The 3 best defensive players for the 2024 Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes figure to have one of the better defenses in the Big Ten. But who will be the best among them?
Purdue v Iowa
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In 2023, the Iowa Hawkeyes fielded one of the better defenses in all of college football. While superstar corner Cooper DeJean and veteran Logan Lee are off to the NFL, defensive coordinator Phil Parker will still have some quality talent to lean on this upcoming season.

Iowa's defense allowed just 14.8 points per game in 2023, which was fourth-best in the country. They also held teams to 286 yards per game, which is likely inflated because Iowa's offense was lackluster. Those numbers will be difficult to replicate, but a favorable schedule may give the Hawkeyes that extra boost to maybe even top last season's efforts.

Of course, the players will need to play to an even greater standard to do so. A few players on the defense had some NFL attention before opting to come back. With an even stronger showing, they'll be proven commodities the NFL franchises will be looking to add to their rosters.

But who are the top three players Hawkeye fans should be watching to lead this defense in 2024?

No. 3 Yahya Black

This may be a bit controversial, especially since the other two are likely already cemented in everyone's mind. Those players have running mates who are bound to be highly productive in Parker's defense this coming season.

However, defensive tackle Yahya Black is primed for incredible success if he can put the total package together. At 6-foot-5, 287lbs, Black caught the attention of NFL scouts despite not having a crazy amount of production.

If his stat sheet can match his athletic profile that scouts are already fond of, he will be a significant piece in the Iowa defense.

We know the linebackers and defensive backs are strong units, but the defensive line did lose Logan Lee and Joe Evans on the defensive front. This will create more opportunities for Black to cement himself as a problem for opposing offenses.

Black may not currently be the No. 3 best player on the Iowa defense as of today, but by mid-season, he could very well be one of the cornerstones of this impressive defensive unit.

No. 2 Sebastian Castro

Sebastian Castro is a veteran who could very well prove to be the best defensive back in the Big Ten. He's surrounded by excellent players such as Jermari Harris and Xavier Nwankpa who only help make his job that much easier.

Castro is a do-it-all defensive player. He secured three interceptions in 2023 to go along with eight tackles for loss including a sack. He was third on the team in tackles and led the team in pass breakups alongside Harris. From his CASH position, Castro is asked to do a variety of things and he does them all exceptionally well.

Castro may not be a first-round pick simply because of his age (he'll be 25 in his rookie year for the 2025 season), but he's capable of boosting his resume to an elite level this season.

Some may view Castro as the best player on Iowa's defense, and that is a fair opinion to hold. But Castro didn't tie a school record in 2023.

No. 1 Jay Higgins

Linebacker Jay Higgins did tie an Iowa program record by securing 171 tackles in 2023, which also led the NCAA. Higgins commands the middle of the defense in an impressive fashion, and for my money, there isn't a better player on this defense.

Higgins is paired with Nick Jackson to create an imposing linebacking duo. Jackson is likely a top-5 player on this defense in his own right and was a player I considered for the third spot. Of course, Higgins and Jackson both benefit heavily from each other's presence on the field.

However, Higgins's production and leadership is what truly sets him apart as the top Hawkeye of a top-tier defense. To go along with his other-worldly tackle totals, Higgins also secured five tackles for a loss, two sacks, four pass deflections, an interception, two forced fumbles and a recovery.

He'll have every opportunity to improve on those game-changing statistics as he looks to break the program's single-season tackle record for good this time around.

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