IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa isn’t afraid to turn its freshmen loose.
Defensive end A.J. Epenesa and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs lived up to their hype in 2017, earning significant playing time. Cornerback Matt Hankins started by the end of the season. Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette became a downfield passing game threat.
In total, 10 freshmen played last season. The Hawkeyes will need some of their Class of 2018 signees to play right away.
Here is a list of six newcomers in the best position to make an instant impact this season.
DT Daviyon Nixon
This one feels a little like a gimme putt. Iowa needs depth at defensive tackle, and Daviyon Nixon must be ready to contribute. Nixon, a Class of 2017 signee, attended Iowa Western Community College because of an academic issue and took a big step forward, recording 44 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2017.
Nathan Bazata is out of eligibility and Matt Nelson out for the spring. Nixon will have his chances to impress.
Defensive tackle is the one question mark on the line, and with his athleticism and quickness up front, Nixon can help provide the answer. He’s likely ticketed for the defensive tackle rotation in 2018. The question is if he starts or is a reserve.
WR Tyrone Tracy
Iowa needs the most growth from its wide receivers in 2018. Tyrone Tracy is the type of athlete Iowa doesn’t have on the roster. He is 6 feet tall and 187 pounds, and he excels at making plays in space. He had a 1,000-yard rushing and receiving season at Decatur Central (Ind.) High School in 2017.
Tracy brings a playmaking element the Hawkeyes lack. Iowa can use him in the slot or design plays for him. If his athleticism translates to the college game, the 3-star prospect will play right away and potentially start.
DB Dallas Craddieth
Dallas Craddieth is everything Iowa wants in a safety. He is big, physical and athletic and loves to hit. At 6-foot, 197 pounds, Craddieth could play safety or see the field in nickel or dime packages.
What could keep the talented signee off the field? The talent already in the defensive back room. Starters Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase both return. So does Geno Stone, an intriguing underclassman.
It’s likely too much to expect Craddieth to start, but penciling him in as a backup with potential to play more as the season goes on makes a lot of sense. Four-star safety Julius Brents falls into this same category as Craddieth.
DB D.J. Johnson
D.J. Johnson is another defensive back who could contend for playing time at the deep position. Matt Hankins, Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia all return. Iowa is also high on redshirt freshman Joshua Turner.
Expect the competition in preseason camp to be fierce. The chance is there for Johnson to play a role in nickel or dime situations, but he must beat out quality competition.
LB Dillon Doyle
Iowa is replacing three starters and needs to fill out the entire depth chart, not just the first line, at linebacker. In a perfect world, the Hawkeyes get help at linebacker from the Class of 2018. Dillon Doyle is in the best position to do of any newcomer.
He enrolled in January to get a head start on training. He grew up around the program — his father Chris Doyle is the strength coach — and knows the Iowa culture as well as the upperclassmen.
Doyle is athletic, and at 6-foot-3, 215-pounds ,comes in with a nearly Big Ten-ready body. His biggest strength is his intelligence, and it won’t be a surprise if he, at a minimum, helps out on special teams this season.
RB Henry Geil
Running back is a lot like linebacker. The position is open with Iowa looking for a new starter. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin are expected to split reps, but any running back showcasing speed, athleticism and playmaking ability is threat to earn playing time. Henry Geil showed he can do all that while rushing for 1,335 yards and 17 touchdowns at Preble (Wis.) High School in 2017.
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