IOWA CITY, Iowa - Defining the term "breakout" when it comes to sports can be subjective. We see it a lot, but its meaning depends on who you ask.
Even within a potential definition there can be subjectivity. If we agree that a "breakout player" is one who performs above expectations, we must ask - whose expectations?
Well, in this exercise, naming five breakouts players for Iowa Football in 2022, it will be based on perceived expectations derived from past performance. That opens it up for debate. That's good.
There is one concrete ground rule - the Hawkeye can not have been named all-Big Ten beyond honorable mention. Other than that, it's grand subjectivity of the author.
Here we go:
-Lukas Van Ness, Defensive Line - The redshirt sophomore from Illinois would appear on pretty much everyone's list of Iowa breakout players. He comes into the season after sharing the team lead with 7.0 sacks (Joe Evans) and ranking second in tackles for loss (8.5) a year ago.
Van Ness (6-5, 264) flew under the radar a bit despite solid statistics. It was due to playing on a stacked defense with recognizable names and also him being a part-time player.
A tackle last year out of need, Van Ness should see time at end this year. His unusual combination of strength and athleticism could see him move around in the way Christian Ballard did more than a decade ago.
-Jestin Jacobs, Linebacker - Another candidate from what should continue to be a dominate defense, Jacobs' biggest challenge might be gaining recognition with a statistical line likely to be less productive than linebacker mates Jack Campbell and Seth Benson. It's the nature of Iowa's LEO position.
Knowledgable football followers understand the value of the spot, however, with an appreciate for guys like Christian Kirksey, AJ Edds and Ben Niemann, who manned it in the past. It requires a unique athlete able to cover tight ends, hold the edge and support the inside run.
Jacobs (6-4, 236) is as athletically gifted as any guy who's played the position here. If he takes the next step in terms of consistency and understanding of the defense, the sky is the limit.
Gavin Williams, Running Back - The Central Iowa native flashed his ability late last season and finds himself atop the depth chart heading into camp. His style differs from departed starter Tyler Goodson, now with the Green Bay Packers, but it could be equally effective.
Williams (6-0, 211) runs with more power than does Goodson but he's not a plodder. He can make defenders miss and possesses solid vision.
In January's Citrus Bowl, he rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 YPC) against a stingy Kentucky defense. He added two catches for 14 yards, perhaps foreshadowing what's ahead in '22.
Mason Richman, Left Tackle - The Kansan was thrown into the fray last season as a redshirt freshman. He earned honorable mention all-Big Ten laurels from conference coaches and media despite missing two contests with an injury.
Richman (6-6, 296) showed growth in consistency as the season progressed, which was particularly impressive when you consider he missed some development time as a true freshman during the Covid year of '20.
Boasting the desirable combination of size, strength and agility protecting the blind side, Richman is poised to take a big step forward in '22. He's on the path of adding his name to the list of recognizable Iowa offensive linemen.
Keagan Johnson, Wide Receiver - A breakout here could equate to a much-needed step forward for the Hawkeye offense. If healthy, Johnson features a skill set capable of supplying big plays.
Johnson (6-1, 197) missed the Capital One Bowl with an injury that also sidelined him for the spring. His absence was noticeable.
With the size to do damage in the middle of the field and the speed to stretch it, Johnson provides the Hawkeyes with a playmaker opposing defenses must respect. The door is open for him to be WR1.