might say more about his academic prowess than anything else.
But Williams fits the mold of previous offensive linemen who have flourished at Iowa. He’s smart, tough and hungry for success.
I would seriously question if Iowa received a verbal commitment from a 2-star running back or a 2-star receiver, especially if they came from Iowa, because there is no track record for success, whereas offensive linemen from Iowa get the benefit of the doubt because so many of them have met the challenge as Hawkeyes.
Ferentz also didn’t have to offer Williams a scholarship this early in the recruiting process. The national signing day, which takes place on the first Wednesday in February, still is six months away.
Williams apparently showed Ferentz that he was worthy of a scholarship offer while participating in a Hawkeye camp on Sunday. Williams was among four Iowa natives that were offered by Iowa this past weekend. The others were Chariton tight end T.J. Hockenson, Algona offensive lineman Cole Banwart and Pella defensive end Austin Schulte.
Iowa has offered scholarships to five players from instate in the 2016 class, the fifth being West Des Moines Valley offensive lineman John Raridon, who is committed to Nebraska.
It’s probably not a coincidence that three of the five are offensive linemen, that one is a tight end and the other a defensive end.
The work that goes into offering a scholarship to any player at the Big Ten level is extensive. It’s reasonable to think that the Iowa coaches weren’t comfortable with offering Williams, or the other three players, a scholarship until they saw them up close this past weekend.
Recruiting is also subjective. What appeals to one coaching staff might not appeal to another for reasons we’ll probably never know.
Williams’ list of scholarship offers pales in comparison to Urbandale offensive lineman Jake Heinrich, who reports offers from several power five schools, including Arkansas, California, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Iowa State and Louisville, but not from Iowa. The 6-5, 285-pound Heinrich is also ranked higher than Williams by Rivals.com as a 3-star recruit.
And yet, the Iowa coaches apparently see more upside in Williams, who reportedly is being recruited as a center. Time and performance ultimately will determine if the Iowa coaches are right.
Iowa now has five players in its 2016 recruiting class, with Williams being the first from instate to commit.
I don’t want to give the impression that all is well with Iowa’s recruiting because it’s not by a long shot. Iowa is suffering from a lack of recruiting momentum that’s caused mostly by having a combined record of 19-19 over the past three seasons.
It’s hard for Iowa to appeal to recruits from out of state who have multiple power five offers because the brand has turned stale under Ferentz and because schools like Michigan State are thriving right now.
Even kids from instate are getting tougher to land if they have multiple offers. Fellow Cedar Falls offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher was committed to Iowa for eight months before switching to Alabama in 2013.
So I’m not ignoring the problems with Iowa’s recruiting. I’m just not concerned about who Ferentz brings in as offensive linemen because history shows that he could do worse than landing another unheralded kid from home.