Special teams will always be the forgotten facet of the game, but that does not mean it should go unnoticed. Having a successful special teams unit can sometimes be what makes good teams great.
The place kicker position had two departures following the 2019-20 campaign. Brayden Narverson decided to transfer from Iowa State following two years with the program. Narverson was at one point expected to be the Cyclones kicker of the future until Connor Assalley controlled the starting role last season. *(Brayden Narverson will be kicking for Western Kentucky University for the 2020-21 season). Peyton Paddock is only other kicker that has left Ames from last season. Paddock was a graduating redshirt senior following a five year career. He handled the kickoff duties for each of the last two seasons, averaging 54.8 yards per kickoff in 2018 and 57.7 in 2019. His departure will now open the kickoff job for a new face this season.
Special teams also consists of the return game and two big play-makers from last season will not return. All-time great Cyclone, Deshaunte Jones graduated last season after returning two punts (second on the team) for 15 yards (second on the team). Sheldon Croney Jr. also graduated last season after returning two kicks for 11 yards on the season both third most on the team.
*The punting and long snapping unit will not lose anyone from 2019-20.
Iowa State’s special teams as a whole will have two new transfers for the upcoming season. Cameron Shook will be entering his third college season and first in Ames. After a two year career at Navy where Shook did not kick once in game, he will likely have a chance to compete for the backup punting role this season for the Cyclones.
As for place kicker, Alex Probert will be last new face for Iowa State special teams this season. I had recently done a scouting report on Probert where you can check out here. Probert’s first year for the Cyclones will be coming after a great four-year career with the Liberty Flames. Probert will be leaving Liberty making 46-of-63 field goals and 140-of-150 PATs. He is even third on Liberty’s all-time scoring list with 275 points. He is also third in career field goals made (46) and career PATs made (140). The former Flame will likely be in competition for the backup field goal role and the starting kickoff role.
Leader(s) of the Pack
There is anywhere from four to five 11-man special teams units, so I will just go through the main five positions and who sits atop the depth chart.
Kicker: As stated, Connor Assalley has a pretty firm control over the field goal kicking duties, as he made 15-of-19 field goals and 49-of-51 PATs last season. He enters his senior season with the third-best field goal percentage (73.8%, 31-42) and the ninth-most field goals made (31) in school history while his 85 extra points is tied for sixth on ISU’s career list. While Assalley will likely be main field goal kicker the kickoff duties are wide open, as 100% of last year’s production has departed. The job will likely between all four kickers, Assalley, Alex Probert, Eddie Ogamba and Drake Nettles with the best odds likely in that order.
Punter: Joe Rivera is the clear “man” for Iowa State’s punt unit. Last season he appeared in all 12 games, averaged 40.6 yards per punt in 54 attempts, had 27 punts downed inside the 20 and tallied nine 50-yarders and only had three touchbacks. Entering his senior season Rivera will likely be the clear starting punter for his final season in Ames.
Kick Returner: The lead man for the Cyclone’s kick returning duties returns from last season. Kene Nwangwu will be entering his redshirt-senior season after returning 15 kicks for 381 total yards averaging 25.4 yards per return. After a solid 2019-20 campaign I would expect him to retain his duties.
Punt Returner: The punt return story is a bit of the same, as Tarique Milton will be returning after a season where led the Cyclones with seven returns for 81 yards and an 11.6 average last season. I can’t see why Milton wouldn’t be the main guy again this season.
Long Snapper: Redshirt-freshman, Trey Fancher is the lone long snapper on Iowa State’s roster this season. Fancher is from Waunakee, Wisconsin and will likely be the long snapper in 2020 barring anything tragic.
I would imagine each position in the special teams unit will not have a serious amount of competition. I think we see each starter remain the same as last season, with Trey Fancher beginning his long snapping career and I have a feeling the Alex Probert will be able to showcase his talents as the kickoff man.
After a quite productive season last year, I would think this year’s main focus would be to get a kick or punt return this season, as the Cyclones did not have one last season.