Iowa Hawkeyes Top 10 Returning Players in 2023 Include Cooper DeJean, Quinn Schulte

The Iowa Hawkeyes should return to form defensively, but with key players in the most important positions, expectations are that the offense will come around in 2023.

The Iowa Hawkeyes were a defensive force in the Big Ten in 2022, holding opponents to just 13.3 points per game, the second-best mark in the nation. On the other side of the ball, though, they struggled, putting up a bottom-10 performance in points per game.

Expectations are mostly the same for 2023, though the hope is that some new additions could be important for progression on both sides of the ball. Heading into their 25th season under head coach Kirk Ferentz, the No. 24 Hawkeyes have their eyes set on the Big Ten title.

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Iowa Hawkeyes Top 10 Returners in 2023

Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes that were included on each team’s roster page to open fall camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

1) Cooper DeJean, CB

There is a reason that junior defensive back Cooper DeJean is on the watchlist for both the Paul Hornung Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Not only is he one of the best defensive backs in college football, but he’s also a versatile athlete who can provide on special teams. He plays primarily at outside corner but can play in the slot or the box.

DeJean earned All-Big Ten First Team honors from College Football Network as a cornerback, Third-Team honors as a punt returner and was an honorable mention as a special teamer.

In 2022, DeJean led Iowa in punt return yardage and interceptions. He was also top three in passes defended and tackles and tied the school record for career pick-sixes — all three coming in 2022. This helped him rank No. 15 on the 2024 NFL Draft Watchlist by Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings.

2) Quinn Schulte, S

Coming out of high school, senior safety Quinn Schulte was listed as a zero-star cornerback by 247Sports. He had to wait for his moment, but he got his first start in 2022 and held onto it the whole season. He recorded 71 tackles and six passes defended as the team’s free safety and showed the versatility to play in the box.

He was listed as an All-Big Ten First Team safety by College Football Network, certainly for good reason.

3) Nick Jackson, LB

The Hawkeyes lost All-American linebacker Jack Campbell to the 2023 NFL Draft, so they decided to be active in the transfer portal to find his replacement. To replace him, they added Virginia’s star backer Nick Jackson.

Jackson was an All-ACC linebacker in each of his last three seasons with the Cavaliers, averaging 108 tackles and three sacks each year. He’ll provide reliable tackling on defense for the Hawkeyes and can double as a blitzer when needed.

4) Drew Stevens, K

To be a standout kicker, you need to provide a high level of reliability. During his freshman year in Iowa City, Iowa, kicker Drew Stevens was about as solid as you can get. He nailed all 24 of his point-after attempts and converted 16 of his 18 field goals.

Stevens didn’t miss a single field goal under 40 yards and was a perfect two-for-two on 50-plus-yard attempts, with a long of 54. He led the team in scoring with 72 points, double the next closest Hawkeye, and accounted for over 31% of the team’s scoring output in 2022.

5) Tory Taylor, P

Iowa locked up one of the nation’s best special teams units in 2023 with the pairing of Stevens and senior punter Tory Taylor. With the struggling offense last season, Taylor got a lot of opportunities to show off his leg. He led the nation in punts (82), punts inside the 20 (38), and his career average of 45.4 yards per punt is the second-best in the Big Ten since 2000.

The Australia native was recognized by us at College Football Network, among virtually every other publication, unanimously as an All-Big Ten First Team punter going into 2023.

6) Connor Colby, G

Though he struggled for most of 2022, expectations are different for guard Connor Colby heading into his junior season. He spent the first half of last season playing as the Hawkeyes’ right tackle. It wasn’t until Week 9 when he was moved to left guard that his season turned around.

During his six starts at left guard in 2022, Colby was as reliable in pass protection as any other linemen for the Hawkeyes. He has proven himself as a reliable pass protector on the interior of the offensive line and will look to develop further as a run blocker in 2023.

7) Logan Lee, DT

According to 247Sports, Logan Lee arrived at Iowa as a four-star tight end prospect, measuring in at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. Fast forward to 2023, and Lee is a 291-pound senior defensive tackle who can do everything you need from an interior lineman.

Lee totaled 54 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, and three pass deflections in 2022, earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention. He is also equally effective as a pass rusher and run defender, and as he gains more experience inside, Lee will continue to develop as a tackle.

8) Joe Evans, DE

Joe Evans grew up in Ames but walked on at Iowa instead. Heading into his fifth season as a Hawkeye, the senior edge rusher is looking to improve even further as a pass rusher. Last season, he tied 2023 first-round pick Lukas Van Ness in sacks with 6.5, a team-best number.

He also had 41 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, both career highs. Evans is a solid pass rusher and will be a key piece in Iowa repeating its defensive dominance.

9) Kaleb Johnson, RB

Arguably the Hawkeyes’ best offensive player in 2022, running back Kaleb Johnson led the team in scrimmage yards (806), touchdowns (6), and kick return yardage (325, 25.0 average).

Johnson, who was a freshman last season, split usage with running back Leshon Williams early in the year. Halfway through the season, Johnson separated himself as the more effective back and started six of the Hawkeyes’ final seven games. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a freshman and, with the starting role likely his, could improve upon a promising first season.

10) Cade McNamara, QB

After a tough offensive season in 2022, the Hawkeyes brought in a new quarterback to help the team in 2023. Senior quarterback Cade McNamara transferred to Iowa with two years of eligibility to try and repair what was a mostly nonexistent passing game last year.

Though McNamara lost the starting gig for the Wolverines last year, he was an All-Big Ten Third Team QB in 2021 when he threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns with just six interceptions. The Hawkeyes’ passing offense in 2022 averaged just over 156 passing yards per game, and the team threw for a combined seven passing touchdowns. McNamara could have a chance to kick-start the Iowa offense and rejuvenate his career with a change of guard and scenery.

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