The end of a season brings both reflection and projection. I generally shy away from reflection and immediately move to projection in a general sense. Projection means an evaluation of program status via critical analysis of recruiting and roster construction. This necessarily involves player and position group evaluation.
The starting point of analysis of any team begins with the talent quotient of the overall talent available for personal development and schematic fit. No scheme should be developed in a vacuum and should never exclude the talent available to execute the conceived scheme. Therefore, I begin every offseason evaluating talent and projections of the collegiate teams I follow closely, the collegiate landscape as a whole, and, as an off-shoot, NFL talent entering the draft.
Truthfully, this is as much of a passion of mine as conceiving and evaluating various schemes deployed by coaches around the country. If a team’s players are not capable of executing and winning in their individual match-ups, then there is very little reason to project success moving forward.
There are a myriad of factors that go into the development of a successful program, or “process” if you will. The internal developmental factors are probably more important to a team’s success level, but if the development potential and athletic base of the players is not elevated, then the ceiling lowers.
Iowa State is a developmental program. They must find gems, develop them, and raise the level of higher rated prospects. It is vital that Iowa State obtain players that play at their expected level and a handful exceed that level of performance. That is the formula for winning at Iowa State. Recruit the highest level of athlete available to you, emphasize development physically and technically, and match your scheme to the talent on the team.
Below is an analytical framework for evaluating roster talent utilizing the rating systems currently available for such evaluation. The purpose is to provide a reference more than an analysis. It is a way to evaluate the state of the program and to gauge enthusiasm moving forward. It will start with a look at Iowa State’s place in their conference and then move into a look at the position groups and the talent ratings associated therewith.
Make your own conclusions, research additional analysis, and use it as a reference point as news breaks heading in to the 2019 season.
It is generally understood that talent projections are an inexact science. Each year there are players that are overlooked, overrated, and underrated. However, teams that bring in players rated highly continue to win games over teams with less highly regarded players.
The primary method of evaluating talent quotients is to assign a numerical value to a players physical ability, performance, physical and athletic base, and projection of their impact and proficiency. All of the evaluations and values given are done with an eye towards the elite standards found in successful NFL players.
For the purposes of this article, I am relying entirely upon information drawn from 247Sports. The composite ratings score is the primary basis for my opinions and conclusions herein. The published definition for the composite ratings can be found here. I have utilized and reorganized information from the various composite ratings given to players on the Iowa State roster which can be found here. In addition, I have relied on composite ratings for the recent signees and added them in to the analysis which can be found right here. The extrapolations and opinions are entirely my own and are not endorsed or otherwise supported by 247 in any way.
Each rating score (a number between .7000 and 1.100) is granted an associated star rating. A player with a certain number, say .8300, will have a general expectation attached to their college career, however, that player may never see the field at one program while being a day one starter at another. Ultimately, the number represents an expected performance level based on production, size, athletic attributes, speed, and who is interested in their services.
The table below represents my evaluation and expectation of players receiving a commensurate composite score as modified slightly from the same analysis applied by 247Sports.
|.9800 to 1.000
|5 star elite recruit that is expected to contend for All-American honors and play a significant role as a 1st year player (unless going to Alabama or Clemson).
|.9000 to .9799
|4 star recruit that has All-American potential, early contributor, expected to perform at an All-Conference level.
|.8600 to .8999
|High 3 star recruit. All-Conference potential, needs physical or skill development.
|.8400 to .8599
|3 star recruit. With development should be a reliable starter.
|.8100 to .8399
|Low 3 star recruit. Needs development, role player expectation, solid starter would be the upside and special teams would be the downside.
|Developmental, some skill, low expectations for player. Largely unknown potential and lack of information.
It is entirely possible to find players in the lower tiers who perform at a much higher level due to their own skill set and work ethic. It is also possible to take a lowly regarded player, develop them physically, coach them up, and pull a higher level of performance out of them. The unmatched example of this is Kansas State where under analyzed recruits are developed on an experienced based roster and the team outperforms its talent rating by one to two star-levels.
But, the ratings are surprisingly accurate, even with the disdain shown for them by coaches and analysts alike (including me). At the roster talent level you will find all four of the CFP participants located in the top 11 places in overall roster talent on an as recruited basis. As you peruse the rankings and assess whether a team is outperforming or underperforming its talent quotients, you will begin to correlate the relative variants for success (which means wins) with the higher rated roster talent appearing in each program. It is important to note that the age of the talent, the experience of the talent, and the loss of talent each year are relevant factors, as is the presence of a new or existing coaching regime.
I was particularly drawn to the underperforming teams in the top 30 of the roster talent rankings. Six of those teams significantly underperformed their rankings. There was a common theme to each. The others performed at an acceptable level. Note the commonality below…
*** Tennessee .8840 15th 1st year coach
*** UCLA .8724 19th 1st year coach
*** Ole Miss .8711 22nd 1st year coach
*** Nebraska .8628 26th 1st year coach
*** Arkansas .8585 27th 1st year coach
*** N. Carolina .8637 29th Coach Fired
It appears that program stability and programmatic development matters. Significantly.
On an individual player level, it is interesting to look at the ratings for the prospects populating mock draft boards for the 2019 NFL Draft. While the consensus top 10 has not yet formed, there are a number of players that are consistently mentioned as having first round talent. I looked at just 19 of those players. Only six of those players carried ratings that indicated less than NFL worthy talent. Only two of those players were long shots to play at the collegiate level, let alone in the NFL. Below, take a look at a few of the examples.
*** Nick Bosa (Ohio State) .9965
*** Quinnen Williams (Alabama) .9321
*** Ed Oliver (Houston) .9969
*** Rashan Gary (Michigan) 1.000
*** Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) .9561
*** Deionte Thompson (Alabama) .9806
*** Josh Allen (Kentucky) .7965 (consensus top 5 pick)
*** Daniel Jones (Duke) NR (likely first round QB)
In spite of the exceptions above, talent ratings hold true in the mean. Teams boasting players with a higher average composite score will largely defeat teams with a lower roster talent potential quotient. It’s science (relying on Ron Burgundy’s logic there).
As it relates to Iowa State, I believe Iowa State has three and possibly four draftable players that will enter this year’s draft.
*** Hakeem Butler .7891
*** David Montgomery .8348
*** Brian Peavy .8260
*** Willie Harvey .7858
Each of the Iowa State players were long shots to be impact players at the collegiate level, let alone be considered as potentially draftable NFL players. It is a testament to the development skills and eye for under exposed talent present in the current coaching regime (Note: Butler, Peavy, and Harvey were all signed by the previous staff, but the point holds true). In addition, it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the players named.
The larger context is that Iowa State must continue to raise the base line level of talent in the program, in addition to finding “gems,” in order to maintain their current pace and achieve a championship position. The team out east has a 40-year program in place that rests upon development to a level above an initial rating. However, its reliance on a sprinkling of highly rated talent is significant and, in recent years, the program has obtained key players with high potential. Its genius is that it rarely fails to develop its recruits to their expected performance level. Iowa State must not only raise the level of performance expectations but must assure that it is developing each recruit to their maximum potential.
BIG 12 TALENT RATINGS
The following represents the composite rating of the 2018 rosters for Big 12 programs.
The parenthetical numbers represent the national ranking for the respective programs. Iowa State ranks 7th in the conference in overall roster talent. Outside of the Texas-OU gap to the rest of the conference, the next largest gap is between Iowa State and the alternating mid-tier positions.
It is clear that ISU has outperformed its talent quotient over the last two seasons. That is attributable to its development of the talent to perform at a much higher level than its expected performance and the rising level of talent on the roster.
Based on the above, I present four recruiting tiers and program types which may represent the relative position of certain programs.
|Teams built on elite talent with an expected floor of 3 losses per year.
|TCU, WVU, BAY, OSU
|Teams built on solid starters with elite units or impact players that elevate performance. 1 to 5 losses.
|Teams with solid starters, standout development, system, and scheme make the difference. 6 to 9 wins.
|Teams with a mix of solid starters and role players requiring outstanding coaching and development to reach bowl eligibility. 1 to 5 wins.
Iowa State is a developmental program…make no mistake. However, the on-field and recruiting results of the last two seasons indicate that the program development is high and coupled with the upward trend in roster talent, they are settled as a “Bowl Eligible” program at present. The task then becomes to recruit to a level that ISU reaches the “All-Conference” tier where the intangibles create a program that can challenge for a championship.
IOWA STATE ROSTER ANALYSIS
The roster is made up of each recruiting class and walk-ons. Increasing the talent on a roster involves recruiting more highly rated players overall and retention and development of those talented players. Attrition via transfer, injury, and personal issues can destroy a team’s chemistry and talent quotient. See TCU in 2018, where injuries and indecision forced a significantly talented team to barely bowl eligible status (preview: TCU will be highly regarded by myself in analyzing the Big 12 in 2019).
Recruiting has been a strong point of the current staff. Each year they have increased the baseline ratings for the talent acquired. The 2019 class was ranked 5th in the conference and boasted its highest mean rating ever with a .8542. With the losses and inclusion of that talent, the roster talent will increase for the 2019 squad to a shade below .8400, which is a significant uptick.
Below, the roster is organized by position groups as denominated on the current roster and including the current signees. The players are ranked based on their composite score at the time they signed with ISU and not based on performance or development while at ISU. “WO” stands for “walk-on.” The names in bold are those identified by Chris Williams as being included on the preliminary two-deep depth chart. The last row of each chart shows the average talent rating for the position group and a parenthetical representing the status of the position group on the team as a whole. Brief analysis follows each position group entry.
|1. Easton Dean
|2. Brock Purdy
|3. Re-al Mitchell
|Rated Position Average
The most important position at Iowa State is its most talented position. It is often said that ISU switches QB’s often. The have a nice stretch, then they regress or fail to progress. Instead, I believe it is simply the fact that the starting QB’s hit their ceiling because of talent and developmental limitations and are replaced by more highly regarded talent. That is an oversimplification but emphasizes the necessity of development and a scheme that takes in to account both the talent upside and the talent limitations present in the individual players.
I have reserved judgment on Brock Purdy as the long term solution at quarterback. Re-al Mitchell has significant talent that I would like to see manifest at the quarterback position. I am impressed with the skill set of Easton Dean and very comfortable with an early depth role for him. John Kolar provides some maturity in the room and hopefully some back-up talent.
The Alamo Bowl performance provided a solid base for belief in Brock Purdy as a multi-year starter. He was able to put significant deficiencies behind him and gut out an outstanding performance overall. The key, for Purdy and the QB position group, will be scheme adjusts that allow Iowa State to better deal with pressure defenses. The book is out and pressure is an Achilles Heel for the offense. The offseason will dictate the relative success of this highly rated group on the Iowa State roster.
|1. Jirehl Brock
|2. Breece Hall
|3. Kene Nwangwu
|4. Sheldon Croney
|5. Johnnie Lang
|Rated Position Average
The second highest rated position group is here at running back. David Montgomery is a significant loss. However, the incoming freshmen are capable of making an impact in their first year of play.
If you watch the TCU game, you will see running plays that are ideal for Jirehl Brock. Breece Hall is going to be a stalwart, but Brock will have an opportunity to shine if the scheme fits his running style.
The most intriguing player in the analysis of the running back talent is Kene Nwangwu. I would very much like to see his speed utilized and given 15 opportunities a game to make an impact. While he does not possess Montgomery’s power, his speed gains yards and space that is difficult to account for by even the best (Texas) defenses in the conference. If he becomes more than a change-of-pace player, then I believe the Iowa State running game can become dynamic.
By the way, do not discount Johnnie Lang. I was impressed by his skill level and believe there is a chance for him to develop into an impact player. The staff will need to properly evaluate their talent and scheme in order to increase the running production, but I believe this position group is entirely capable of doing so.
|1. Joseph Scates
|2. Sean Shaw
|3. Darien Porter
|4. Ezeriah Anderson
|5. DeShaunte Jones
|6. Josh Johnson
|7. Jalen Martin
|8. Leonard Glass
|9. Carson Schleker
|10. D’Shayne James
|11. Tarique Milton
|12. Landen Akers
|13. Parker Rickert
|Rated Position Average
Wide receiver will take a hit based on the loss of Butler. However, I am not convinced that is a bad thing. The ball needs to be spread out and there are extremely capable players here that are developing above their perceived talent level.
Josh Johnson is particularly intriguing as I believe his buy-in has increased and that he is a game-changing receiver in the mold of Anthony Miller, formerly of Memphis.
There is speed here. A speed of the likes Iowa State has rarely possessed. Akers, Schleker, Glass, and Milton possess game-changing speed and can be a threat if utilized properly.
Finally, do not expect the 50/50 ball to a big receiver to disappear. Iowa State seems committed to that offensive trigger. Scates, Shaw, Porter, and Anderson are capable in this capacity and teams will have to account for that schematic dagger moving forward.
This is a talented, but unproven, group of players that will outperform its talent rating. Milton is an excellent receiver and is already significantly outperforming his rating. Leonard Glass is a player to watch as his overall skill level is higher than his .8485 rating.
|1. Sean Foster
|2. Joey Ramos
|3. Trevor Downing
|4. Grant Treiber
|5. Jarrod Hufford
|6. Julian Good-Jones
|7. Bryce Meeker
|8. Jake Remsburg
|9. Collin Newell
|10. Robert Hudson
|11. Darrell Simmons
|12. Josh Knipfel
|13. Alex Kleinow
|14. Jeff Nagaj
|15. Zach Ross
|16. Bobby Denaro
|Rated Position Average
The fate of the Iowa State program rests in the hands of its third most highly rated position group.
There is adequately rated experience here, but in my opinion, a ceiling has been reached. That ceiling needs to push higher. There are many developmental projects in this group and the staff is challenged to raise the level of play through technique, scheme, and physical development.
Iowa State has presented lines with only adequate footwork and knee bend. Raw power and poor technique in the form of leaning remains a persistent issue. However, the younger members of this squad exhibit excellent feet and demonstrated power. I expect that numbers two through five on this list will make a strong case for themselves in the off season.
Iowa State ran for a paltry 1,600 yards in 2018. For continued success, I believe that number needs to increase to 2,500 or higher in 2019. The running ability of the quarterbacks will increase this number, but the key is the development of the offensive line via the infusion of talent with a higher ceiling than what has been presented before.
In my opinion, there is not a player in this group playing above their projected ceiling and many have work to do to justify their initial ratings. It takes linemen longer to develop, but year four should show some upward development. More than anything, the top-rated talent in this class needs to break through and perform up to their higher rated talent quotient.
There is work to do here.
|1. Chase Allen
|2. Charlie Kolar
|3. Skylar Loving-Black
|4. Dylan Soehner
|Rated Position Average
Tight end is the lowest rated position group on the Iowa State roster. Yet, it is the most talented in my opinion. Kolar and Soehner have significantly outperformed their expected talent quotient and Allen has met his. This is a talented group that has not approached its ceiling. That ceiling is high.
Iowa State can pivot from the size advantage on the outside by utilizing the size and speed advantage presented on the inside by the tight ends. The involvement of Seonbuchner in the passing game at the end of the season was an omen of things to come. If Soehner can become a passing threat from the F position, and Kolar can become a primary target from the Y, then this offense can become dynamic.
In addition, if the F and Y can be utilized in the edge running game, the line receives a boost and the speed of a Nwangwu can be maximized. The talent is here for a dynamic schematic shift based on the roster talent available.
|1. Ray Lima
|2. Isaiah Lee
|3. Tucker Robertson
|4. Joshua Bailey
|5. Jamahl Johnson
|Rated Position Average
The bottom of the roster talent is presented in the defensive position groups. Yet, the defense has been developed at or above its expected talent ratings. As you read these profiles, take note of the accelerated development and talent identification that has prospered under the Campbell regime on defense.
The sheer numbers at the interior defensive line indicate that there will not be a shift to a four-man front. Though that possibility still exists, the dispersal of talent suggests that there is but one defensive tackle position.
The good news is that each has a unique skill set and the ability to impact the game. Lima is an NFL prospect. Jamahl Johnson is a solid interior pass rusher. Lee and Robertson both arrived with solid technical skill and will grow in to impact players at the position.
The future is bright here, though 2020 will need to see an infusion of young talent at the position or some positional flexibility from the defensive ends. This group will represent a position of need in recruiting and will need to remain a strength of the team to continue an upward climb.
|1. Blake Peterson
|2. Matt Leo
|3. Corey Suttle
|4. Will McDonald
|5. Eyioma Uwazurike
|6. JaQuan Bailey
|7. Angel Dominguez
|8. Zach Pedersen
|9. Dan Sichterman
|10. Carson Lensing
|11. Josh Coleman
|Rated Position Average
I was surprised to see the numbers at the defensive end position.
JaQuan Bailey is performing well above his rating. If he continues on the path he has established, he could be an All-American candidate as a senior.
Enyi Uwazurike is simply the best defender on the field for Iowa State. He is versatile and technically proficient. He will be an NFL player and his impact will continue to progress throughout 2019.
Behind them are a bevy of both solid contain players and potential pass rushers. Both are important, but Iowa State must develop a higher level of pass rush ability from the edge. Young players will be relied upon to provide the increased pressure, but they have already demonstrated an ability beyond their ratings. Whoever develops in that mold will garner the playing time and it is a must for a continued upward trend in wins.
We also see positional flexibility here which is important in a developmental program. Several of these players have the size and strength to move inside which provides an extra option in setting up pass rush schemes and security in the case of injury.
Recruiting top line interior lineman is a challenge below the Elite level mentioned above. Therefore, it appears that Iowa State has chosen to recruit edge athletes with the potential to develop into interior players as their career progresses. For instance, Enyi and Leo have the size and strength to move inside in a four man front if the situation dictates. Corey Suttle has a nice frame and could be an athletic option on the interior as he ages in the program. Positional flexibility creates scheme flexibility and the ability to create match-up issues for opponents.
|1. O’Rien Vance
|2. Mike Rose
|3. Cordarrius Bailey
|4. Aric Horne
|5. Marcel Spears
|6. Bobby McMillen
|7. Coal Flansberg
|8. Jake Hummel
|9. Chandler Pulvermacher
|10. Tymar Sutton
|11. Gerry Vaughn
|12. Aaron Austin
|Rated Position Average
Again, as with the rest of the defense, the staff has done an excellent job of stocking the roster with linebackers capable of outperforming their initial talent ratings. Mike Rose and Marcel Spears have established themselves as forces to be accounted for. O’Rien Vance has shown exciting progress and with increased discipline and mental approach, he may have the highest upside of the group.
The two signees in this group have tremendous potential to add to the impressive ceiling for the linebackers. The challenge will be identifying and playing the best players of this group in the situations in which they can excel.
Gerry Vaughn might have been a surprise inclusion on Chris Williams’ depth chart, but not so fast. He was a highly instinctual prospect who I believed to be a gem in the 2018 class. There are many options here and skill sets, it will be interesting to see who pushes through to the top of the depth chart, but, rest assured, those that play will be as good as we have seen at Iowa State.
The final note here is the sheer number of linebackers. That is strategic in that it provides solid level athletes for special teams which needs to improve for Iowa State to take another step forward. In addition, linebacker can be a high injury position and depth is a requirement. Also, players like Cordarrius Bailey and Coal Flansburg have positional flexibility and can fill multiple roles.
|1. Keonte Jones (CB)
|2. Jaeveyon Morton (CB)
|3. Greg Eisworth (S)
|4. Derrick Miller
|5. OJ Tucker CB)
|6. Richard Bowens (C/S)
|7. Virdell Edwards
|8. Dallas Taylor-Cortez (CB)
|9. Vonzell Kelley
|10. Anthony Johnson (CB)
|11. Tayvonn Kyle (CB)
|12. Lawrence White (S)
|13. Arnold Azunna (CB)
|14. Kym-Mani King (CB)
|15. Datrone Young (CB)
|16. Jataris Grant (S)
|17. Amechie Walker
|Braxton Lewis (S)
|Rated Position Average
There are a lot of lower ceiling players who have pushed through perception and performed at a higher level in the secondary.
The best cover men are Datrone Young and Kym-Mani King, yet they are lowly rated. Anthony Johnson is ahead of schedule and brings size and length that portends of better things in the future. Braxton Lewis is an outstanding member of the secondary and made an impact second only to Enyi in the performance of the defense as a whole. Greg Eisworth is just a dude.
The question will be the mental state and development of the younger, higher rated talent in this group. At present, there are large question marks surrounding several of these players. The upside is that the lower rated talent is proven in game situations which creates time for maturity and development of the higher rated prospects. If that maturity manifests, then, again, there is a high level of talent here that can aid in maintaining the prowess of the Iowa State pass defense. The downside is that Iowa State must develop a high number of players to performance levels above the expected ceiling. This may be the most intriguing position group on the team.
A program is built on a series of building blocks, in my opinion. Those steps are:
1 – Players = recruiting baseline talent with appropriate size and speed
2 – Development = physical development especially important for OL, DL, TE, and LB.
3 – Skill = development of position specific skill derived from coaching.
4 – Scheme = an effective offensive and defensive scheme coupled with skilled play calling and players that fit the scheme.
5 – Coaching = in-game coaching and game planning.
It starts with the players. Iowa State’s rise in competitiveness is no surprise when one notes the increased infusion of talent on the roster as a whole. While individual performers such as Harvey, Montgomery, Butler, and Peavy have accelerated the on-field product, the possibility now exists that the overall depth will replace those over-achievers with players playing to their perceived skill level. At that point, you start to see real breakthroughs like what was seen at Kentucky this year where a similar talent renaissance has been underway.
With coaching rumors justifiably surrounding Coach Campbell, there is a palpable fear of losing the architect and regressing to a previous talent vacuum. While I too dread that possibility and am very satisfied with the current state of the program, I do not fear that loss.
It is not because Coach Campbell is not special. He is. It is because whoever is next will have a roster that is capable of producing wins simply based on the demonstrated talent and the potential of those yet unproven. Coaches value the opportunity to step in with a full slate of available talent as opposed to a pure rebuild. Campbell is in the middle of his rebuild process, but he has done a great service for Iowa State football both now and in the future regardless of his career choices.
The offense lags behind the defense in production and accelerated performance levels. There is much to prove both in individual performance and in schematic fit and adjustments. However, it should be comforting that the talent infusion creates possibilities, not impediments, for that growth to occur.
The defense is hinged upon the narrow path of producing over-performing players from talent identification, positional flexibility, and development. This has been accomplished with aplomb, but the rating numbers need to continue an upward trend in order to maintain its level of performance. Of course, if the offense improves, then a slight defensive regression can occur and 8+ win seasons can still result.
The Big 12 is open for business. Texas is back. Oklahoma won’t go away. TCU will be retrenched. Oklahoma State and Baylor still have work to do to climb back to their performance levels of the past. The balance of the league will be introducing new coaches into the mix which was demonstrated as an impediment to performance at or above talent rating. If Iowa State can continue its climb up the recruiting ratings to a .8600 level, then there is no reason to expect any regression from the level of performance obtained in the 2018 season. There is a solid base at Iowa State throughout all position groups and watching the development of the roster will be fascinating in 2019.