5 most important Iowa Hawkeyes for 2023 success
The 2023 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes feels a little bit like all of the chips have been pushed to the middle of the table and this season is all-in. With the additions via the transfer portal and the dire need to improve offensively, there is pressure. The defense has pressure as well. There are key starters gone and large voids to fill.
Looking ahead to next season, there are a handful of areas that either need improvement or things could go very sideways. There are also areas that are reloading and will be shouldering a huge amount of pressure to drive this team to success.
As we near the beginning of spring practice and will start getting a look at some new and returning Hawkeyes, there are already a handful that are success factors. Here is a look at who the five most important Iowa Hawkeyes are for success during the 2023 season.
Honorable Mention: Erick All, Luke Lachey, TEs
Just missing the cut is the tight end group of Erick All and Luke Lachey. Their ceiling is Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. They could be that dynamic in the passing game. Everyone knows Iowa needs production in the passing game, but it doesn’t have to be receivers.
Lachey shined last season when Sam LaPorta missed time and even made the most of the two on the field together. He put up 28 receptions for 398 yards and four touchdowns without being the main tight end. He has proven he can contribute and undoubtedly takes on a bigger role this year.
All is a bit more of a true pass-catching tight end. His size and skillset could cause fits splitting him out wide or in the slot should Iowa get creative as they have done in the past with tight ends.
No. 5: Kaleb Johnson, RB
The backfield should belong primarily to Kaleb Johnson and he should be the recipient of at least 75% of the carries on this offense. His explosiveness is evident and his talent is through the roof. As a true freshman, he led the way with 779 yards on the ground at a 5.2 yards per carry rate. He found the end zone six times.
Johnson’s next step in his game is becoming a factor in the passing game. With just four receptions last year, he has room to grow here. If you recall Tyler Goodson, Iowa was lethal when they used him in the screen game. These are easy throws for the quarterback and a way to get the ball in a playmaker’s hands even more.
No. 4: Jay Higgins & Nick Jackson, LBs
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This is a duo here grouped as the linebackers. Losing Jack Campbell and Seth Benson is a large void for this defense. There is no denying it. Replacing 216 tackles isn’t easy, but the Hawkeyes may have the duo to step right in.
While losing Campbell and Benson hurts, Jay Higgins got the chance to learn from them in the film room and on the field. That is truly invaluable knowledge to possess. The young linebacker flashed in 2022 with 40 tackles and is someone to keep an eye on as this defense’s next great linebacker.
Accompanying Higgins and bringing some serious experience is Virginia transfer and All-ACC linebacker Nick Jackson. Jackson brings a career tally of 354 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and eight pass breakups.
The 2022 season saw him tally 104 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and his career high in sacks with five. Jackson and Higgins could be a plug-and-play linebacking duo to spur on this defense.
No. 3: Mason Richman, LT, Logan Jones, C
Let’s not sugarcoat things here: Iowa’s offensive line struggled in 2022. The run game averaged just 2.92 yards per rush and only 94.9 yards per game despite the talent Kaleb Johnson has. They allowed 38 sacks as well. That has to improve and it starts with the two most important spots on the offensive line.
Mason Richman is protecting the quarterback’s blind side and there is a belief Iowa may be spreading it out a touch more this year. His pass protection is vital.
Logan Jones is in control of the offensive line and in charge of communicating blocking schemes as the center. He is arguably just as important as the quarterback in audible calls.
Richman and Jones are crucial to an offensive line needing to improve to protect the quarterback and establish a ground game.
No. 2: Cade McNamara, QB
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Coming in at No. 2 is Cade McNamara. Many would have him as the most important player and that is understandable. He is playing the most important position on a team desperately hoping for improved quarterback play.
McNamara is an instant upgrade to the Hawkeyes in the passing game with proven big-game experience from his time at Michigan. Brian Ferentz’s new contract is more or less tied to McNamara’s performance. It is all-in this season.
There may be no player under more pressure than McNamara, and, if he can deliver, things could get very interesting for the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten West and the entire conference discussion. If he can pull Iowa to a middle-of-the-road offense, they are in contention. If he can take them beyond that, the sky truly is the limit.
No. 1: Cooper DeJean, CB, Special Teams
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Fact: Cooper DeJean is the best football player on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The defensive back was a superstar last season and that may be understating it. Contributing 59 tackles was fantastic, but the five interceptions—three of which he turned into house calls—was exceptional. DeJean is a star on the back end of this defense and is the unquestioned leader of a secondary known for being ballhawks.
DeJean will lead a secondary that features Quinn Schulte, Sebastian Castro, and Xavier Nwankpa. His talent, skills, and instincts are unteachable and a must-have for this defense.
What puts DeJean as the most important player isn’t just his defensive play. DeJean averaged 16.5 yards per punt return last year. He is electrifying with the ball in his hands. The field position and momentum with those plays is huge. Add in his intelligence and awareness to down punts inside opponents’ 5-yard-line as he did multiple, multiple times in 2022 and you see what he means to this team.
The Iowa Hawkeyes go as Cooper DeJean goes.
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