Iowa City, Iowa – There was a time when Iowa Football worked hard to keep redshirts for true freshmen. This practice has weakened over the years, with student-athletes leaving early for the NFL and the transfer portal.
Excluding the 2020 Covid-19 season, the Hawkeyes have averaged five true freshmen redshirting over the past five years. This is heavily weighted from ’17 when the number was 10.
A rule put in place prior to ’18 allowed players to see action in four games or less before redshirting. Iowa has done well in enforcing the legislation with a total of 10 student-athletes avoiding redshirts in the three Covid-free seasons. That’s an average of four over the last two full seasons (’19 & ’21).
Three years ago, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Dane Belton and Tyler Goodson redshirted. Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce IV, Connor Colby and Cooper DeJean saw action in more than four games last fall during their first seasons on campus.
Perhaps a pattern is forming. It’s more likely liquid, based on a combination of factors. And they can certainly change during the season.
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With that in mind, here are five guys from the current class most likely to play in more than four games in ’22:
5. Addison Ostrenga, TE – In other years, the Wisconsin product would likely be higher on this list based on ability. However, the Hawkeyes are deep at that position with All-American prospect Sam LaPorta leading the way, followed by rising talent Luke Lachey. Ostrenga competes with Lafayette graduate transfer Steve Stylianos and rookie Johnny Pascuzzi, who received plenty of praise from coaches and teammates this offseason. If Ostrenga clearly separates himself from the group, he will play. If not, keeping his redshirt might be the wisest course of action.
4. Drew Stevens, K – The South Carolina recruit is locked in a fierce competition with sophomore Aaron Blom. Based on the duo’s two public performances, one in the spring and the other on Children’s Day on August 13, it’s too close to call. Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said earlier this month at media day that it was possible both players could play. Maybe one of them starts and handles long field goals and the other takes the short threes and extra points. Time will tell how it plays out, but as of right now, Stevens has a good chance of not redshirting.
3. Jacob Bostick, WR – It’s the position of the group that causes the most concern in the Sept. 3 opener against South Dakota State. Injuries are impacting the position right now after exhaustion hit it during the offseason. None of this should take away from Bostick’s ability to contribute. This should improve his skills as a deep threat and long target. He showed reliability in a small sample size on Kids’ Day, running clear routes and holding his own in traffic. If healthy, Johnson, Bruce IV and Nico Ragaini shape up as a Top 3 at the position. After that, it’s wide open, so to speak.
2. Aaron Graves, DL – Physically, Graves is a prodigy in the mold of Tristan Werfs and AJ Epenesa, who were highly touted true freshmen at Iowa who avoided redshirting before being drafted into the NFL after three seasons on campus. Graves joins a deep, talented and experienced defensive line, but has a decent chance to pass some veterans. The coaches are unusually complimentary of him and his performance on Children’s Day shows he belongs. It’s hard to say how much he’ll play, but barring an injury, Graves will likely be in the defensive tackle rotation from the start with a chance to increase reps depending on how he performs.
1. Xavier Nuankpa, S – The crown jewel of the class in terms of recruiting rankings, Nwankpa is helped by being humble. He arrived in January ready to go and has made strides over the last eight months, positioning him to play right away. He competes at free safety, where junior Quinn Schulte, a former walk-on, is listed as the starter. The veteran has a clear advantage in system familiarity, which is big for the position. However, the newcomer is entering the field and looks good physically and athletically. I suspect Nwankpa will play special teams from the jump and could work his way into reps on defense depending on his growth and development.