Iowa Hawkeyes Prospect Preview:
Mark Weisman, RB, Junior- Weisman is a 6’0”, 236 pound power back that helped save Iowa’s rushing attack last season. He walked on as a fullback after deciding to leave the Air Force and attend Iowa (playing for Iowa was “his dream”) and after injuries to two running backs against Northern Iowa Weisman was the next man up and he never looked back. He rushed 159 times for 815 yards and 8 touchdowns and added 15 receptions for 90 yards and another score as a receiver. Weisman won’t be confused for a speed back, but he seems to have pretty good vision, surprising quickness for someone who is supposed to be a fullback, and he runs hard with good pad level. It’s not surprising to see him run through tackles or run defenders over altogether when you watch him run. He figures to be “the guy” for Iowa this year, and it’s a pretty awesome story. Whether he will show the athleticism and skill set to be a NFL running back is another thing, but I am looking forward to seeing him run the ball and help stabilize the Iowa running game this season.
Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR, Junior- Most people would have assumed that Keenan Davis led the Hawkeyes in all statistical categories last season but in reality Martin-Manley (KMM) led the team in receptions (52), tied Davis for the lead in receiving yards (571) and led the team with 2 touchdowns. Obviously those aren’t earth shattering numbers, but the 6’0”, 205 pound receiver showed some promise as a possible slot receiver last year. He’s still only a junior, so I am looking forward to seeing if he can be “the guy” at wide receiver for the Hawkeyes this year. They still haven’t settled on a starting quarterback yet, so there’s a good chance KMM will have to deal with uneven quarterback play for another year if not two. Also, keep an eye on Jordan Cotton as a wide receiver and return man.
CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Senior- I have been waiting for Fiedorowicz to break out for the past two years and while I’m not sure it will happen this year I don’t think it will be because he lacks talent. The 6’7”, 265 pound tight end has had to deal with some pretty bad quarterback play the last couple of years and it doesn’t figure to get much better now that they are going to have a first time starter this year. Say what you will about James Vandenberg, but he threw every pass for Iowa last season. The Hawkeyes will be lucky to have that same kind of consistency this year in my opinion. That spells trouble for Fiedorowicz who, while being an excellent blocker, only totaled 45 receptions for 433 yards and 1 touchdown last year. He’s one of the most talented tight ends in the country, but it doesn’t show on the stat sheet because he doesn’t have anyone to get him the ball. Fiedorowicz is essentially an extension of the offensive line as a blocker which is a great asset for a team who runs a traditional pro style offense like Iowa, and it will make him appealing to teams like the Steelers in the NFL. For a full scouting report on Fiedorowicz read Matt Mochal’s write-up on him and follow him on Twitter @itsasabotage.
Brandon Scherff, OT, Junior- Scherff is coming off of a broken leg but he was 100% in the spring so he should be fine for the 2013 season. He’s not the same athlete that Van Sloten is but he is stronger and better in the run game. He’s shown an effective cut block and seems comfortable with zone and man concepts which is good, and he also has shown he can drive block a bit and generate push off the ball at times. He looks less comfortable in his pass sets though and looked slow off the ball against NIU, though that may have just been because Alan Baxter was flying off the edge so quick. But he did look late off the ball a number of times and wasn’t getting great depth in his initial drop or his kick slide in general, and it led to him being off balance at times. I think Scherff is more of a RT in the NFL, and I honestly think Van Sloten might be a better traditional fit at LT than Scherff is given his athleticism and some of his issues generating push in 1 on 1 situations. Scherff is the better run blocker, but I’ll give Van Sloten the edge in pass pro. Scherff’s main goal has to be to stay healthy, and it’s clear his presence was missed in the running game after his injury. If he stays healthy the run game should be fine, but I still have questions about him in pass protection.
Brett Van Sloten, OT, Senior- The first thing I noticed about Van Sloten (or BVS) is that he is an impressive athlete and I speculated that he had to be a former TE. Turns out he was, he played tight end and defensive end in high school. He is listed at 6’7”, 300 pounds and he moves like a defensive end. BVS needs to improve his anchor and get stronger in the lower half, but boy does he have potential thanks to that athletic ability. Seems to have pretty good length, needs to play with a bit better pad level, but his movement skills are awfully impressive for a 6’7” tackle. I’m not sure I saw him get speed rushed effectively once against Penn State, and while he doesn’t have much buzz around him right now I think he’s a nice sleeper prospect at the offensive tackle position. He’s not projected to get drafted now, but if he’s as athletic as he looks to me then I think he will creep up boards over the course of the year. If he can improve his anchor and work on his pad level a little bit I think that will help him even more.
Austin Blythe, Sophomore- Blythe is listed at 6’3”, 300 pounds but he looks smaller than that to me, likely 6’2” or so. He also seems to have short arms which concerns me, but he has a pretty stocky build. He started 9 games at right guard last year as a redshirt freshman and was a 1st team freshman All-American. He held his own for a freshman, but he has some room for improvement. He seems to lack lateral quickness and really struggled against players that were athletic enough to beat him with quickness and upfield speed. Jordan Hill gave him a lot of trouble, and it had to do with his quickness and burst. He is an effective combo blocker and he can get to the second level effectively, but he struggled at times in pass protection and giving up interior pressure frequently leads to disaster on pass plays. Blythe is moving inside to center this year so it will be interesting to see if he is stronger and more adept at handling quicker pass rushers. I think he is smart enough to handle the pivot and some of his issues at guard may not be as obvious at center. Only time will tell, but Iowa needs to elevate their interior line play if they are going to have any success as an offense. That starts with Blythe.
Dominic Alvis, DE, Senior- Alvis is a returning starter who is listed at 6’4”, 265 pounds. He’s kind of your typical Iowa defensive lineman who is a high effort, technically sound player that doesn’t have an abundance of athletic ability or upside. I think his best bet is to bulk up and attempt to stick as a 3-4 defensive end because he doesn’t have the quickness or edge speed to consistently win as a 4-3 edge rusher at the next level. He seems to use his hands effectively but he is regularly late off the ball and he doesn’t have the quick-twitch athleticism to compensate for it. He seems to have a good feel for getting his hands up to try to impact passing lanes, but he’s not going to offer much as a pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment.
Carl Davis, DT, Junior- Carl Davis is my guy. Last year I was watching Iowa’s defense and while they didn’t have much talent outside of Micah Hyde #71 stuck out to me consistently. Davis is listed at 6’5”, 315 pounds and is a surprisingly good athlete for such a large man. He was flashing a lot of upside but he was a raw sophomore that needed to work on his pad level, improve his technique and get more playing time. He is projected to be a starter this fall and that might have something to do with him dominating in the spring. While he struggled against the undersized James Ferentz in practice last year, this year Davis is the one doing the dominating thanks to supposedly better pad level. This will be his first year as a starter and he only had 14 tackles and 1.5 TFL last year, but expect a BIG statistical uptick in 2013. Even if he doesn’t total a lot of sacks or tackles for loss you can bet his impact will be felt on Iowa’s defense. He’s likely going to draw consistent double teams which could free up other players to make plays, particularly Iowa’s three senior linebackers. I’m a big Davis fan and if the rumors about his improved pad level are true we could all be in for a treat whenever we watch Iowa play.
James Morris, MLB, Senior- Morris is the middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes and he was 2nd on their team in tackles last year with 113 as well as 1.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. Contrary to all of those pass break-ups I don’t think the 6’2”, 240 pound linebacker excels in coverage. He isn’t a great athlete and as a result he doesn’t have great range, and he takes some false steps when asked to drop in coverage. He isn’t bad passing defenders off in zone and gets solid depth, but he’s not going to be a playmaker in coverage in the NFL in my opinion. He seems to be a smart player but doesn’t shed blocks well and gets caught up in the trash too much for my liking versus the run. This was particularly obvious against Michigan State this year, and Le’Veon Bell benefited greatly from it. Morris is a reliable tackler and he’s got a good motor, but I just don’t see a starting NFL linebacker based off of what I’ve seen from him so far. He’s got another year to prove me wrong, but I’m not high on him right now.
Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Senior- Hitchens is the Iowa linebacker I am least familiar with but he led the Hawkeyes in tackles with 124 last year, adding 1 sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He is listed at 6’1”, 233 pounds and I believe last year was his first as a starter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table as a senior and a second year starter, but right now I’m not overly intrigued by him. Still, his production last year meant I needed to try to do my due diligence on him.
Christian Kirksey, OLB, Senior- Kirksey is my favorite linebacker on the Hawkeyes and is one of their better defensive prospects overall in my opinion. I think he is the best athlete of the three senior ‘backers and it shows in coverage. First of all, despite being listed at 6’2”, 235 pounds he looks like a safety on the field which is both a good and a bad thing for a linebacker. I haven’t seen him shed blocks particularly effectively, but he gives good effort in the run game and attacks which I like to see. He’s got better range than Morris and looks more comfortable dropping into zone coverage to me. I’m not sure if he is going to be a starting linebacker in the NFL, but I think he has a better skill set to do it than Morris or Hitchens. We will see if I’m right over the course of the year, but right now Kirksey is my top linebacker on the Hawkeyes.