Nov 30, 2019; Manhattan, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) scrambles with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Last week I ranked the games on Iowa State’s 2020 schedule, this week I’m ranking the most irreplaceable players on Iowa State’s 2020 roster. What does irreplaceable mean and how is it measured?
Well, I approached it from several different directions.
No. 1 – How productive has this player been? This is pretty straight-forward. There are some players on Iowa State’s roster who have been ridiculously productive, including some who are still pretty early in their careers.
No. 2 – How deep are the Cyclones at the position you play? This is why you won’t see any wide receivers on this list. There is a lot of talent in that room even if some of it might be unproven. There could be a case made for Tarique Milton, but he would be the first one in the honorable mention column, in my mind.
No. 3 – How much does the scheme rely on what you can do on the field? Again, somewhat self explanatory, but will fully make more sense as you get through the list.
With that, here is the list.
10 – O’Rien Vance, Linebacker
The Cedar Rapids native was one of the breakout performers of Iowa State’s 2019 season as he finished fifth on the team with 66 tackles, second on the team in tackles for loss with nine and recorded a team-high 6.5 sacks, including five sacks in the team’s first five games.
His ability to make an impact rushing the passer early in the season was crucial for Iowa State’s blitz packages, especially after Jaquan Bailey was lost for the season due to injury, but he also did not record a sack in the team’s last seven games. Building on the foundation laid in his first season as a starter will be key to the defense taking another step forward in 2020.
9 – Enyi Uwazurike, Defensive End
Nobody on Iowa State’s roster brings as much positional flexibility as Uwazurike. He can play outside. He can play inside. He has been a critical piece to the success of Iowa State’s defensive line ever since he was a redshirt freshman in 2017.
As a redshirt junior in 2019, Uwazurike earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording 32 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Where he plays as a redshirt senior could depend on how other players develop around him, but few guys on the roster have been more dependable week-after-week.
8 – Chase Allen, Tight End
Allen has already been honored as a second-team All-Big 12 selection twice in his Iowa State career in 2017 and 2019, and he did it despite having caught just 29 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons.
That’s all you need to know to understand how good Allen has been as a blocker during his career in Ames. He is critical to Iowa State’s rushing attack, especially with his abilities to seal edges and reach the second level, and should only see his opportunities in the pass game grow as he rolls into his redshirt senior year.
7 – Breece Hall, Running Back
Hall isn’t higher on this list purely because of the amount of depth Iowa State has behind him with Johnnie Lang and Kene Nwagwu having seen the field plenty in their careers plus redshirt freshman Jirehl Brock set to come into the fold this fall. Regardless, Hall’s explosive true freshman campaign reserved him a spot somewhere in this list of 10.
He was named a first-team freshman All-American by 247 and Pro Football Focus after rushing for 897 yards and nine touchdowns along with 23 catches for 252 yards and another score. Hall should be on the shortlist for Big 12 players with the potential to become household names in 2020.
6 – Anthony Johnson, Cornerback
Johnson emerged as Iowa State’s future at the cornerback spot opposite Brian Peavy in 2018, then the long and rangy Floridian solidified himself as one of the Big 12’s best cover corners in 2019 while being among the Cyclones’ most dynamic defensive playmakers. He finished the year with 60 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks and 10 pass breaks, which ranked as the sixth-most in the Big 12.
No edge playmaker on Iowa State’s roster offers the same combination of length, physicality, athleticism and experience.
5 – Trevor Downing, Offensive Guard
The redshirt freshman from Creston moved into the starting lineup for the second game of 2019 and never looked back. He went on to be a second-team freshman All-American, according to The Athletic, and enters 2020 as a clearly solidified starter along the Cyclones’ offensive line. Collin Newell probably could have fit somewhere on this list, too, but we saw Iowa State do just fine offensively without him after he was injured early in the season.
Iowa State’s offensive line depth is better now than it was when Matt Campbell arrived in Ames, but the margin for error still feels razor thin, which is what puts Downing this high on the list.
4 – Charlie Kolar, Tight End
I’ll admit, I had Kolar one spot higher than this, but after conversations with CF football guru Jay Jordan, I decided to flip three and four. Kolar has emerged as one of the nation’s top pass-catching tight ends and will surely be the Cyclones’ No. 1 option on third downs in 2020. Jay’s argument was that his blocking and pass-catching could be more easily replaced than what the player in the No. 3 spot can be, and after listening to his reason I found it to be agreeable, so I made the flip.
Regardless, Kolar is an All-American candidate and projects to go down as one of the most productive tight ends in Iowa State football history.
3 – Mike Rose, Linebacker
Despite moving to a new position prior to last season, Rose continued to produce at an extremely high-level as he finished with 77 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. There is an argument to be made that Rose was better as a true freshman in 2018 when he played mike linebacker, but it would still be hard to imagine anyone on Iowa State’s roster sliding in and being as productive as Rose has been during the first 26 games of his college career.
2 – Greg Eisworth, Safety
Everything changed for Iowa State’s defense after Eisworth suffered a shoulder injury that prevented him from starting three games and forced him to completely miss another in 2019. Regardless of the injury, Eisworth became just the fourth player in program history to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors multiple times.
He is the centerpiece of Iowa State’s defense and him being back at full strength has to have Jon Heacock and the rest of the Cyclones’ defensive staff feeling good entering 2020.
1 – Brock Purdy, Quarterback
I mean, duh.
Purdy could go down as the most productive player in the history of Iowa State football with a host of school records and nationwide acclaim. It would not be surprising at all to see his name enter the Heisman conversation if the Cyclones get off to a hot start to the 2020 campaign.
It also helps Purdy’s case in this matter that both his scholarship backups will be true freshmen. Even still, it would be hard to put the junior from Arizona anywhere else on this list.