The Daily Iowan

Predicting Hawkeye football​’s sack leader

Iowa football has a deep defensive line, but one question remains: Which Hawkeye will lead the team in sacks in 2018?

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Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse tackles Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson during the game between Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. The wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 17-10, in overtime. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse tackles Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson during the game between Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. The wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 17-10, in overtime. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Lily

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Lily

Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse tackles Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson during the game between Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. The wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 17-10, in overtime. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden and Pat Lynch

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Anthony Nelson

What stands 6-7, wears a black and gold No. 98 jersey, and earned a spot on the Bednarik Award Watch List, given to the best defensive player in college football?

Anthony Nelson.

And after leading the team in sacks by posting a career-high 7.5 in 2017, all of the accolades Nelson has gathered are warranted ​
— and he’s not done yet.

Nelson will pick up right where he left off his sophomore year and lead the Hawkeyes in sacks again.

The defensive line is way too stacked to single out a lone pass rusher, so every defensive lineman will get the chance to put pressure on the quarterback.

Even though he earned third-team All-Big Ten honors last season and opposing offensive lines might key on him a little more than others, his experience and success will help him reach a new level in 2018 after showing what he can do on the edge.

As a longtime starter, Parker Hesse certainly has the chance to get at the quarterback, but A.J. Epenesa was listed as the backup to Hesse in the spring, which could cut into both ends’ playing time.

But if Epenesa is more comfortable on the right side, that would leave more snaps for Nelson on the left, where he could freely make plays.

Now that Epenesa is a sophomore, defensive coordinator Phil Parker will want to get him more involved, and deservedly so. You simply can’t keep a monster such as Epenesa off the field.

And although he could cut into the snaps of both Hesse and Nelson, I think Nelson’s playmaking ability and proven production keep him out there to rack up even more sacks.

— Pete Ruden

Parker Hesse

Returning weak-side defensive end Parker Hesse will seek to cap his college career by leading the team in sacks. Hesse, a senior from Waukon, Iowa, finished last season with 4 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss.

Other players on defense for Iowa pose threats for opponents, but there are a few reasons I think Hesse will lead the team in sacks.

Hesse has great size for a defense end at 6-3 with a 260-pound frame. During his three years at Iowa, Hesse has won the Team Hustle Award three times. His 46 tackles recorded last year show he has a knack for the ball, and he will only improve.

Over the past three seasons, Hesse has stayed consist with total tackles, but each year his tackles for a loss have gone up. Since his first season in 2015, Hesse had 3 tackles for loss, followed by 8, then last year with 10.5.

During this year’s spring ball, Hesse was listed at the starting right defensive end, so expect him to be playing the majority of snaps on the defensive line. Fellow defensive end Anthony Nelson is probably most Hawkeye fans’ favorite to lead the team in sacks, but I think it’ll lead to opportunities for other players.

Nelson will get most of the attention on opponents’ game plan, freeing up situations for other Hawk D-linemen to get sacks and tackles.

— Pat Lynch

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