Sep 14, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Tarique Milton (1) catches a pass against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa beat Iowa State 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Over the past few weeks, we here at Cyclone Fanatic have been slowly rolling out our annual position previews for the Iowa State football team, while simultaneously keeping a close eye on the way the 2020 college football season would ultimately shake out.
Well, as of now, we feel as good as we have in quite some time about the Cyclones (and 75 other programs across the country) playing football this fall, which means our position previews will be picking up the pace with two dropping each week leading up to the season opener against Louisiana on Sept. 12 at Jack Trice Stadium.
1 – Another year, more big shoes to fill
Two years ago, Matt Campbell and his offensive staff were tasked with figuring out a way to replace the most prolific pass catcher in program history with Allen Lazard’s graduation. Well, that was an easy one to figure out because Hakeem Butler turned out to be an absolute freak and put together one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in program history.
In turn, Butler decided to leave early for the NFL (ultimately being selected by the Cardinals) and the Cyclones were suddenly in a similar situation. Unlike in 2018, the job of filling a major playmaker’s shoes was not filled largely by one player, but by a handful of them with a few truly notable standouts.
The biggest load fell on the shoulders of Deshaunte Jones, who went on to finish the season with 76 receptions, the second highest single-season mark in program history, and 877 yards, which is the eight highest single-season mark in school history. All told, Jones finished his Iowa State career second on the career receptions chart, fifth on the career receiving yards chart and eighth on the career receiving touchdowns list.
So, for the third year in a row, Campbell and his staff are tasked with replacing one of the most prolific and productive receivers to ever play at Iowa State. There is also the issue of replacing one-year Cyclone, and former graduate transfer from Arkansas, La’Michael Pettway, who finished second on the team in receptions, second in receiving touchdowns and fourth in receiving yards.
But, there is reason for optimism with three receivers who caught touchdowns a year ago returning plus a trio of tight ends (we will talk more about at a later date) and a group of running backs who have proven they are capable of making plays in the passing game.
The other reason for optimism, this is a position where Iowa State has recruited really well. There is a ton of potential for this group and whole bunch of talent. We just haven’t gotten many opportunities to see it yet due to the number of veterans in the room over the last several years.
“I would say, you know, pleasantly optimistic about where that wide receiver room is today,” Campbell said last week. “A lot of credit to coach (Nate) Scheelhaase. I think coach has done a phenomenal job in both the recruiting process of that position group, but equally the development.”
2 – Who takes the next step?
As I said above, three wide receivers who found the end zone a season ago return in Tarique Milton, Sean Shaw Jr. and Joe Scates. The program also brings back Landen Akers and Darren Wilson, who combined for 14 catches and 168 yards last season.
Expect all five of those players to see their roles continue to expand, but when looking for someone to be your No. 1 receiver, the top candidate likely has to be Milton with Shaw slightly behind him.
Last year, Milton built on a strong redshirt freshman campaign by catching 35 passes for 722 yards (or a Hakeem Butler-esque 20.63 yards per catch average) and three touchdowns. He showed his ability to be a big-time playmaker with a pair of 73-yard touchdown catches against Iowa and Louisiana-Monroe, plus a 40-yarder against Oklahoma.
To quote Campbell from last week, “we certainly know the talent in Tarique Milton.” He’s as close you are going to get to a proven commodity in the Iowa State wide receivers room at this point.
But, if there’s anybody we can point to as having been a major breakout player last season and someone who could take even bigger leaps forward in 2020 it is Shaw. In 11 games last season, the redshirt sophomore caught 15 passes for 231 yards and five touchdowns.
For a long stretch of the season, it seemed like the only thing Shaw did was catch touchdowns, especially considering that’s what he did on his first collegiate receptions against Louisiana-Monroe. His 6-foot-6 frame makes him a prime target in the red zone and compliments the 5-foot-10 Milton in that sense.
We saw flashes of Shaw’s ability last year, but it seems like he is still just getting started in what could end up being a very productive career in Ames.
“Sean Shaw, his growth and development continues to be very — what I would say, on the very high end of what he’s got the ability to be and become,” Campbell said.
3 – Who is the surprise breakout player?
Like Shaw last season, someone who has played very little in a Cyclone uniform is sure to break out at some point this season and burst onto the scene as a playmaker. There’s a handful of names with potential, including Darien Porter, Aidan Bitter, Ezeriah Anderson and Daniel Jackson, but the prime candidate in this spot is a list of one.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Jacksonville native was one of the best JUCO wide receivers in the country last year before choosing Iowa State over offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska and numerous others. In two seasons at Blinn Junior College, Hutchinson caught 58 passes for 958 yards and seven touchdowns.
Early rumblings on Hutchinson’s time with the program project as being a high-end talent — and soon. Campbell echoed that last week.
“Xavier Hutchison is a young man that’s got very high-end talent,” Campbell said. “(He) has shown to be very consistent through minicamp and certainly through where we are now in Fall practice.”
If I had a gun to my head on Aug. 26 and had to predict who the Cyclones’ most productive wide receivers (excluding tight ends and running backs here because we all know Charlie Kolar should be near the top of this list overall) would be in 2020, the two easy answers are Milton and Shaw, but I would almost certainly throw Hutchinson in the mix, as well.
No matter who those three names ended up being, there’s little doubt this room is stocked with talent and has the personnel capable of filling major lost production for the third straight season.