Welcome to our 2021 Iowa State football position previews, where we’ll be spending the last two weeks of the offseason previewing each position group for the 2021 team. This week we are previewing the defense and we will be starting with the defensive line.
The only loss is JaQuan Bailey. Bailey returned to Iowa State in 2020 after breaking his foot in 2019 and he help lead the Cyclone defense to another big year. Not only was he instrumental in team success, but he finished out his career as the all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss in Iowa State history. No big deal to replace, right?
The newest additions to the defensive line come with some serious upside and some uncommon flexibility both defensively and...at quarterback? Yes, you read that right. If you remember, freshman defensive lineman Howard Brown also was a pretty good quarterback in high school.
Now, don’t look for him to be pushing Brock Purdy for playing time by any means, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing any wildcat or goal line packages in years to come. With that aside, there is probably an opening for Brown to see some considerable playing time this season, and the upside of his talents on defense are quite exciting. Certainly something to keep an eye on going forward.
The defensive line room also added two defensive ends in Jayden Gray and Myles Mendeszoon. Both posses the length to play defensive end at a high level, but will need to take some more time to develop within the program. Last but not least is Tyler Onyedim, a defensive lineman who will also be a big time player upfront for years to come.
Leader Of The Pack
Is there really any doubt here? Will McDonald is the household name on the Iowa State defensive line and he is going to garner some serious attention in 2021. All while chasing down JaQuan Bailey’s career sack record. Currently McDonald sits at 17.5 sacks. He will need to get 8 this season to take over the record. Which is certainly doable considering he had 10.5 last season in a shortened year.
Not only is McDonald a master at taking down the quarterback. He disrupts all types of plays through the course of a game. Last season he had 33 tackles and 13.5 of them were for a loss. Which was fourth most in the entire Big 12 conference. All this is considering that McDonald played limited snaps over the course of a game and will see that total jump significantly this season. Prepare for a monster season Cyclone fans.
We are going to start off with Enyi Uwazurike. Though he is not technically a backup, he’s worth mentioning in our preview. Uwazurike came back for his “super senior” season and will help fill the void left by JaQuan Bailey. Not only can Enyi play inside, but he’s versatile enough to play on the outside, though his size gain may push him to play inside primarily in 2021. Look for him to be one of the leaders with Will McDonald.
Isaiah Lee also returns in 2021. We saw Lee take a step forward last season while splitting time with Latrell Bankston at the nose guard position, but a large portion of that role may fall solely on his shoulders this fall. Last season, we saw Lee grab 12 tackles and an Honorable All-Big 12 award.
One other player almost certain to see significant playing time is Zach Petersen. The Iowa-native has made ten starts over the course of his career, and will be one of the Cyclones that will be tasked with replacing JaQuan Bailey. The staff continues to be very high on Petersen, praising his work ethic and desire to improve, and they view him and McDonald as a lethal defensive end group in the Big 12.
Others that Cyclone fans will need to keep their eyes on is J.R. Singleton, Corey Suttle, Tucker Robertson, Blake Peterson and Cordarrius Bailey. All will be vital in developing and contributing to be welcome additions to the defensive line depth.
The Iowa State defensive scheme depends on great defensive line play. This year will be no different, but replacing the loss of JaQuan Bailey will loom large until we see the replacement take a stranglehold of the position. While there are plenty of candidates to take the spot, one primary candidate will have to emerge sooner than later.
Once that has taken shape, I envision this group to continue to be steady going and making big plays when it matters most. If the Cyclones can get consistent pressure on the quarterback from this group, Iowa State’s outstanding linebacker group will be free to shoot gaps and create havoc in the backfield.
Be sure to keep your eye on Will McDonald this season as he pursues the all-time sack record at Iowa State and makes a push for consideration in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.