Highly touted safety Xavier Nwankpa committed to Iowa on Wednesday.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BREAKING?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BREAKING</a>: The Top247’s No. 1 safety Xavier Nwankpa has committed to <a href="https://twitter.com/HawkeyeFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HawkeyeFootball</a> over Ohio State and Notre Dame 🔥🔥<a href="https://twitter.com/xaviernwankpa01?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@xaviernwankpa01</a> is staying home! <a href="https://t.co/h5BJORdZOK">pic.twitter.com/h5BJORdZOK</a>
The Iowa native is 45th nationally and fifth at his position in 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also the best player from his home state.
247Sports' Chris Singletary had high praise for Nwankpa, comparing him to two-time All-ACC and 2018 All-Pro safety Derwin James:
"The burst and closing speed that he has makes for a player that displays great range whether it’s getting off the hash in 2 deep or in the deep third to make plays on the ball or receiver. The ability to read, react and close on plays are something that makes him a game-changer. His tackling and physicalness is top-notch, he coils and strikes the ball-carrier along with doing a good job wrapping. Makes plays on all three levels, does a good job when blitzing being physical and running through blockers or attacking their edge while making plays on the QB."
The transformation of the safety position has been happening for a number of years, and merely identifying a defender as a safety does little to describe his on-field duties. With James, for example, The Athletic's Daniel Popper wrote how he occupied five different roles within the Los Angeles Chargers defense.
At 6'2" and 190 pounds, Nwankpa has the frame to guard wide receivers or tight ends in pass coverage or move closer to the line of scrimmage to defend against the run.
Matthew Bain @MatthewBain_
This is impressive. Acting as a pseudo LB, Xavier Nwankpa (<a href="https://twitter.com/xaviernwankpa01?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@xaviernwankpa01</a>) tracks the WR on a jet screen and whacks him for a 1-yard loss. <a href="https://t.co/HdeKZmoA6d">pic.twitter.com/HdeKZmoA6d</a>
Cody Goodwin @codygoodwin
Dowling puts together a great drive, led by RB Kham Middleton, and gets to the SEP13. On 3rd-and-7, English goes to the end zone, but Xavier Nwankpa is there for the interception. Big time. Still 7-0, SEP, 6:25 left. <br><br>🍯🦡 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/iahsfb?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#iahsfb</a> <a href="https://t.co/Mb9z4lAkkn">pic.twitter.com/Mb9z4lAkkn</a>
Brad Zelenovich, Nwankpa's coach at Southeast Polk High School, recounted to 247Sports' Kevin Sinclair how the rangy defensive back was ready to join the varsity squad as a freshman.
"It's hard to physically be ready to play at that level as a 14-year-old kid," Zelenovich said. "... We brought him up probably Week 3 or Week 4 of his freshman year, and he's never left."
James was Florida State's second-leading tackler (94 tackles) and had 4.5 sacks as a true freshman. The Hawkeyes would obviously be thrilled if Nwankpa can make that kind of impact right away, but that's a high standard to meet.
More likely, Nwankpa will have a more gradual transition into Iowa's defense. His versatility could be valuable in allowing him to be used situationally early on.
With a year or two under his belt, he has all of the tools to become the kind of defensive star who requires a near-constant level of attention from opposing teams.
Nwankpa's hometown (Altoona) is only a few hours away from Iowa City, so the Hawkeyes were always a logical landing spot.
Beyond the emotional pull, the program has been a consistent winner under head coach Kirk Ferentz and typically builds its success on a stingy defense. Suiting up for Iowa should be a great way for Nwankpa to develop his game and showcase his skills.