Iowa Hawkeyes’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Jay Higgins, Luke Lachey

    If the Iowa Hawkeyes are to improve on offense and maintain their strong defense in 2024, they will need these top 10 returning starters to step up.

    The Iowa Hawkeyes somehow made the Big Ten Championship Game in 2023 but floundered on offense all too often. With a change over on the coaching staff and top talent returning to the program in 2024, who will step up and guide Iowa to another winning season?

    The Hawkeyes’ top 10 returning players hold the key to a successful campaign in an expanded conference.

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    Iowa Hawkeyes’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

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

    10) Cade McNamara, QB

    Cade McNamara joined the Hawkeyes in the spring of 2022, transferring from Michigan, where he struggled to find game time behind J.J. McCarthy.

    He was chosen to start the 2023 season despite a niggling quad injury. However, the QB tore his ACL in September, ending his season after just five games. The offense wasn’t exactly elite with him in the lineup, but it took a massive backward step without him pulling the strings.

    In 2024, McNamara is expected to reclaim his starting position in his last year of eligibility. If new offensive coordinator Tim Lester can get the most out of McNamara and the QB remains injury-free, he should at least be competent in the Iowa offense.

    9) Yahya Black, DT

    Yahya Black returns in 2024 and has already captured the imagination of NFL scouts. The Hawkeyes defensive tackle started 14 games in 2023 and paired his highly athletic traits with solid production.

    With 51 total tackles, five for a loss, 3.5 sacks, five passes deflected, and two forced fumbles, Black was a havoc wreckor up front for the Hawkeyes, and he is expected to step up his development again in this fifth year of college football.

    8) Xavier Nwankpa, S

    Xavier Nwankpa was one of the top players on a dominant Iowa defense featuring some of the top secondary players anywhere in the country. Starting 12  games a year ago, Nwankpa played a consistent role, recording 42 total tackles, two for a loss, one sack, one interception, and two pass breakups.

    Other than Cooper DeJean, most of the Iowa secondary returns in 2024, and Nwankpa will again be an important piece of the Hawkeyes’ defensive puzzle as a strong safety.

    7) Kaleb Johnson, RB

    Kaleb Johnson can reclaim his role as RB1 on the Hawkeyes after an injury-ridden season hampered his development in 2023. However, with 1,242 yards and nine touchdowns rushing across his two seasons in Iowa City, the dynamic running back should make a great tandem with Leshon Williams — who was unlucky not to make this list.

    After setting freshman school records in 2022, an ankle issue meant he missed three games a year ago, but the niggling injury meant Johnson stuttered through the season. He is fully healthy and has the talent to be the feature back for the Hawkeyes in a formidable rotation.

    6) Logan Jones, OL

    Logan Jones started 13 games at center in 2023 and is the most talented offensive lineman on the roster. With unnatural strength and top-end athletic traits, the Hawkeye is well-regarded in scouting circles.

    MORE: Iowa Hawkeyes Coaching Staff 2024

    A potential draft pick in 2025, Jones was named to the All-Big Ten third team in 2023 and will anchor the Iowa offensive line again in the fall. If he can stay healthy and consistent, the Hawkeyes’ center will continue to be one of the top offensive linemen in the Big Ten.

    5) Jermari Harris, DB

    Jermari Harris returned from injury in 2023 to win Iowa’s Comeback Player of the Year, starting 12 games. The Hawkeyes’ corner was one of the most productive in the Big Ten a year ago after missing the 2022 season.

    Over his career, Harris has 78 total tackles, 2.5 for a loss, five interceptions, and 12 pass breakups. His eight pass breakups in 2023 led the team and ranked fourth in the conference.

    4) Nick Jackson, LB

    Nick Jackson was among the most productive players on the Iowa roster in 2023, and his return is a massive boost for the Hawkeyes’ defense. A third-team All-Big Ten honoree in his first year with the program after transferring from Virginia, Jackson has put up incredibly consistent production over his five-year career.

    The linebacker heads into his sixth year of college football with 462 total tackles, 28 for a loss, 14.5 sacks, 12 pass breakups, and three forced fumbles. His 110 tackles in 2023 ranked second on the roster, and the same will be required from Jackson in 2024 as he raises the curtain on an outstanding college career.

    3) Sebastian Castro, DB

    Sebastian Castro was pivotal to the Haweyes’ defensive success in 2023, recording a career-high year from the nickel. The versatile DB started 10 games from the nickel and three from safety last fall, all while leading the team in pass breakups (eight) and interceptions (three).

    The dynamite defender has the size and explosive movement to develop again in his fifth year of college football. Flying under-the-radar as one of the better DBs in the Big Ten, another consistent year of tape will put Castro in the thoughts of NFL scouts.

    2) Luke Lachey, TE

    Luke Lachey looked like one of the top tight ends in the country before suffering a season-ending injury after just three games, which required surgery. He now returns for his fifth year of college football as one of the best at his position in the nation, and Lachey is expected to be a focal point of the Iowa offense.

    Despite his shortened season and Iowa’s dismal passing attack, Lachey still had 10 receptions for 131 yards last fall. 2023 was supposed to be his breakout campaign, but 2024 might well be the career year we were all expecting a year ago.

    1) Jay Higgins, LB

    Seasons rarely come more productive than Jay Higgins’ in 2023. With 171 tackles, five for a loss, two sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble, the star Iowa linebacker was everywhere. Higgins’ outstanding season earned him first-time All-Big Ten honors after he led the conference in tackles and tied the school record.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Big Ten Power Rankings

    Higgins was expected to explore the options of turning professional. However, he has given the Iowa program a massive boost by returning for the 2024 season. Higgins had to be patient for his time to arrive as a starter, but he is now making the most of it.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!


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