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Iowa kick returner Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks a tackle by Nebraska safety Joshua Kalu in their game at Lincoln, Neb.

Iowa football seeks more legit playmakers in passing game

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ANSWER: All three of those athletes are playmakers for sure. Sophomore Noah Fant tied for the national lead in touchdowns by a tight end with 11, which was one shy of the program record. Fant (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) finished with 30 catches for 494 yards, and his 16.5 yards per catch led all tight ends nationally.

Freshman tight end T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 243) caught 24 passes for 320 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and 3 touchdowns. Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-11, 195) rushed for 184 yards on 20 carries (9.3 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns, caught 4 passes for 25 yards and a score, and returned 19 kickoffs for an average of 21.3 yards per return.

Fant is built like former Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki but has catching ability similar to a wide receiver. I’d be surprised if Fant is not considered a preseason All-America candidate by a majority of outlets. Hockenson is your typical tough, athletic Iowa tight end. He proved he’s one of the top 10 tight ends in the Big Ten last season. Kelly-Martin is lightning quick and explosive. He’s likely to split carries with power back Toren Young (5-11, 220) going forward.

Iowa does have a few more players who fit that bill. Freshman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-2, 175) was inconsistent but flashed at times. He caught 18 passes for 187 yards and 2 scores, rushed 7 times for 41 yards and showed some real potential as a kickoff returner with 4 returns for 134 yards. Expect Smith-Marsette to make major strides in winter workouts and spring football.

Among the other returnees, I think wide receiver Brandon Smith (6-3, 205) will move forward this winter and spring. As a freshman, Smith caught just 3 passes for 15 yards, but winter workouts should boost his speed a tad. He has a chance to start as the X receiver and become a real weapon. Also, freshman tight end Shaun Beyer (6-5, 222) impressed the staff in bowl preparation and saw significant action in the Pinstripe Bowl. He poses a mismatch with his size and speed. Freshman wide receiver Max Cooper (6-0, 175) saw some limited reps but was one of Wisconsin’s fastest athletes at the 2017 state track meet as a high school student.

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