2016 looks to be a great year for the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes return over half of their starters from offense and defense. Today I will be discussing who I believe the key contributors will be on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
The obvious and really only reasonable choice at quarterback is CJ Beathard. Beathard will be back for his senior season in a Hawkeye uniform, and is looking to build to an already stellar resume which includes an all 2nd team big ten choice last season. I look for Beathard to take another big step forward this year. Beathard will be healthy to start the season and that is huge for Hawkeye fans everywhere. With Beathard healthy that will bring back his great mobility from the quarterback position. If CJ can stay healthy all year I see all of his stats going up, rushing yards, rushing TD’s, passing yards and passing touchdowns. I also expect CJ’s turnover numbers to remain fairly low. There is no doubt that Beathard is the unquestioned leader of the Iowa offense.
At running back, I see a minimum of 3 contributors to the offense. The top 3 would be Leshun Daniels Jr., Akrum Wadley, and Derrick Mitchell, in no particular order. All three of these players had an impact last season. Now with Jordan Canzeri gone, it is up in the air as to who will be the workhorse running back. It will most likely be running back by committee with coach Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis going with whoever has the hot hand. That being said Leshun Daniels will be the short yardage back, and Mitchell will most likely be the 3rd down back. Last year in Mitchell’s first season as a running back he excelled at picking up blitzes and catching the ball out of the backfield. Then there is Akrum Wadley, everyone in Iowa City knows he has the talent, but will ball security continue to be an issue? I see the coaching staff giving each of these 3 guys every chance to prove themselves.
I’m grouping the receivers and tide ends together. We know what we have in George Kittle and Matt the meerkat Vandeberg. But outside of those two many questions surround who CJB will be throwing the ball to in 2016. I look for two young guys to step up at the receiver position in 2016. Those two guys being Jerminic Smith who showed great flashes in 2015 as a true freshman. And the other being redshirt sophomore Jay Scheel. You can make the case the Scheel is the most athletic guy on the team. Scheel, who is a former high school quarterback, I look for him to burst onto the scene as a big play receiver in 2016. Jameer Outsey is listed as the second tide end on the two deeps although he was mainly used in blocking situations last year. I think Dowling Catholic alum Jon Wisnieski will get a fair amount of playing time this year. He has all the talent and potential but health has been a problem for Wisnieski since he stepped on campus.
The offensive line faces two departures of the five starters from 2015 in Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. However, I do not see the offensive line being an issue in 2016. All five starters listed on the early season two deeps saw a substantial amount of playing time in 2015. With only one senior (Cole Croston) this is a group that will be solid for years to come.
On the defensive side of the ball you have work horses in Jaleel Johnson, Josey Jewel, and Desmond King, these guys also have a pretty good supporting cast. Who else will step up on the defensive side of the ball in 2016? I look at a guy in outside linebacker Aaron Mends to have a huge year. Mends started seeing his playing time increase later in the season last year when Iowa used their “Raider Package” defense. I think Mends is the type of player that can reek havoc in the opponent’s backfield. Parker Hesse stepped up big last year in the absence of Drew Ott, I look for him to improve even more this year. Matt or Anthony Nelson will also have to take steps forward to see their production increase this year. The Hawkeyes are solid at the linebacker and corner back positions with the likes of Desmond King, Greg Mabin, Ben Niemann, Josey Jewel, and Aaron Mends. Miles Taylor will be back for his second season at the starting strong safety position, I only see positive progress with him. As for the strong safety position Brandon Snyder looks to be the starter. If he can just hold his ground, I see this Hawkeye defense being one of the tops in the Big Ten and the entire country.
The hawks have all the pieces to succeed in the 2016 season, the only question is whether or not they can put the pieces together. I believe that if the Hawks can stay fairly healthy in 2016 they will do great things for a second year in a row.