By Adam Hensley
Last season at this time, the entire Hawkeye wide receiver corps was one giant question mark.
Outside of Matt VandeBerg, no receiver had caught a pass at the Division-1 level. This year is different.
Iowa returns the bulk of its receiving corps (minus VandeBerg and his 295 receiving yards), but one name in particular has come up often from the players during spring ball: Brandon Smith.
Smith, a 6-3, 219-pound pass catcher from Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, snagged only 2 passes last season, totaling 13 yards.
Quarterback Nate Stanley and receiver Nick Easley both noted Smith’s name as far as players they’ve seen growth from in the offseason.
Smith is built like a No. 1 receiver, and he has the speed to go along with that. Stanley noted that Smith has shown a “great attitude” and has seen him become “more physical” on the playing field and especially in the weight room.
With VandeBerg gone, that opens the door (or, forces, if you will) for another receiver to step up. Both Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette will be names to look for next season in year No. 2 of Brian Ferentz’s offense, but Smith will be the most improved Hawkeye.
Expect his catches and yards to skyrocket, and with his build, he could be a big-threat in the red zone as well.
By Pete Ruden
Last year’s wide receiver depth chart was essentially wide open, and one freshman receiver rose above the rest to establish consistent playing time: Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Smith-Marsette is an electric playmaker with enough speed to change the game (Remember his game-winning touchdown against Iowa State in overtime?), and he will definitely have the opportunity to do so this season.
The Iowa coaching staff continually tried to get the ball in Smith-Marsette’s hands last year, as evidenced by his 7 rushing attempts as a wide receiver that he cashed in for 41 yards.
An honorable mention for the Big Ten All-Freshman team, he also made an impact in the return game, averaging 33.5 yards per kick return, the most of any Hawkeye during the 2017 season.
The Newark, New Jersey, native will do it all again this year. Special-team coordinator LeVar Woods said Smith-Marsette was one of three players to position themselves as a returner, demonstrating the coaching staff’s faith in the sophomore.
Despite having some issues catching the ball and being undersized, Smith-Marsette possesses the important athletic qualities that Division-1 wide receivers must have.
With VandeBerg departure, Smith-Marsette is the second-most productive wideout returning to the Hawkeyes behind Nick Easley, who led the team in receptions and yards.
Because of the number of times the ball is going to be in Smith-Marsette’s hands, he will be the player to step up for Iowa.