The University of Iowa lost 14 players to graduation following the 2016 football season. And nowhere was the loss more evident than on an offense which has continued to struggle over the last several campaigns, ranking in the bottom of the Big Ten regularly since 2013.
When tallying the firepower lost it doesn't take long to find the holes that head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff will need to fill. Gone are QB C.J. Beathard, WR Riley McCarron, RB LeShun Daniels Jr., and TE George Kittle – a quartet that served as Iowa's “go to” players during the 2015 and ‘16 campaigns. And while RB Akrum Wadley will return for what many hope to be an encore of his own 1,000-yard performance last season, the biggest questions will surround his supporting cast. So with a recruiting class ranked 39th in the nation on average, the possibility for immediate contributions will most like come on offense.
With that in mind, the following five true freshmen could very well be thrust into immediate duty this fall.
Ihmir Smith, WR
Part of a 12-0 New Jersey state championship team his senior year, Smith is used to winning. With the departure of Desmond King, the Hawkeyes could look to Smith to perform on several fronts, pulling duty on punt and kickoff returns, as well as filling one of the many gaps to be found at wide receiver. As a former two-sport standout on both the gridiron and on the track (hurdles), Smith is fast and agile and could develop into a playmaker for Iowa sooner rather than later.
Kyshaun Bryan, RB
Once again this guy knows how to win, taking part on state championship teams in three of four years while playing for two different high schools in the talent-rich south Florida area. He's built in the Akrum Wadley mold, short and stocky, and during his senior season Bryan averaged nearly seven yards per carry for prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, which finished ranked fifth in the nation.
Mark Kallenberger, OL
His prep team reached the Iowa state playoffs all three of his years he played, posting a 31-5 mark over that span. Following his senior season he was an U.S. Army All-American Bowl nominee. While he already possesses good size (6-6,260), look for the coaching staff to ask him to add a few more pounds to get to the more preferred 300 range.
A.J. Epenesa , DL
The lone defensive player on this list, Epenesa is Hawkeye legacy recruit, following in his father’s footsteps to Iowa City. During his prep career the younger Epenesa led his Edwardsville team to the Illinois state playoffs each year, while recording astonishing numbers, including 31 solo tackles and 26 assists as a senior with 13 tackles for a loss, five sacks, 14 QB pressures, and nine blocked kicks. Also an U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, he could become an instant asset on defense in tandem with linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s leading tackler last season.
Brandon Smith, WR
He's tall (6-3) and built like a receiver. But he's also fast, having been a four-year track letterman during his prep career in Mississippi. He could well be the best answer to the Hawkeyes’ immediate needs at receiver if he continues in the same manner as his prep career, where he averaged 18.8 yards per reception while collecting 1,509 total yards and 19 TDs as a senior.
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, an independent writer and member of the Athlon Contributor Network since July 2015. Boleyn is a native Iowan, currently based in Southern California, and attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.