James White, RB*- White is the top returning back for the Cyclones in 2012 after rushing for 743 yards and 8 touchdowns last season (4.7 ypc) as well as catching 21 balls for 165 yards and another touchdown. He is a shorter back at 5’8”, but like I always try to point out, packing 180+ pounds on such a small frame isn’t easy to do, and is often a good indication of lower body strength. White tips the scales at a listed weight of 187 pounds, so he isn’t afraid to run between the tackles. I didn’t watch him much last year because he was a sophomore, but he has a shot at 1,000 yards rushing this year despite a lot of returning talent in Iowa State’s backfield. If he can stay healthy, look for a big year from him, but if he doesn’t he could be in for a fight to keep his starting job.
Josh Lenz, WR- Lenz is the top returning receiver in every category for Iowa State. The 6’0”, 194 wideout returns as the receptions leader (39), yardage leader (510), average yardage per reception leader (13.1) and touchdown leader (tied with one other with 2). Obviously those aren’t game-breaking numbers, but he and the rest of Iowa State’s receivers have been dealing with some relatively inept QB play, as both Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett completed under 55% of their passes last season (Jantz 53.3%, Barnett 50% on the dot). Lenz figures to be the go-to guy for Iowa State this season, and even though I don’t think he’s much of a draftable prospect at this point he should have a chance to show what he can do this year. He doesn’t have elite speed, he only has average size but when I saw Iowa State he seemed to have decent hands as well as some shiftiness after the catch. Hopefully the QB play improves a bit so he has a fair shot to impress evaluators.
Jerome Tiller, WR- Tiller was in the mix for the starting quarterback job a year ago at this time but clearly he didn’t win it as Jantz and Barnett threw every pass for Iowa State last season (though they didn’t even throw for 3,000 combined yards despite 479 attempts between them). That was largely due to him being academically ineligible for the 2011 season and that led to his position change. According to Head Coach Paul Rhoads Tiller worked hard in the classroom and straightened himself out in that aspect. He is listed at 6’2”, 204 pounds and if he gets playing time this year he would add some size to a group of receivers that could really use it. I couldn’t see much of the ISU spring game, but from the little I got to see I saw Tiller run a couple solid routes and catch the ball well with his hands, even on a poorly thrown ball. I don’t think he’s going to start, and that’s an extremely limited sample size, but he’s an athlete and combining that with his natural size and solid hands… he could surprise people. Hopefully he gets some targets this year so we can see if I’m right.
Kurt Hammerschmidt, TE- Hammerschmidt has to be one of the best football names I’ve ever heard, but beyond that he has the size that NFL teams are looking for in a tight end. He’s not a joker type that gets split out in the slot every play, he’s an inline kid. He’s listed at 6’6”, 271 pounds and from what I’ve seen he has ability as a blocker. That’s not surprising given his size, but he was barely involved in Iowa State’s passing game last season, totaling only 13 catches for 126 yards and no touchdowns. He’s likely the best red zone threat they have now that Darius Reynolds has graduated, and he’s 3 inches taller than any of the other wide receivers Iowa State has on the team. Being targeted more would certainly help his draft stock, but ultimately that comes down to quarterback play which Iowa State certainly doesn’t have in spades. Hammerschmidt seems like a guy who might end the year with uninspiring numbers, perhaps 30 receptions for 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but then impress at an All-Star game such as the East-West Shrine Game when he finally has a quarterback throwing him catchable balls consistently and his blocking is on full display. Keep an eye on him even if his stats aren’t eye-popping. However, not to drag his name through the mud, but I did read that he was suspended indefinitely back in 2009 after being arrested on September 7th for drunk driving. He was 20 years old back then, and I haven’t been able to find any off-field incidents that he has been involved in since, so even though it’s a mistake it would seem that he has learned from it.
Jake McDonough, DT- I’ll be honest, I don’t know a lot about McDonough’s game at this point. The 6’5”, 290 pound defensive tackle started all 13 games last season and produced 35 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks during his junior campaign. Speaking of producing, I also found a video that he produced with J Shade for the week leading up to the Oklahoma State game. He reportedly wrote and produced the song with J Shade and even though the video only has 20,000 views it is pretty well done and quite well edited. More importantly, it seemed to get the team and the fans “All In” for the Oklahoma State game since it led to an upset of the Cowboys and derailed their hopes of a National Championship. Maybe McDonough should produce rap videos more often.
AJ Klein, MLB- Klein is one player that every college football fan should be aware of. It’s impossible not to enjoy watching this kid play thanks to his intensity and fearlessness on the field. He’s a great tackler, much like his teammate Jake Knott, and his fantastic instincts and football smarts help compensate for his lack of elite athleticism. Klein is listed at 6’2”, 244 pounds and he is one of the leaders of the defense along with Knott, and produced 116 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 6 pass break-ups and 1 interception last year. He had an interception in the Iowa State Spring Game that he returned for a touchdown (he has a knack for doing that, he already has 3 pick-6’s in his Iowa State career, a school record), and even though he won’t be able to run with a slot receiver down the seam he is a pretty savvy pass defender. I don’t know if he will be a MLB or a WLB in the NFL or not, but I would take Klein on my team any day. He’s going to be a great special teamer from day one, he’s a great tackler which is becoming more and more difficult to find these days, and he plays smart and fast. Sign me up for a linebacker like that every time, even if he doesn’t run a 4.5 flat. Klien and Knott may not be drafted in the first 2 or maybe even 3 rounds depending on how this year goes, but that has a lot to do with lacking elite athleticism and also questionable upside. What I mean by that is this: You know exactly what you’re getting with those two. I think that’s a positive for them, but some will wonder how much better they can get and knock them. The obsession with potential will lead to them being overlooked by some teams, but a couple smart teams will snatch them up and have reliable starters for the next 10 years.
Jake Knott, WLB- Knott emerged as a starter as a sophomore the same year Klein has and they have been wreaking havoc on defenses ever since. Knott is listed at 6’3”, 239 pounds and plays weak-side next to Klein and barely lost out on the lead for tackles last season as he totaled 115, 4 TFL, 3 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and four forced fumbles on the year. Like Klein, Knott is a terrific tackler, plays fast, reads and reacts well and simply doesn’t bite on something that isn’t there or flow away from the play. It’s one of the reasons he and Klein have been such fantastic linebackers for the last two years, they are always around the ball thanks to their football IQ’s and instincts. Much like Klein, I would take a linebacker like Knott on my team any day. He isn’t an elite athlete, but he plays fast, smart and is fundamentally sound versus the run and the pass. I think he and Klein will both be NFL starters sooner rather than later, coaches will love how assignment-sound they are.
Jeremy Reeves, CB- Reeves might be small at only 5’7”, 166 pounds, but he plays bigger than he is listed (though it could hardly be otherwise). Reeves had 70 tackles, 3 TFL, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior last season and returns for his senior year with 22 starts, easily the most of anyone in the Cyclone secondary. Reeves doesn’t have a great NFL future at that size, but his ball skills and willingness to tackle will give him a shot to be a special teamer and perhaps a dime back. He won’t be able to play much beyond slot corner, but if you’ve got ball skills and are willing to tackle you can get a shot.
Jacques Washington, FS*- Washington is the only junior projected to start in Iowa State’s secondary but he can play. He’s listed at 6’1”, 213 pounds and was the teams 3rd leading tackler (second only to stand-out linebackers Klein and Knott) with 90 tackles, 1 sack, 8 pass deflections and an interception last year. He’s a reliable tackler who likes to hit, but even though he tied for the team lead for pass deflections with Leonard Johnson I would like to see him play with better instincts and awareness in coverage. He likes to hit, and I think sometimes he wants to fill even when he should stay back and make sure he is in position to react in coverage. He’s got ability though, so keep an eye on him.
Kirby Van Der Kamp, P*- I love throwing a punter into one of these prospect previews because no one ever expects to see them. The Big-12 actually has a surprising amount of punter talent, headlined by Tress Way and Quinn Sharp, but Mr. Van Der Kamp (pretty awesome name) was quietly an honorable mention for the All Big-12 team as a punter the past two years. He has been the punter for the past two seasons in Ames and has downed 43 punts inside the 20 in those two seasons which is a pretty respectable number. I haven’t paid attention to him when I’ve seen Iowa State play, but he is supposed to have a pretty strong leg (15 of his 68 punts went 50+ yards) and has only totaled 16 touchbacks in 2 years. He may not have eye-popping stats, but he’s already ISU’s career punting leader with a 43.8 yard average per punt. Keep an eye on him if for no other reason than the fact that he has an awesome name.