Iowa Football: The BEST Wide Receiver Room in School History?

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27: Ihmir Smith-Marsette #6 of the Iowa Hawkeyes returns a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown during the first half of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium on December 27, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27: Ihmir Smith-Marsette #6 of the Iowa Hawkeyes returns a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown during the first half of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium on December 27, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

If the NCAA gives the go-ahead to play, Iowa football will trot out what could be the best group of Wide Receivers in school history.

Iowa Football, especially under Kirk Ferentz, has historically struggled at the wide receiver position. Sure, a talented receiver or two funnels in and out every couple years but for the most part, Iowa receiving groups have left a lot to be desired. But no longer, this year could be the best wide receiver room Iowa has ever had.

Last season, the Hawkeyes offense completed 243 passes for 2976 yards and 16 touchdowns of those completed passes, only 12 were caught by players that are no longer on the roster (Nate Weiting, Torren Young and Brady Ross – notice none are actual wide receivers). Those three accounted for just 128 yards and zero touchdowns.

Iowa returns 99.6% of its receiving yards and catches and 100% of its touchdowns. I’d venture to guess that nobody in the country returns wide receiver production like that. But Iowa’s wide receivers aren’t just experienced, they are talented. And I mean really, really talented.

So let’s take a deeper look at what could pan out to be the best Wide Reciever room in Iowa football history:

Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Ihmir was the leading receiver for the Hawkeyes last year catching 44 balls for 722 yards and 5 touchdowns. But his value goes much deeper than the ability to catch the football. ISM was an electric factory all over the field and as the season went on, Iowa found a plethora of different ways to get him the ball through jet sweeps, reverses, and screens. Oh and he returns kicks.

ISM was in fact, one of the best returners in the country last year. He averaged 29.3 yards per return which were good for 4th in the country. He returned two for touchdowns, only one player in the country had three.

As the season closed down, we saw a greater urgency to get Ihmir the ball. Coincidently (or not), those were Iowa’s best offensive games(against teams with a pulse). Against Nebraska, he took a reverse 45 yards to the house:

He wasn’t done, later answering a Nebraska pick-6 by taking the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for his second score of the game:

In the Hawkeyes’ offensive explosion in the Holiday Bowl versus USC, Ihmir scored scored three touchdowns, one on the ground, one through the air, and one a kick return:

Smith-Marsette is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country and he plays for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Can any other Iowa Hawkeye receiver ever make that claim?

Brandon Smith

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After a hot start to his junior season, Brandon Smith’s injuries held him back from what could have been a huge season.

Brandon Smith came in as a three-star recruit from Lake Cormorant, Mississippi and saw action in 10 games as a true freshman but caught just 3 passes for 15 yards. As a sophomore improved to a key role player, catching 28 passes for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns. And then last year was arguably the best wide receiver Iowa had before he was injured.

His biggest play of the season took place in Kinnick against a stingy Penn State team. With the offense stalling and things looking bleak, Iowa desperately needed someone to step up and make a play. Brandon Smith answered with  one of the best catches of the College football season:

In the midst of a career game against Purdue, Smith caught a screen pass (his 9th of the game) making it five yards before going down with a right leg injury that would hold him out of action for four games. Smith still managed to be second on the team in receptions (37), tied for the lead with the aforementioned Ihmir Smith-Marsette in touchdowns (5), and totaled 439 yards.

With Brandon Smith and Ihmir lined up on opposite sides of the field, defenses will have their hands full especially if Brandon Smith can pick up where he left off pre-injury last season.

Tyrone Tracy

Speaking of dynamic playmakers, Tyrone Tracy is certainly that. He saw action in just two games during his true freshman season but saw his role increase after Brandon Smith went down with injuries in 2019.

Tracy finished last season fourth on the team in receptions (36) but we saw an ability to turn coal into diamonds as Tracy tallied 589 yards which ranked him second on the team. His average of 16.4 yards per catch tied for the team lead with Ihmir Smith-Marsette (it also ranked 9th in the Big Ten).


In the absence of Brandon Smith, Tracy came on strong. Especially against Wisconsin, where Tracy played the best game of his career catching 5 balls for 130 yards. Including the longest passing play of the season for the Hawkeyes, a 75-yard catch and run to cut the Badger lead to 2 with just over 3 minutes to play:


It wasn’t Tracy’s only flash of pure brilliance last year. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to score on this play against Northwestern:

In his first bowl action? Brian Ferentz drew up a crafty reverse which led to a walk-in touchdown for Tracy:

Tracy played running back in high school and it shows with his abilities in space and breaking tackles. As he continues to adjust to a new position, he will only get better as his route running and ball skills continue to improve.

Tracy has shown glimpses of greatness and is a prime candidate for a breakout year. Especially with the attention his older, more proven teammates will rightfully receive from defenses, if Tracy can take even a small step forward next season, it could be a special one for the redshirt sophomore from Decatur, Indiana.

Nico Ragaini

Another young guy with a ton of hype around his name after an incredible redshirt freshman season. Surprisingly to me, Ragaini actually led the Hawkeyes in receptions last year with 46.

Functioning mostly as a check down/short-yardage specialist out of the slot Ragaini’s 46 catches went for 439 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns came in big contests:



Ragaini may not have as “electric” highlights compared to ISM and Tyrone Tracy have, but again, he led the team in receptions. He is a speedy slot WR, and he does that job exceptionally well.

He isn’t a one-trick pony either, Ragaini returned 9 punts for 96 yards last season for a 10.7 average and will likely take over that role again in his RS-Sophomore campaign.

Ragaini is more than capable of contributing similar numbers to last year and even improving on them. He is only going to be a sophomore and is already producing at a high level. Above all else, he is a great option in short-yardage scenarios and will just be yet another weapon for Spencer Petras to get the ball to.

Oliver Martin

When the hometown kid came home last season, expectations were extraordina

rily high. It didn’t pan out, yet. Martin dealt with injuries, a lack of playing time, and caught passes in just three games despite seeing action (albeit limited action) in 8 games.

In his three games, he caught 5 passes for 28 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers. Although Oliver didn’t see much of the field in 2019 it wouldn’t be crazy to think he could breakthrough as a star in the Big Ten this year.

Oliver Martin chose Michigan over the Hawkeyes after a luxurious career at Iowa City West where he set state records in career receptions (239), yards (3,449), and touchdowns (33). He was first-team all-state, Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year, and played in the 2017 US Army All American bowl.

The reason for his lack of time on the field is a question mark, but in my opinion, it is because it was too difficult to take Tracy and Ragaini off the field. If guys don’t mess up, it is nearly impossible to take them off the field, and Tracy and Ragaini were making plays.

Having the best Wide Receiver in Iowa high school history on the roster is great. Having the best wide receiver in Iowa highschool history unable to get on the field because the other guys are playing so well? I don’t think I need to elaborate on what that says about this wide receiver room.

Having too many mouths to feed in the “dynamic playmaker” department of Iowa football is an “issue” that five years ago would have been laughable. But it almost seems that is what we have here, not one or two true playmakers, but four or five.

The depth, the experience, the skillset of this wide receiver room is unheard of in Iowa City. Sure, there have been some great wide receivers in the Kirk Ferentz era, but I am not sure as a whole that any wide receiver room in Iowa history matches what Iowa could have this year.