Friday, February 5, 2016

Breaking down Iowa State's 2016 recruiting class

New coach Matt Campbell had about two months, some of which included the dead period where coaches can't seek out communication with recruits, to build his first class at Iowa State. Fortunately, he had a list of players he had been evaluating for Toledo that he could reasonably expect to also bring to Ames if he felt they were good enough.

He also had an existing class that Paul Rhoads had been building. It seems clear enough that long-term Campbell is looking to make Iowa State into a midwestern-style team within the Big 12, so Iowa State is probably voting yes on inviting Cincy into the league.

For this class though, Campbell took seven JUCOs and already landed 13 total midwesterners (by my count, 15 if you consider Missouri to be midwestern) while signing four Floridians and only a single Texan. Long-term Campbell is going to need to hit Ohio hard (three Ohioans in this class) and probably make more inroads with the Texas high schools.

I like that he nabbed two kids from Oklahoma as that state is fairly underrated. Here's what he brought in, a total of 29 signed players with five early enrollees. They've also signed seven walk-ons from Iowa that are not evaluated here but could well prove to be important parts of the program.



Campbell's offense is looking for something different than most Big 12 teams, a sturdy pocket QB who can work from under center and make throws outside of the hash marks to punish defenses for loading up to stop the run.


Zeb Noland: 6-3, 215. 3***
Watkinsville, GA
Noland is perfect for this system. He's already used to operating from under center, he's tall and comfortable making throws from the pocket, even when it's collapsing, and he has the arm strength and accuracy to push the ball down the field.

Jacob Park: 6-4, 202. 3***
Miami, OK (JUCO)
Park was once a blue-chipper to Georgia, but like so many other BC QBs, he didn't really pan out there. *EDIT* couldn't find tape

Grade: B
Iowa State stocked up for the future with Noland while taking a flyer on Park, who could potentially give them a major talent upgrade at QB if he master a new offense quickly.

Running back

Iowa State wants feature backs now, guys who can carry the ball 20-30x a game and be effective in multiple running schemes.


David Montgomery: 5-10, 210. 3***
Cincinnati, OH
Montgomery actually played QB in HS but he was used as a single-wing weapon so he was generally running at an advantage on outnumbered fronts. He's probably a legit sub 4.7 runner and is good at running low and behind his pads at the 2nd level, which allows him to run over DBs that can't bring enough thunder to match. He's at his best in power schemes where he can threaten to plant and go upfield behind the lead block or else bounce it outside.

Kene Nwangwu: 6-0, 180. 3***
Frisco, TX
Nwangwu is the best pure athlete in this class, I was shocked to learn they plan to use him on offense until I saw the depth and quality of their DB class. His highlight tape begins with him throwing excellent cut blocks in space and concludes with him showing off what I'm guessing to be sub 4.6 speed with a number of impressive runs. Iowa State probably uses him partly as a flex RB who threatens the perimeter in conjunction with their interior runs and probably also as a utility back.

Grade: A-
Campbell landed a good prospect to become a feature back down the line in Montgomery while also potentially landing a game changer in Nwangwu.


As a "the midwestern team" of the Big 12, it's essential that Iowa State keep a stable of good blockers to play TE, H-back, and fullback and some of them need to also be adept as receivers. As I've written before, a team's identity is typically defined by the kinds of players they utilize at the H&Y inside receiver positions.


Carson Lensing: 6-4, 225. 2**
Caimar, IA
I'm not sure this kid is really 6-4 but he's definitely big enough to project to TE and he's a good football player. A google search confirms my suspicion that he's playing at a low level of football (Caimar has 965 people) but he plays just about every position and plays them all with good pad level and effort. When he's 6-2, 245 down the line he should be a pretty good H-back and he has some juice in his legs as well.

Chase Allen: 6-6, 220. 3***
Nixa, MO
If Gary Pinkel was still going strong at Missouri this kid would have never left the state. As it happens, he also had a Michigan offer, indicating what kind of TE prospect he is. Allen is not the most agile route runner in the country but he is quite quick when running up the seam, he has great hands, and he's a ferocious blocker for a dude that's still pretty lithe. His potential as an upperclassmen is very real.

Cliff Fernandez: 6-5, 265. 3***
Summit, MS (JUCO)
For my money Fernandez is the best player in this class and has a chance to be the best TE in the Big 12 in the 2016 season. Again, I have my doubts about whether this guy is that tall (probably more like 6-2 or 6-3) but I do believe the 265 number and this kid is fluid running routes. His JUCO would flex him out and let him work in isolation on overmatched DBs but he's also a decent blocker as an attached TE. You can expect to see him all over the field at Iowa State next season.

Grade: A+
Campbell got immediate help in fielding a true, pro-style offense next year by landing Fernandez while also bringing in two guys that could credibly become two-way TEs after a few years of development. The only way this Campbell project works at Iowa State is if he can find the kinds of players that make midwestern football work and he did that in a big way with this class of ancillaries.


Campbell's offense requires the same kind of receivers as any Big 12 spread, he just needs fewer of them because perhaps only two or three are likely to play at a time. Ideally he'd have an ISO WR and a possession WR on the field at all times although I've seen good pro-style teams that only field possession WRs but have dynamic run games.


Lawrence White: 6-1, 170. 3***
Bakersfield, CA
White is a holdover Paul Rhoads commit and is exactly the kind of kid that got Rhoads into trouble. Sure, he runs a 4.6 and can hit hard, but he plays a bit hesitant and stiff at times and his shuttle time (4.58) is concerning for his proposed future at DB. I think his straight line speed would fit best at WR but we'll see what happens.

Jalen Martin: 6-3, 200. 3***
Harper Woods, MI
I'm calling BS on this height as well. Martin plays big, runs hard after the catch, and is fearless going over the middle, but I think his true height is closer to 6-1. I'm not sure he has the speed to really threaten to take the top off of defenses as an ISO guy but he could become a reliable target.

Deshaunte Jones: 5-10, 170. 3***
Cincinnati, OH
There are several Deshaunte Jones' in every B12 recruiting class and they are hard to project because they combine ideal athleticism with "too small" frames that will have to be bulked up. I'm guessing Jones ends up on offense since he's about 20 pounds and a mindset change away from playing corner in this scheme. He could be an explosive slot or a flex RB but how he fits into the pro-style approach will depend on how he does as a route runner and catching balls in traffic.

Grade: C+
I'm guessing that Campbell felt pretty good about all of the WR depth stockpiled on campus from their attempts to build a spread offense and focused on getting other necessary pieces like TEs. Any of these guys could become productive players and Jones is a special athlete, but none of them have clear paths to dominance.

Offensive line

Iowa State is now a multiple-scheme running team that will pull OL, mix in zone blocking, and try to hit opponents with a variety of looks, angles, and big formations. To that end, they have a need for a variety of OL but a lead guard would be a nice addition.


Karson Green: 6-5, 290. 2**
Miami, OK (JUCO)
Green takes a lot of cheap shots when he can find opportunities, which is apparently pretty often, and he's just a nasty player, which can be a good thing for an OL. I'm not sure if he can hold up at tackle against good Big 12 edge rushers, so he may have to move inside to guard. There's a good chance he's a capable obstacle before his career at Iowa State is done.

Keenan Forbes: 6-3, 310. 3***
Hollywood, FL
I'd say Forbes might have the potential to become a lead guard down the line after a few years of development. He played left tackle in high school but he's a bit too slow and definitely too short to hold up there at the college level. It's amusing to watch him try to swat away pass-rushers on his highlight tape with his shorter arms but also indicative of a kid who fights hard every snap.

Oge Udeogu: 6-4, 310. 3***
San Francisco, CA (JUCO)
Udeogu is a pretty mobile cat who's at his best locking onto DL in zone schemes but is also capable of finding defenders in space and might make a solid lead guard in the near future.

Josh Mueller: 6-6, 275. 3***
Mequon, WI
It's hard to go wrong grabbing big German kids out of Wisconsin to play OL. Mueller doesn't play with great knee bend yet and his footwork comes and goes but you see him regularly reach DEs on outside zone schemes and he can move when he has a mind to. There's a chance he makes a good tackle in several years time after some S&C and coaching.

Sean Foster: 6-8, 285. 3***
Mundelein, IL
Foster is considered the prize of the OL class, I see a somewhat mixed bag. If he got his meat hooks into DL it was pretty much over, but that's what you expect from a dude that's 6-8, 285. He's at his best on inside zone taking his initial step and then sealing DEs away from the targeted creases. Foster might be the lead tackle they are hoping for in Ames, I think he has a good shot to at least be a starting RT that doesn't get abused when opposing teams have more than one good pass-rusher.

Dylan Soehner: 6-6, 277. 3***
Prairie Grove, AR
I'm not sure how they pulled this kid out from under Bielema's nose, it surely can't hurt that he was listed as a "TE" despite being larger than most TEs as a high schooler with a genetic roadmap to being a 300+ pound OL with mobility. He did play TE in high school but only so that he could lead the way on the edge or pull around the opposite end. I think this kid could become a lead tackle in several years time and is the best OL recruit in the class.

Grade: B-
Campbell took numbers here and got some guys that can potentially provide some more immediate help in the two JUCOs along with at least three HS kids that I think might have the potential to grow into starting-caliber B12 tackles some day. You gotta take numbers on OL because it's hard to say how these kids will turn out after college S&C, fine-tuning in the art of blocking, and facing the challenge of taking on some of the biggest, baddest athletes in the world in opposing DL and LBs.


Defensive line

There's clearly some confusion amongst Iowa State writers in the midst of all their staff changes and what has basically been the wholesale hire of the entire Toledo staff as to what kind of defense they are going to run next season. What it will end up being is something similar to the 4-3 Over, cover 4 defense they were running under Rhoads and Burnham (until they switched to a 3-4 last year) but with a greater emphasis on playing cover 2 to the boundary rather than dropping the boundary safety into the box and playing the boundary corner on an island as Rhoads would commonly do.

The story up front is the same as it ever was, they want versatile DL who can control the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket without having to blitz too often.


Jamahi Johnson: 6-0, 319. 3***
Savage, MN
Johnson is good at attacking the backfield with his speed off the ball, particularly when he's working on the backside of a play. He'd have been a better fit in the 3-down fronts Iowa State was running this year but he could be a good 2i-tech in an Over front that can cause problems on stunts and blitzes.

Jaquan Bailey: 6-3, 245. 3***
Jacksonville, FL
The smaller and more heralded of a pair of twins, Jaquan projects as a defensive end and he handles space and being read on spread-option schemes pretty well. I don't know if he'll be an elite pass-rusher any day but he could be a productive strongside end with some weight gain and technical training.

Joshua Bailey: 6-3, 260. 3***
Jacksonville, FL
The bigger Bailey looks like he'll be another DT like Jamahi that's at his best stunting and attacking plays from the backside.

Jerrion Nelson: 6-2, 260. 3***
Columbia, MO
Campbell's defensive staff is going to have their work cut out for them building a 4-down front out of all these guys that seem to have been recruited for the slanting-heavy 30 fronts Iowa State was running last year. Nelson joins Joshua Bailey and Jamahi Johnson as guys that are disruptive but will have to gain weight and learn how to use their hands to control OL and gaps rather than just attacking them.

Eyioma Uwazurike: 6-6, 254. 3***
Southfield, MI
Another guy who's excellent on the move but he's better at traditional 4-down twists then slanting into gaps because he can uncoil and unleash tremendous power with just a few steps worth of momentum. His frame looks like it could carry a lot more weight so his future is somewhat clouded when I gaze into my crystal ball but I suppose the best case scenario for Iowa State is that he grows into a 3-technique that can hold the point of attack but is absolutely dominant on passing down stunts.

Grade: C
Campbell definitely got numbers here for a program that had gone JUCO-heavy as Rhoads became desperate to plug holes in his sinking ship. These guys are all going to need a lot of development, save for Jamahi who comes fairly well packaged for his ultimate destination, but I suppose they had to regularly do a ton of development at Toledo as well. I have a suspicion that Iowa State is going to have to do a lot of blitzing to get pressure in the coming years.


The story here is the same as it's always been at Iowa State, the Cyclones need one true inside-backer who can help control the interior running game and then they need versatile athletes at the outside- and space-backer positions that can blitz and run from sideline to sideline.


Tymar Sutton: 5-10, 210. 3***
Mckeesport, PA
Sutton is a fun prospect who played as a 3-4 OLB in a 3-4 on defense and as a veer-option QB on offense. Think Taylor Young here, this guy has real speed for a linebacker and can cover ground laterally in a flash but he lives to mix it up between the tackles. He could be a great weakside linebacker for Iowa State, probably sooner than later.

Grade: C-
You don't need just a ton of linebackers in the Big 12 but the Cyclones are going to need to find some guys that can get to the QB in the coming years at some position and at 5-10 Sutton is not a guy that's going to spin down and become an edge-rusher, though I think he'll become a good player. Probably Campbell and his staff feel okay with their numbers at this position for now.


Because new DC Jon Heacock runs a lot more true two-deep than did Rhoads, there's less of a need for phenomenal cover-corners and instead a secondary-wide onus on guys that can play physical and tackle. A boundary corner who could handle an ISO assignment would be nice but they could probably afford to play their better coverage guy to the field and help everyone else out with 1/2 field safeties.


Lonnie Johnson: 6-3, 190. 3***
Garden City, KS (JUCO)
Johnson is a press corner who actually has the hips to also turn and run with receivers, though I'm not sure how he'd hold up trying that trick without safety help against the likes of James Washington. He's good in run support, which again is crucial for this scheme.

D'Andre Payne: 5-9, 185. 3***
Yuma, AZ (JUCO)
Payne was once a highly touted Tennessee Vol who played as a true freshman but flushed out of the program and went JUCO to get eligible again. Now he's a rare breed of athlete in a Cyclone uniform that excel as a cover corner who can play press and run with receivers in and out of their breaks. My suspicion is that he'll end up as a field corner who's just trusted to lock down the field outside receiver while everyone else plays zone.

Thaddeus Daniels: 6-2, 195. 3***
Norwalk, CA (JUCO)
Daniels is another good press guy that is physical in jamming WRs and coming off to force the run so he figures to factor in on the boundary or at nickel. While Johnson is solid at carrying receivers vertical, I wouldn't have much faith in Daniels being asked to jam a WR without safety help over the top.

Grade: C+
These guys all fit the system pretty well and a future starting secondary of Payne to the field, Johnson to the boundary, and Daniels at nickel might be worthwhile provided the safeties playing behind them were good and the front could bring a pass rush. Since they're all JUCO transfers though, they may not be around long enough to be maxed out.


The biggest need here, as it is for most current Big 12 teams, is for a rangy free safety that can not only survive getting targeted but actually shrinks the field for the offense. A boundary safety that can play cover 2 or drop down into the box would also be a valuable piece.

Arnold Azunna: 6-0, 187. 3***
Mansfield, TX
Azunna played corner in HS and may stick there in college but he was at his best playing deep zone, coming up to hit people, and running down the field. When he was tasked with trying to stick with guys underneath on slants and quicks he had some struggles. In this cover 2-heavy scheme I think that skill set will translate best to the back end and he may end up at 200 pounds anyways, which is a safety-sized player. On the back end he could be a plus athlete.

Jatairis Grant: 6-0, 180. 3***
Akron, OH
Grant doesn't strike me as having tremendous range to handle playing in a ton of space to the field, but in more confined space on the boundary or at the nickel his fluidity and the violence with which he plays I think he could be a real player. When he gets to be 200 or so I think Grant will prove to be a reliable tackler for the Cyclones on the back end.

Romelo Webster: 5-11, 170. 3***
Hallandale, FL
Webster on the other hand, this guy has tremendous quickness and effective range when playing the ball. He belongs aligned to the field somewhere, ideally at field corner or free safety. He'll need to get a bit bigger but you need guys like this to win in the Big 12 or the amount of space offenses will put you in can just tear you apart.

Grade: B-
For Cyclone standards this is a pretty good haul and the total number of good athletes Campbell acquired for the secondary increases the odds that they're able to put guys in positions where they can find success.

You find over and over again with B12 teams that guys who could be effective on the boundary or at nickel are instead lined up at free safety and destroyed. Or the guy who could be a fantastic #2 corner is instead asked to play on an island against the top WRs and gets beat. The answer is to stockpile athletes who are willing tacklers and to get after the passer. Matt Campbell's first class at Iowa State accomplished at least one of those aims.


  1. How could you have tape of Jacob Park playing JUCO ball when he didn't play JUCO ball?

    1. Oh wow, misread his story. I thought he played a year at NE OK A&M.

  2. Could you elaborate a little on your overall offensive line grade? Personally, I really like Iowa State's non-JUCO offensive line recruits, as all of them look like solid developmental prospects. You seem more bearish. So I am curious as to why.

    1. Eh, I could have gone B or B+ maybe. I think it's a good bunch.

  3. I enjoyed over read your blog post. Your blog have nice information,
    I got good ideas from this amazing blog.