IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa football Class of 2018 has already earned one distinction. It’s the top-rated class for Iowa since 2011. It’s likely not the last.
Every class ends up full of players with various accomplishments and accolades. Land of 10 Iowa reporters Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse looked into their crystal balls to predict the future for the Class of 2018 and handed out these awards for the newest Iowa players:
Best first year
Scott: WR Tyrone Tracy. At a position group that could use speed and quickness, Tracy brings that and more. At 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, Tracy boasts size, explosiveness and acceleration. He was named Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and accumulated 72 touchdowns in his career. In an incredible senior season, Tracy put up 1,412 rushing yards, 1,132 receiving yards and 30 combined touchdowns. He has a chance to become an immediate impact player for the Hawkeyes’ offense and potentially on special teams.
Bobby: CB D.J. Johnson. The defensive backfield is loaded with talent in 2018. Three players earned a 4-star tag from at least one recruiting service. There are plenty of capable returning contributors, but there is an opening for a newcomer to earn playing time, especially at cornerback. That is where Johnson comes in. Iowa isn’t afraid to play a newcomer in the secondary. Johnson is Big Ten-ready with a 6-foot, 170-pound build, and is capable of making an impact from Day 1.
Scott: LB Dillon Doyle. It’s unlikely Doyle will see significant snaps right away but within two years, he might become the starting middle linebacker. With his smarts, tenacity and physical toughness — he stands 6-3 and weighs 215 pound with good definition — Doyle has a chance to become the heartbeat on defense the way Josey Jewell, James Morris and Pat Angerer were in recent years. If he falls in that line, Iowa’s defense will remain strong.
Bobby: Tracy. He can make plays in space and brings a skill set Iowa lacks. It’s easy to envision him carving out a role as a freshman and being a key part of the passing game for four years. If that’s the case, a career with four years of strong production is hard to top. Those kind of players — former cornerback Desmond King was one — tend to see their names end up in the record books and are remembered fondly by fans.
Most likely to become All-Big Ten
Scott: Johnson. At a position of great success over the years, Johnson looks the part of the next one in the line of great Iowa cornerbacks. He’s aggressive in run support and physical when attacking the ball carrier in short distances. Then when he’s in pass defense, Johnson has great ball skills and covers receivers as well as any corner I’ve seen Iowa pick up. Johnson should play right away and could compete for a starting role his first fall on campus.
Bobby: S Julius Brents. Scott is correct in thinking the secondary is the pick here. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker routinely produces all-conference players and Brents has a chance to become a very good player. He is big, physical, athletic and loves to hit. Those are the traits Iowa seeks in a defensive back. He is versatile enough to play multiple positions, increasing his value.
Most likely to play in the NFL
Scott: OT Jack Plumb. At 6-8, 250, Plumb brings every element Iowa loves in a tackle. He has natural size and a lean frame with room to grow. Plumb is a willing blocker who stays engaged with defenders; runs his feet with short, choppy steps; and doesn’t stop until after the whistle. Plumb played tight end his senior season and has good athletic ability, which easily converts inside. In the last nine years, Iowa has sent three left tackles to the NFL as first-round picks. If Plumb starts at left tackle in a few years, he could join the first-round party.
Bobby: DT Daviyon Nixon. The NFL can never have enough fast, athletic and disruptive defensive tackles. Nixon is exactly that. At 6-5, 295, he can step in and play right away. His athleticism lets him make plays and get into the offensive backfield. It’s what he did at Iowa Western Community College last season and the Iowa coaches hope it carries over to Big Ten play.
Scott: DT Noah Shannon. Few incoming defensive tackles are built to play in Iowa’s two-gap scheme quite the way the 6-1, 300-pound Shannon is. And that was when he was in high school. Shannon keeps his pad level low and explodes into his opponent. He’ll do the same at Iowa as a likely one-technique near the center. His size is an advantage in stonewalling blockers, but he has good quickness, too. He’s built like a slightly shorter version of Jaleel Johnson … and his height may actually help him.
Bobby: DE John Waggoner. As a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, Waggoner may not feel very under the radar. But at the same time it feels like he isn’t getting enough attention. The conversation on the 2018 class centers on quarterback Spencer Petras, any of the defensive backs or defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum. It’s kind of strange for the top-ranked player in the state, and one of team’s top priorities from 2018 to get lost in the shuffle, but it’s the case a little bit with Waggoner.
Best recruiting job
Scott: Nixon. If any recruiting job compares with how Forest Evashevski sent Alex Karras to a cabin in northwest Iowa for the summer in the 1950s, it’s this one. Nixon originally signed with Iowa in 2017 but was academically ineligible to compete. Iowa brass helped him appeal to the NCAA, and Nixon was able to enroll for the second semester after first going to Iowa Western Community College. Nixon was so good that Alabama came in with an offer. Nixon and Iowa kept in communication and the big defensive tackle stuck with the Hawkeyes. Chances are, he’ll be a major contributor right away.
Bobby: DB Dallas Craddieth. The Craddieth recruitment is the blueprint for how the Hawkeyes need to attack high-end prospects. They offered the safety early. They secured multiple unofficial visits. Then they found a way to close the recruitment in December when several teams were showing significant interest.
Guy I’d pay money to see play
Scott: Brents. Long (6-2, 180) and athletic, Brents compares favorably with departing Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson. Brents has great ball skills and tracks the ball well in flight. He’s also physical and can play in the box as a safety or lock up in man coverage on the outside. Brents isn’t as fast as many corners, but he’s always in good position. In this instance, the early signing period helped Iowa keep a player drawing interest from Ohio State and Alabama.
Bobby: Linderbaum. Does a game involve a defensive lineman with uncommon speed or quickness? If so, sign me up. That’s exactly what Linderbaum brings. His athleticism sets him apart and is what makes him so intriguing as a defensive tackle. It helped earn him a U.S. Army All-American Bowl invitation and is why he’s such an intriguing prospect in this class.
Guy I can’t leave out
Scott: Craddieth. There’s no doubt Craddieth was a major pickup for the Hawkeyes this recruiting cycle. As a hitter, Craddieth (6-0, 197) packs a punch and explodes into opponents. His short-range power is tremendous and his ball skills are excellent. Craddieth attacks the football in flight and can accelerate in traffic with the ball in his hands. In historical terms, he compares favorably in many areas with King. If Craddieth can approach King’s impact, the Hawkeyes have a whale of a player on their hands.
Bobby: Doyle. He enrolled early and it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays as a freshman, even if it’s just on special teams. Evaluators mention his football intelligence a lot, but he’s also a good athlete whom high school coaches describe as fundamentally sound. At Iowa, those traits are vital for success at linebacker.
What about quarterback?
Scott: I’m not sure I’ve seen an incoming Iowa quarterback with a stronger arm than Petras, and that includes current starter Nate Stanley. Petras (6-5, 225) can really launch it from any spot on the field and find a target 50 yards away in any direction. The key going forward is how quickly Petras processes defenses, reacts to what he sees and makes good decisions. He was able to do that in high school. Luckily, there’s no pressure for him to do it right away at Iowa.
Bobby: Iowa fans started drooling over Petras once they saw his Hudl highlights. An 11-minute-plus video of deep throws and touchdowns will cause that. His high school coach sees a lot of John Elway in Petras. It’s a lofty comparison and probably unfair to the player, but Petras possesses the physical traits to excel as a Power 5 quarterback. Time will tell if he puts it all together.