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Seven Hawkeyes With a Shot to be All-Americans in 2023

Defensive end Deontae Craig is one of several Hawkeyes that could achieve All-American status in 2023.
Defensive end Deontae Craig is one of several Hawkeyes that could achieve All-American status in 2023. (© Joseph Cress / USA TODAY NETWORK)

If there's any time to name potential All-Americans this coming season for Iowa football, it's Independence Day -- we at Go Iowa Awesome hope you have a safe, fun holiday celebrating the greatest country in the world.

We've separated them into three tiers -- the players with the best chance, a solid shot and those that could earn the honors if everything falls right.



Cooper DeJean  

One of the top returning players in the Big Ten, Cooper DeJean will be in the national spotlight from the beginning of the season. After posting 75 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, 13 pass-breakups, and five interceptions (including three for scores), he was named first-team All-Big Ten by league media and second-team All-Big Ten by league coaches.

"The way he goes about his work, the determination, the competitor he is and how he goes about his business -- he's always trying to get better," Phil Parker said of DeJean in March. "He can play every position on the field in the back end of the defense and can probably play some other different positions. His balance and his ability to diagnose situations faster than everybody else [are what separate him], and he really has some hands like Spider-Man."

If DeJean and the defense can put up similar numbers and the Hawkeyes win more football games, he could be an All-American lock at DB. The Odebolt, Iowa native may well be among the best special teams returners in the country, too.

Erick All or Luke Lachey

Expected to be two of the top tight ends in the country, Erick All and Luke Lachey have a real opportunity to put up big numbers in 2023. Whoever racks up the most catches and/or touchdowns between the pair will have the best chance to earn All-American status. Given the history between All and Cade McNamara in Ann Arbor, it's easier to foresee All taking home the honors in 2023.

Last season, Lachey caught 28 passes for 398 yards and four scores alongside Sam LaPorta. In 13 games with McNamara in 2021, All caught 38 passes for 437 yards and two touchdowns.

“With Erick, Luke and Addison (Ostrenga), I think our tight end room is very special," McNamara said following Iowa's spring game. "That’s going to be the strength of our offense."

Tory Taylor

Of course, Iowa's most likely All-American in 2023 might be the player who already earned All-America honors in 2022: standout senior punter Tory Taylor. Taylor averaged 45.4 yards per punt last season, with a net of 41.6 yards per kick. Only 13% of his punts went for touchbacks in 2022 and he led the nation with 38 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Those efforts earned him first team All-America recognition from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Phil Steele, and Pro Football Focus, as well as second team All-America honors from the Associated Press.

The goal for Taylor in 2023 will be to maintain that high level of performance -- and try to tweak his performance to even higher levels. That should mean an increased focus on directional kicking and more precise placement for his kicks, to reduce touchbacks and return opportunities for opponents. "Directional [punting] is really going to be a big focus," Taylor said after Iowa's final spring practice in April.

If Taylor is able to achieve those goals and become an even more precise punter, then he stands a very good chance of receiving more All-America honors at the end of the 2023 season.


Nick Jackson or Jay Higgins  

Similar to the All and Lachey argument, Nick Jackson and Jay Higgins find themselves in the midst of the All-American conversation -- whoever stands out the most between the duo will have the best shot at earning the distinction.

Add the past production of the linebacker position at Iowa, Higgins' experience and understanding of the defense and Jackson's history of being a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and tackler, and these two could be in the national conversation.

"I've got to be the leader of the defense," Higgins said during spring ball. "That's what the Mike linebacker position entails. When we're out there on the field, Coach (Seth) Wallace and Coach Parker can only coach so much. Someone out there has to run the show, and I've waited three years to do it."

Behind Jack Campbell and Seth Benson on the depth chart last season, Higgins posted 39 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Jackson led the Cavaliers in tackling last season with 104 over ten games. He also posted seven tackles-for-loss, five sacks and four pass-breakups.

"The biggest learning curve so far has been terminology," Jackson said two weeks ago at football media availability. "We may have called one thing at Virginia 'apples' and here it's 'oranges.' So, I'm working on getting that down. The whole thing is still new for me, so I'm just learning how to play within the system. There are some similarities and parallels, like cover four is always going to be cover four."

"It's been a collective effort to help me learn," he added. "I think Jay has helped me a whole lot. The rest of the guys in the linebacker room have been there and done it, so they've poured into me a lot."

Deontae Craig

Tied for the team lead in sacks with 6.5 and second in tackles-for-loss with ten, Deontae Craig is one of the the most productive returning defensive linemen in Iowa City.

After posting just 1.5 sacks and three TFLs as a freshman, Craig took a big leap during his sophomore campaign. Who's to say he doesn't take another leap this coming season?

In total, he posted 31 total tackles, forced three fumbles and defended a pass in 2022.

"This summer we're laying the foundation," Craig said two weeks ago. "I'm making sure we don't cut any corners. I'm working to be my best this year."


Xavier Nwankpa

One of the most highly-anticipated freshman seasons in the Kirk Ferentz era, Xavier Nwankpa largely saw the field in a special teams role in 2022. With his first start of he season in Iowa's bowl win over Kentucky, Nwankpa jumped onto the scene, showing exactly why he was the top recruit in state of Iowa's 2022 class. Along with eight total tackles, the former five-star prospect posted two pass break-ups and a pick-six.

This will be Nwankpa's first year starting full-time for the Hawks, and like DeJean did from year one to year two, the Southeast Polk product could end the 2023 season as one of the top defensive backs in the country.

"You can just tell out here in practice that the game is starting to slow down for him," DeJean noted of Nwankpa during spring practice. "He's seeing things better, he's reacting quicker to different deep balls and seeing things that come over the middle. He's gotten a lot better since he first got here, and that experience in the bowl game helped him a lot. I'm excited to see what he does this year."

Aaron Graves

Another member of Iowa's 2022 recruiting class that will have an expanded role this coming season, Aaron Graves will see more time on the field this season after the departure of Lukas Van Ness. After arriving in Iowa City at 270 pounds, the former four-star prospect now weighs 293 pounds.

Seeing what he did at Iowa's spring game, one could tell that Graves has grown drastically not only in size but in his technical skill and understanding of the game. Though the Hawkeye defensive line operates in more of a pass-rush-by-committee style, if Graves shows what he's capable of in the snaps he sees, he could impress greatly in 2023.

"I've definitely been working on my pass rush," Graves said following Iowa's 2023 spring game. "Getting information before the snap, reading the backfield, seeing the formation and getting as much information so I can play as fast as I can."

"[Graves] is a beast," Craig said of his teammate. "This is my first time really getting to go a long time playing with him -- getting a feel for his moves and what he likes to do upfront. It makes me excited to just know that there are guys at every spot upfront that are going to make plays. He's another one of the great D-lineman we have in that room."

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