Sep 24, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive end J.D. Waggoner (55) celebrates with defensive end Jhaustin Thomas (8) after sacking San Jose State Spartans quarterback Josh Love (12) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Spartans 44-10. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State just lost five players off of its defensive line to graduation. That five includes a team captain (Mitchell Meyers), the team leader in tackles for loss (Jhaustin Thomas), the former Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year (Demond Tucker) and two others who saw the field quite a bit (Game Luna and Pierre Aka) during their careers in Ames.
Normally, losing five players along the defensive front would be a death sentence for an Iowa State defense. Due to the recruiting efforts by Matt Campbell and his staff, the Iowa State’s defensive line could realistically be better in 2017.
Let me explain…
The Cyclones already officially added one major new piece on Wednesday when three-star junior college defensive end Matt Leo surprised everyone by announcing he was signing with Iowa State over Oklahoma. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound prospect is the No. 5 weak-side defensive end in the JUCO ranks, according to 247Composite, and is expected to make an immediate impact on the field next season.
It is easy for people to be skeptical of junior college kids because, frankly, they are really unpredictable, on and off the field. There are a lot of factors in play when guys have to make the jump from junior college to big-time Power 5 football.
That said, Leo has all the physical tools to be one of Iowa State’s more intimidating pass rushers in a long time. The same can be said for junior college defensive tackles, and Iowa State commits, Kamilo Tongamoa, the No. 5 JUCO defensive tackle per 247 Composite, and Ray Lima, the No. 7 JUCO defensive tackle per the same metric.
Add those two players to the mix and Iowa State could potentially have 6-foot-5 Tongamoa, 6-foot-3 Lima and 6-foot-7 Leo along the starting defensive line in 2017. Obviously, size isn’t everything in football, but that sounds — and will look — like a Big 12 defensive line.
Plus, you return, arguably, your most talented young defensive player in true sophomore Jaquan Bailey. If he’s able to make a jump next season, Iowa State’s defensive line could go from being a major question mark to somewhat of a strength.
Iowa State also brings back seniors J.D. Waggoner and Vernell Trent, two players that have seen the field a lot during their ISU careers. Hopefully, former JUCO product Justin Stewart can make a jump heading into his second season in Ames.
Sophomore nose guard Jahmal Johnson will be one year older with some experience under his belt. From all accounts, true freshman Eyioma Uwazuirike was a stud on Iowa State’s practice squad this fall.
As mentioned previously, there are a lot of variables that are still in play with Iowa State’s defensive line. We don’t know how they will adjust to being in a Power 5 weight room, being pushed harder or all the other things it takes to play big-time college football.
But, those reasons are why I put could in italics all the way at the beginning of this blog. We obviously won’t really know until they’re on campus and working with the team.
Until that time comes, with the guys they have returning and the immediate impact junior college players they’ve added — or are expected to add — I’m going to continue to contend that Iowa State’s defensive line very possibly could be better in 2017.