5 Iowa Hawkeyes poised for a breakout in 2023 college football season
A new spring season of Hawkeyes football is upon us, folks! If you know anything about Iowa ball, they have an established pipeline to the NFL. You’ll rarely find a draft without Hawkeye representation and this year is no different.
Iowa has five candidates for the upcoming 2023 NFL draft in defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness, linebacker Jack Campbell, tight end Sam LaPorta, cornerback Riley Moss, and safety Kaevon Merriweather. Van Ness, Campbell, and LaPorta have been the talk of the NFL Draft community after their stellar NFL Combine performances.
Van Ness in particular featured highly in recent mock drafts. Moss and Merriweather also have a number of fans in the football world as well.
Despite being known as a program greater than the sum of its parts, every year Iowa football manages to produce stars who go on to the NFL. That team-first mentality really aids in preparing players for the next level. Five key stars are moving on, but who will be the next breakout stars in Iowa City?
With the depth charts released for the spring season, we now have a better idea of how these players are viewed by the coaching staff. With that in mind and combined with what we already saw last year, here are five breakout candidates to keep an eye on throughout spring ball.
Kaleb Johnson, Running Back
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Running back Kaleb Johnson had a fantastic freshman campaign with 779 yards and six touchdowns, and he figures to be the focal point of the Hawkeyes’ offense in 2023. You can be certain that Brian Ferentz is looking to get the Iowa rushing attack back on track, and the Hamilton, Ohio, native is a great piece to bank on.
When given the reigns last year, he looked like a star. He’s always a threat to hit pay dirt whenever he’s on the field.
This kid Kaleb Johnson is special 🔥
— Oliver Hodgkinson (@ojhodgkinson) November 25, 2022
Luke Lachey, Tight End
Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK
The tight end position will always be of great importance in Brian Ferentz’s offense, and while Iowa did bring in a talented player in former Wolverine Erick All, Luke Lachey has all the makings of the next star tight end.
Despite playing as future NFL selection Sam LaPorta’s backup for most of the season, Lachey still finished second in receiving yards on the team. His four receiving touchdowns were more than the rest of the team had combined.
Touchdown Luke Lachey! Touchdown @HawkeyeFootball! 💪 pic.twitter.com/XrRuSWPkDi
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 25, 2022
Xavier Nwankpa, Safety
Joseph Cress / USA TODAY NETWORK
You will not find anyone in Iowa City who is not highly excited for sophomore safety Xavier Nwankpa. One of the top recruits in his class, the Southeast Polk alumnus was a massive coup for the Hawkeyes last year. While he didn’t play much as a freshman, learning behind potential NFL draft pick Kaevon Merriweather, Nwankpa did return an interception for a touchdown in his lone start against Kentucky.
Nwankpa has everything you look for in a potential NFL star. He has the size and the athleticism, and with some development, he can become one of the best defenders in the Big Ten conference.
Xavier Nwankpa. That’s the tweet. pic.twitter.com/Xc0tmV5i6i
— Iowa City NIL Club 🐤 (@IowaCityNILClub) December 31, 2022
Deontae Craig, Defensive End
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Junior Deontae Craig is a lot like Kaleb Johnson. He’s kind of already broken out with a productive season last year. However, the Ft. Wayne, Ind., native has the talent to take another leap forward.
Craig had a tremendous sophomore campaign, registering a team-leading seven sacks along with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. With the departure of Lukas Van Ness to the NFL and with another year under his belt, look for Deontae Craig to cement himself as one of the premier lineman in the Big Ten.
The block by Deontae Craig and recovery by Jay Higgins.pic.twitter.com/Qnmu8RdMGE
— Ryan Jaster (@Hawkologist) November 12, 2022
Sebastian Castro, CASH/LEO
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
While much of the attention will go toward Nwankpa, Craig, and some of the more established names returning to Kinnick next year, Sebastian Castro is a name you should remember. Castro did well at the end of last year, finishing with six pass deflections. He always seems to pop the ball free from the receiver.
Now, wholly thrust into the CASH role as the starter after the unfortunate transfer of Jestin Jacobs, Castro will play a massive role in Phil Parker’s defense.
Sebastian Castro is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Is it me, or is he always popping the ball loose? pic.twitter.com/zQjaUIxEYC
— Ray Ortega (@RayJOrtega) November 7, 2022
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