Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
It has been quite the season for the Iowa receiving corps. Unheralded by many coming out of training camp, with the exception of Marvin McNutt, the trio of receivers that have become James Vandenberg’s favorite targets are quickly being recognized as the best in the Big Ten. McNutt was the big name coming out camp. He has posted 16 touchdowns in the previous 2 seasons, and toyed with the idea of entering the draft in April. He decided to return for his senior season, much to delight of Vandenberg and Hawkeye fans.
The name Keenan Davis rings a bell around these parts. The junior wide receiver is a Cedar Rapids product, just 30 minutes north of Iowa City. Out of high school, Davis was a top 150 recruit at receiver for Cedar Rapids Washington. His impact on the field in his first 2 seasons has been minimal, but he chose the right time to standout.
Kevonte Martin-Manley is the name that many may overlook. He redshirted last season and wasn’t expected to produce much in 2011. With McNutt and Davis above him on the depth chart, his chances for significant catches wasn’t very high. Think again. The freshman has been extremely productive in the last 5 quarters for the Hawkeyes. As Iowa has shifted into the no-huddle, spread at times, Martin-Manley has been on the field a lot more than expected.
The trio has accounted for 80% of Vandenberg’s yards on the season. Davis and Martin-Manley both have 3 touchdowns through the first 4 games, while McNutt leads the team with 4. McNutt will continue to get the most targets out of the group, but expect Martin-Manley to fill into the role that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos played in his first couple seasons in Iowa City. KMM will thrive in the slot role. McNutt is most likely to be isolated on one side, with Davis and KMM on the other. Davis’ size and speed make him a good vertical threat, so KMM will be left with the middle routes. His ability to fin the seam has already been tested as he did so twice in the Pittsburgh game, both resulting in touchdowns.
While the production at receiver has exceed expectations, tight end is a different story. Brad Herman was expected to fill in for the departed Allen Reisner, now with the Minnesota Vikings. Backing him up was a 4-start tight end out of Johnsburg, IL, C.J. Fiedorowicz. Herman was regarded as a better blocker than pass catcher, evident by his 11 catches in 2010. It was expected that Herman would receive more snaps than Fiedorowicz, simply with Iowa’s love of running the ball. However the philosophy has changed, and so too should the personnel, right? Wrong, C.J. Fiedorowicz is Iowa’s version of Jermichael Finley. He is a mismatch for any player on opposing defenses. Fiedorowicz stands at 6’7 and weighs in at 265 lbs. What linebacker or safety is going to be able to guard him 1 on 1 in the middle of the field? Not anyone from Tennessee Tech, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, or Louisana-Monroe.
Iowa’s use from the tight end position has been evident in years past. Reisner, Tony Moeaki, and Brandon Myers, Iowa’s last 3 tight ends, are all on rosters in the NFL. The production from the position has fans stumped. Herman’s ability to catch the short roll outs and block has him playing the majority of the snaps. However Iowa has gone to a spread system the last 6 quarters it has played, and Fiedorowicz has managed to catch just 2 balls on the season. I hope that the coaching staff can see that Fiedorowicz’s speed and size is a nightmare for most teams, considering they already have to deal with Iowa’s strong receivers. Nevertheless the production from the position has been non-existent through the first 4 weeks.
Grade – B+
While Iowa’s receivers continue to impress, you have to wonder what is going on with the tight end position. Iowa has the talent, just hasn’t seen the production. Fiedorowicz inability to block consistently has him on the sidelines more than he should be. McNutt is on pace to set the single season record for receiving yards, and Martin-Manley and Davis should be a nice 2nd and 3rd option for new quarterback James Vandenberg.