It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up. For instance, Ben Boesen isn't on this objective top 50. He's a fine blocking tight end and did well in 2013, but I'm not sure that's going to be an important role in Mangino's offense. Or at least not so important that Boesen is one of the top 50 players on the team.
Other dilemmas arose, too. For instance: If the Cyclones have a few games come down to kicks, Spencer Thornton would have a tremendous responsibility as the team's snapper. In that scenario, Thornton's not just in the top 50, but he's one of the three most important players. However, this is for a full season and the Cyclones, we'd think, would be OK in the hypothetical case Thornton's not up to stuff. The same wouldn't be true for, say, No. 49 Jevohn Miller. While Thornton might actually play a bigger role than Miller this season — one's responsible for a lot of points, the other is probably a backup — Miller is the more deserving player on the top 50 list, his position being more valuable (ISU could groom another snapper but it can't trust a third-string middle linebacker to play well).
Today we're unveiling Nos. 50 through 41, with a brief comment for each player. Wednesday will be players 40 through 31 and Thursday will be 30 through 26. Friday we'll start to go through the list one-by-one, at which point the content will bulge — more notes, stats, projections — and turns to premium. I welcome your Twitter feedback.
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No. 50: Brian Peavy, Cornerback, tFR — Per what I saw on his highlight tape, Peavy's one of three freshman cornerbacks most ready to contribute. The positional value (we have 4 CBs in the top 50) and the concern from a team standpoint — Nigel Tribune will start, but what in the world happens at the other spot? — bumps Peavy into the top 50.
No. 49: Jevohn Miller, Linebacker, SR — The Cyclones signed Jordan Harris with the expectation he'd start at middle linebacker, but Miller will get playing time somewhere in 2014. He started at weakside linebacker for the first game of 2013 and turned in a poor performance but was much better in the second half of the season after Luke Knott went down with a hip injury. Wally Burnham alluded to Miller making the transition to MIKE 'backer this spring, though those plans might be on hold depending on the progress of Knott's injury rehab. Either way, Miller will likely be somebody's backup as a senior, but as he saw last season, things can change awful quickly.
No. 48: Pierre Aka, DT, SO — Having not signed even a true JUCO defensive tackle, ISU is banking on Aka to give it something on the interior and his size allows for versatility across that front: At 6-foot-4, 285-pounds, he's both big enough to play nose and quick enough to get snaps at three-technique. Let's see how that plays out this spring, but the Cyclones need this third-year player to begin contributing.
No. 47: Joel Lanning, Quarterback, FR — The reviews are in for Lanning's fall season, in which he redshirted, and they've all been good. The kid's got a rocket arm and he's more athletic than you might think, but of greater importance is Lanning's progress with Mark Mangino's offense this spring. Can he do more than tread water there? If so, Lanning has the physical tools to seriously compete for the starting gig.
No. 46: Kamari Syrie, Defensive Back, FR — Syrie played safety in high school but his size (5-foot-9, 203 pounds) might make him a cornerback after a redshirt season. Either position could use the depth. Big spring ahead.
No. 45: Colin Downing, Punter, tFR — A lock to start at punter as a true freshman and for three years after that. Cyclones coaches won't want to see Downing as much as Kirby Van Der Kamp.
No. 44: Kamari Cotton-Moya, Safety, FR — Intriguing safety prospect was going to join Nigel Tribune as the only true freshmen to see the field last season before rupturing his Achilles in fall camp.
No. 43: Michael Warren, Running back, tFR — Paul Rhoads wants "3-and-a-half" warm bodies for the running back position, so let's see: Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy, Rob Standard. Tyler Brown? Michael Warren? Martinez Syria? It's entirely possible Warren redshirts in 2014 as he needs to brush up on his pass protection, but if the Cyclones need him to play, he's electric enough to make an impact.
No. 42: Kenneth Lynn, Cornerback, JR — Started the season finale against West Virginia as Tribune dealt with an injury, but at this point is still an unknown commodity. It'll be a big spring for the fourth-year player with one spot at corner up for grabs.
No. 41: Justin Madison, Linebacker/Defensive End, FR — A great redshirt season was rewarded with the Defensive Scout Team POY Award. Madison is plenty rangy at 6-foot-2 and could find a fit at either outside linebacker spot but I think he'd be best as a pass-rushing specialist, playing with his hand in the dirt.
Check back tomorrow for Nos. 40 through 31.
Hidden in a 3-9 season was plenty of quality-to-elite talent. It's one man's list, but we've set off to rank Iowa State's best players, counting down from No. 50 all the way to No. 1. In this installment we lay out the guidelines and go over the first 10 guys