Iowa's WR corps might be the most underrated unit in the B1G heading into 2020
Iowa hasn’t been mentioned enough when discussing the top wide receiver groups in the B1G this fall. With all five of the top performers at the position returning from last season, you’d think the Hawkeyes would be in the conversation.
Instead, our attention has been focused elsewhere. We talk about Minnesota because of Rashod Bateman, arguably the top receiver returning in the B1G. Purdue, which has the most dynamic one-two punch with Rondale Moore and David Bell, has received its fair share of praise. Ohio State has unmatched depth and talent because…well, it’s Ohio State.
All three are worthy of inclusion in the conversation, but so is Iowa.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Nico Ragaini and Oliver Martin are the names that make up Iowa’s deep and experienced wide receiver corps entering the 2020 season. Those five players accounted for 2,217 of Iowa’s 2,848 receiving yards, 168 total receptions and all 16 touchdown receptions a year ago.
The top four in that group — Smith-Marsette, Smith, Tracy and Ragaini — all had at least 36 catches and more than 400 receiving yards. Martin, a transfer from Michigan, totaled five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
As good as those numbers are, the statistics alone to paint the full picture.
Don’t forget that Smith-Marsette accounted for three rushing touchdowns and scored on a pair of kickoff returns last season. Along with being one of the best receivers in the B1G this year, he could also transition into one of the most versatile offensive players on the field.
Smith has demonstrated the ability to make tough catches on a regular basis in his three seasons with the Hawkeyes. While he may not be the primary target in the offense, he does have tremendous athleticism that opponents have a difficult time defending.
And when Smith went down with injury midway through the year, Tracy stepped up his game in a big way. In the final six games of the season, Tracy hauled in 24 of his 36 receptions for 399 yards and two touchdowns. He had 50 yards or more in four of those contests.
Ragaini could’ve been classified as “Mr. Reliable,” catching multiple passes in 11 of Iowa’s 13 games.
So, why exactly are we leaving Iowa out of the conversation? For just about any other program, having that much production and experience returning within a skill position group would be an immense reason for optimism.
For starters, Iowa hasn’t had the most prolific passing attack recently. The Hawkeyes had moderate success throwing the football the past two seasons, ranking seventh in the B1G in passing offense in 2019 and sixth in 2018. But Iowa hasn’t cracked the top five in that category in the conference since 2014.
Iowa hasn’t exactly been “Air Raid U.”
The other concern centering around Iowa in 2020 is that Brian Ferentz and the offense will be welcoming in a new quarterback under center. Spencer Petras is likely to win the starting job, but has only thrown 10 passes. Having to replace a three-year starter in Nate Stanley is an understandable reason to question whether the Hawkeyes can have an effective passing game this fall.
Shouldn’t a group of five experienced and productive receivers ease some of those concerns, though? While Petras’s job won’t be an easy one — it never is for a first-time starter in the B1G — having a handful of talented wideouts to throw to takes a little bit of weight off of his shoulders.
The wide receiver room in Iowa City is as stacked as it’s been in some time. If the Hawkeye offense was ever going to produce a more dynamic passing attack, 2020 might be the year to do it. Even with a first-time starter at quarterback, all the weapons are in place.
Iowa might not have the same kind of eye-popping appeal at the position as Minnesota, Purdue and Ohio State. But omitting the Hawkeyes from the conversation entirely is a mistake.
This group should be too good to ignore. And once the season kicks off, it’ll be nearly impossible to ignore the Hawkeye receivers any longer.