Iowa Football: Ranking the 7 Best Offensive Weapons for the Hawkeyes
The 2012 Iowa Hawkeyes and their head coach Kirk Ferentz were short on offensive playmakers.
This resulted in them being the second-worst scoring offense and passing offense (quarterback efficiency) in the conference and the third-worst rushing offense (yards per carry or YPC).
More notably, they had the second-fewest plays of 10-plus and 20-plus yards, the third-fewest plays of 30-plus yards and the fewest plays of 40 yards or more.
They would have been at the bottom of most of those categories if Illinois hadn't been even worse than Iowa.
In effect, the Hawkeyes' goal for 2013 is simply to score points, and the way to do that is to put the ball into playmakers' hands. The following slides rank who those playmakers are.
The order of the slideshow was based on what the respective players have done in the past, how they looked in the Des Moines open practice and the spring game and what they project to do if put in a position to succeed.
7. Wide Receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley
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Martin-Manley does not have the pure physical attributes of former Hawkeyes receiver Marvin McNutt. He does not have the open-field prowess of erstwhile Iowa receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Nevertheless, he is a returning starter and the most experienced receiver on Iowa's roster, having caught 82 receptions for 894 yards in his career
The junior, via Ryan Suchomel of HawkCentral.com, "accepts the possession wide receiver label," but he has proven that he can make plays downfield. Most notable is the 2011 Pitt contest in which he had four catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
He is unlikely to take over a game a la McNutt, but he does have the ability to make key receptions and extend drives. This is something Iowa was in need of last year, coming in second-to-last in the conference in total first downs—once again, thank you Illinois.
6. Tight Ends Ray Hamilton, Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble
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Junior Hamilton and sophomores Duzey and Krieger-Coble have combined for 10 receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown.
That wouldn't be an impressive—though as yet incomplete—career for one player let alone three.
However, as previously detailed, Iowa's best path for scoring success would involve an offense that employs multiple tight ends, especially in the red zone.
Unfortunately, Hawkeyes fans will have to wait until opening day to find out how involved the tight ends are.
Whatever the Iowa brain trust decides, the tight ends are one of if not the most talented and deepest position groups on the team, and they need to be utilized.
5. Kick Returner Jordan Cotton
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One of the only bright spots for the 2012 Hawkeyes was the emergence of Jordan Cotton, primarily as a kick returner.
He led the Big Ten with 28.21 yards per return, while the second-place returner was almost a full five yards per return behind him.
Cotton will benefit from the hiring of special teams coordinator Chris White. White spent the past four years as a special teams assistant on the Minnesota Vikings, and they had pretty good special teams last season.
As arguably the only proven offensive commodity on the team, Cotton will need to continue to pick up the "hidden" special teams yardage, as the Iowa offense will need all the help it can get.
4. Running Back/Wide Receiver Damon Bullock
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Bullock has taken an interesting route to his junior year.
He came to Iowa as a running back but became a wide receiver as soon as he hit campus.
The coaches immediately recognized his playmaking ability, and he burned his redshirt (as a receiver) in the first game of the 2011 season.
Transfers, injuries and attrition struck the running back group, as has been typical with the running backs for the past five years, and Bullock moved into the backfield by midseason.
He began 2012 as the starting tailback, but a concussion limited his productivity.
This spring, Bullock is still listed as a running back and has been at running back in the two open practices. However, via Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Bullock said that "when practice is (going) and no media around, I’m always around the receivers."
This also explains Bullock's uniform number change from No. 32 to the more wide receiver-friendly No. 5.
Is the Iowa running back-slot-receiver hybrid thing for real? Will Ferentz dabble in innovative offensive schemes?
If so, Bullock will be the primary beneficiary in terms of playing time and offensive touches.
If not, he's got a future in video production.
3. Running Back Jordan Canzeri
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Canzeri was set to redshirt as a freshman before injuries put him onto the field.
He was the starting tailback by the time Iowa reached its bowl game.
He went into last spring as the top tailback, but a torn ACL ended his season prematurely. However, he was cleared to play only six months after his injury (though he never did play)—an injury that usually takes nine months to a year to heal.
The determination and work ethic that got him healthy were also going to push him up the depth chart.
In effect, it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that the sophomore was not only Iowa's best running back at the Des Moines open practice (per Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette), but he was also the offensive all-star of the spring game.
No matter who starts at tailback, receiver or wherever, the coaches have to find a way to get the ball into Canzeri's hands, as he is the biggest home run threat on the roster—an area that was sorely lacking in 2012.
2. Running Back Mark Weisman
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Weisman originally attended the Air Force Academy but transferred to Iowa following his freshman season.
He sat out 2011 per NCAA rules and began 2012 as the starting fullback.
As previously mentioned, starting tailback Damon Bullock went down with a concussion in the third game of the season. This moved Weisman into the starting spot, and he delivered.
From the third game through the sixth game, Weisman carried the ball 98 times for 623 yards, 6.36 YPC and eight touchdowns.
However, he left the sixth game against Michigan State with a tweaked ankle and wasn't 100 percent for the remainder of the year.
Some argue that the majority of Weisman's yards came against weak competition, namely Northern Iowa (FCS), Central Michigan and Minnesota.
While that is true, he also put up 116 yards, 4.46 YPC and one touchdown against Michigan State—the top rushing defense in the conference (YPC) and No. 13 in the country.
In 2013, with a stocked Iowa backfield, look for Weisman to double as a fullback and a tailback.
This will give the Hawkeyes two genuine rushing threats on the field at the same time, though hopefully Weisman spends more time carrying the ball than plowing holes for other running backs.
1. Tight End C.J. Fiedorowicz
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Fiedorowicz came to Iowa as Rivals' No. 5 tight end in the country in 2010.
Hopes were high that he would immediately grab a starting job. That didn't happen, but he did burn his redshirt on special teams and in goal-line packages.
He was expected to start as a sophomore, but once again, he was relegated to backup duty until mid-year. By that point, both of the tight ends in front of him had laid eggs.
Fiedorowicz became the starter, and over the final six games, he posted 14 receptions for 135 yards and three touchdowns.
2012 was set up to be a breakout year for the junior. The at-the-time new offensive coordinator Greg Davis said of Fiedorowicz via Ryan Suchomel of HawkCentral.com, "I’ve never had a tight end like C.J. with his size and ability to play at the line of scrimmage and also stretch the field."
Taking Fiedorowicz's stats out of context, he had a strong year, posting 45 receptions—the most for an Iowa tight end since Scott Chandler in 2006.
But looking at the bigger picture, he averaged 9.62 yards per reception—the lowest total by a top Iowa tight end in the Ferentz era.
He also only saw the end zone once. Lastly, over 31 percent of his production occurred in the final two games, at which point Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette tweeted,
RT @tomfornelli Greg Davis just discovered CJ Fiedorowicz in practice this week.— Mike Hlas (@Hlas) November 17, 2012
2013 is a huge year for Fiedorowicz. Despite what has thus far been an underwhelming career, CBS Sports ranks him the No. 2 tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft.
He can catch. He can run. He can now block—something he couldn't do when he came to Iowa. He is listed as 6'7", 265 pounds.
It will be one of the greatest failures of the Ferentz era if the coaches don't find a way to consistently get the ball into his hands.