Point/Counterpoint: Who will be Iowa football’s breakout star in 2021?
Two Daily Iowan staffers debate which under-the-radar Hawkeye will excel in 2021.
August 31, 2021
Outside of returning punts, Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones didn’t have the ball in his hands much last season, registering just 38 yards of total offense on two rush attempts and zero receptions.
While he didn’t play much on offense, he still showcased his speed on a few separate occasions in 2020. On Nov. 7, Jones returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown in a 49-7 Iowa route of Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeye faithful should expect to see Jones more often in 2021.
With both of Iowa’s top two 2020 receiving options (Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith) now pursuing NFL careers, there will be more opportunities for Jones to play wide receiver with the Hawkeyes’ offense.
Jones, who offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called a versatile weapon with dynamic speed, is listed behind Nico Ragaini at one of the receiver spots on Iowa’s depth chart.
Ferentz told The Daily Iowan that Jones, a preseason first-team All-Big Ten return specialist, is preparing to play multiple receiver positions this season both in the slot and on the perimeter. Ferentz also noted that Jones will continue to be Iowa’s primary return man in 2021.
Jones transferred from Buffalo to Iowa as a sophomore — in his only season with the Bulls in 2018 — he reeled in 18 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
With Jones’ dynamic speed, the more times he has the ball in his hands, the better. Watch out for this speed demon on offense and special teams. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders.
Since I received Iowa football’s spring practice depth chart from UI Athletics five months ago, the presence of Yahya Black’s name in the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup has continued to surprise me.
Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz typically isn’t even apt to play redshirt or true freshmen, much less insert them into his starting lineup. In Iowa’s last 12-game, pre-pandemic season in 2019, Ferentz played just eight true freshmen. In 2020, he did the same.
So, when Yahya Black was penciled into a starting role on Iowa’s defensive line — per all three depth charts Iowa has released from March to August — I wondered what he had done in the offseason to impress his coaches and earn a spot in the starting lineup.
Then, I attended Iowa Football Media Day in August. When we broke out for one-on-one interviews with players and coaches and I saw Black for the first time, I understood why he’s the only freshman in the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup.
Black towered over my 5-foot-8 frame, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 287 pounds. Black doesn’t look like a freshman, nor does he play like one, according to his teammates.
“Yahya, obviously, is a freak,” junior center Tyler Linderbaum said Aug. 13. “I mean look at him. His arm is longer than both of mine. He’s done a great job. Obviously, he’s still young. So, [Black has] a lot of learning to do.”
Black receiving high praise from Linderbaum isn’t just meaningless teammate-to-teammate back-patting. Linderbaum is a competitor on game days and at practice. So, when he acknowledges a defender’s talent, that’s profound.
I haven’t seen much of Black on the field that would suggest he’ll find success on Saturdays this fall. But it would seem that his teammates and coaches have found reason to believe that he’ll be an impactful player in 2021-22, and that makes me think he’s bound to have a breakout season.